I’m a Flight Attendant and This Is What It’s Really Like to Fly During Coronavirus
A day on the job for a flight attendant has been anything but ordinary during the COVID-19 pandemic as it spreads across the globe.
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Particularly if you’re seated in economy class, no one is clamoring to find themselves squished next to a stranger or two for the duration of a flight. But, hey, we do what we’ve gotta do to get from point A to point B. Whether it’s for business, vacation, or to reconnect with family, air travel may be the most efficient way to accomplish these expeditions. However, when news surrounding looming concerns about COVID-19 began ramping up in February, the already cramped quarters of an airplane truly felt like they were too close for comfort…and personal health. Here, one flight attendant shares her story. (She declined to name the airline she works for.)
I’m a Chicago-based flight attendant who has been working in the industry for under a year. To me, the travel loads seemed to be about the same throughout February and in early March. In fact, during early to mid-March, I had never seen airports and customs lines so long. Then, when there were discussions of borders closings and people were starting to understand that they may not be able to get to their home countries unless they were to head back immediately, flights were loaded with worried passengers. Around the middle of March, when states across the country began to mandate orders closing businesses and asking residents to shelter in place, I noticed people starting to take the news surrounding coronavirus more seriously, staying home, and canceling travel plans.
Social distancing, the act of purposefully putting physical distance between you and another person, is difficult to do on an airplane. But both airline personnel and passengers have made a point to practice this as much as possible while in the air. Inflight, I acknowledge personal space more for myself and for the passengers. I try to keep as much distance as I’m able to provide. After arming and disarming my doors, I immediately wash my hands, I wipe down the intercom phones with sanitizer wipes before use it, and I carry Sani-com wipes in my uniform sweater pocket.
Food for thought
The airline I work for is suspending food and beverage service on flights under 2,200 miles until further notice. Before the food suspension, we started giving full cans of sodas to passengers so we didn’t have to open it for them and stopped reusing cups for refills. I always wear gloves when I’m picking up trash—and that hasn’t changed. Meanwhile, it’s possible you’ve been ignoring one of the germiest spots on airplanes.
The space between
There are so few people flying right now, personal space isn’t much of an issue. On a recent four-day trip (essentially, a flight attendant’s work shift before returning to their home base), each flight I worked has had such a light travel load that each passenger has easily been able to maintain at least 6-feet of distance from the next. Passengers flying during the pandemic are largely taking extra precautions, with most wearing masks and gloves, while also wiping down their seats and tray tables prior to sitting down. These are the 13 things airlines aren’t likely to tell you.
Wondering who is still flying during these uncertain times? I’ve seen a lot of people visiting family last-minute in fear that domestic flights could be suspended.
Surprisingly, I’ve seen several people taking vacations right now too. Many airlines are offering flights as low as $18 one-way across the country and those low prices can be very tempting. This includes New Yorkers trying to escape the cold (and a tiny Manhattan apartment) by heading to Florida. (Editor’s note: The governor of Florida has issued a mandate that anyone arriving from the New York City area self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival.)
From my perspective, I don’t think anyone should be flying right now unless it’s absolutely essential. It puts tons of people that have to go into a physical workspace at risk, especially as airline personnel (flight attendants, pilots, gate agents, and customer service reps, just to name a few) are one of the few groups that are still required to go into work. These are the things you should really never do on a plane.
Furloughs haven’t been mentioned in an official capacity by the airline I work for; however, employees, discuss it as a very real probability. Airlines are offering voluntary leaves of absences and early retirement programs to offer time off or severance from the company to the people that would prefer that first. I’m one of the newer flight attendants so I assume I would be one of the first to be furloughed if it came to that. You can’t help but think about it and worry.
I did take some sick days at the beginning of the pandemic because I was extremely nervous to fly knowing how many passengers would be on board. As flights became less full, I felt more comfortable flying again. There is a silver lining in an otherwise nerve-wracking time to fly: Planes seem to have never been cleaner. Though that’s not to suggest anyone should book a flight during the pandemic unless they absolutely have to travel.
For more information on COVID-19, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.