The COVID Diaries: Flying During Coronavirus

Before I start, I want to say that I really debated posting about this, which is part of why my posts stopped for a few weeks there. I didn’t want to talk about my decision to fly for recreation because I didn’t want it to seem like I was being reckless or encouraging others to do this. I felt guilty because I hear about so many other people missing their parents and following the rules when I wasn’t. I also didn’t want to alert my friends and extended family in my hometown that I was coming because I didn’t want to tempt anyone to visit me.

I realize now, especially after seeing more and more places open up, that I’m on the more conservative end of the social-distancing spectrum. The person worrying and judging this decision the most out of everyone I have interacted with was myself.

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Midway through Ramadan I pondered the possibility of visiting my parents for Eid. Eid was projected to be over a weekend, so it was a perfect opportunity to spend an Eid with my family again for the first time since I moved away two years ago. I also realized that work was no longer keeping me here since I’m working remotely. I heard of a few friends “going back home” during this lockdown since they are also in similar situations of working remotely. I also knew my parents have really been wishing they could be with me during these uncertain times.

The cons: I would have to expose myself to an airport and airplane while there is a pandemic on the loose. I would risk picking up something at the airport and bringing it into my family’s home, possibly exposing them (my grandmother included) to the virus. I would risk catching the virus myself with all of the contact points in this entire ordeal. If I caught the virus while in my hometown, I would risk bringing it into my state, thus contributing to the prolonging on this pandemic. If I caught the virus and got really sick while in my hometown, but away from my actual “home,” I would have to figure out how to get medical care while out of my home state where all my insurance-taking doctors are.

What convinced me that this was going to be okay is how many precautions I took. I wasn’t just traveling for fun during a pandemic. I was taking precaution after precaution to make this a responsible decision.

We had a friend drive us to the airport (to avoid taking public transportation), and the minute we were in car together the masks came on. We wore two layers of clothes so that we could take the entire outer layer off as soon as we got to my parents’. We put all of our belongings in giant garbage bags inside the suitcase, so that once we arrived we could leave the suitcases away from everyone and bring the clean garbage bags into the actual living space. We checked into our flight online to avoid touching the kiosk. We socially distanced while in the actual airport, avoiding touching anything with any part of the body that was not completely necessary. Masks were worn throughout the entire ordeal. We were fasting, so we avoided eating and drinking anything. Then, once we got to my parents’, we left our wallets and passports untouched for a couple of days, used disinfectant to clean our phones and anything else used in the airport, threw all fabric items exposed into the wash, and showered immediately. 

I went through this plan over and over again in my head during the week leading up to the trip. I thought about every single point of the experience and how I would be able to keep myself protected. 

As I mentioned before, I thought the majority of the world would judge me hard for doing something so “reckless.” I assumed everyone around me would be taking the same precautions and be just as worried about transmitting and contributing to the spread of this disease. I thought the airplanes would follow-through on the promises they gave us in the flood of emails we received back in March when the world shut down about how they were going to keep us safe. 

Once I left my bubble and went back into the real world, I realized only then that I am one of the more conservative ones in this pandemic. I sat diagonal from a man on the plane who took off his mask for the entire flight when the flight attendants were not around. While waiting in the security line, the guy standing behind us did not keep his distance while making conversation with us. There was no cleaning of the bins or conveyer belt at security when scanning our luggage (I didn’t actually see any out of the ordinary cleaning of touchpoints around the airport). The airlines informed us ahead of time that they would board the plane back to front – didn’t happen. I read and was told that flights are carrying an average of 10 people – not true. There were probably 30 people on my flight, about a third of the full capacity. 

The precautions that did happen: It looks like the airport had reduced the overall number of flights for the day to under a third of what I usually see scheduled. We were given bags with water, a snack, and hand sanitizer as soon as we entered the plane and the flight attendants did not walk through the aisles at all while we were in the air. We could wear masks for the entire airport process, with the exception of having to show our face at the security checkpoint. Not a single row on the plane was completely filled, unless it was a family sitting together. And for the most part, people did socially distance while we were navigating the airport.

While we were on our trip, aside from the people living in the house we were staying at, we socially distanced from everyone else as we would at home. And now that it’s been over two weeks since we got back, alhamdulillah no COVID-19 for either of us or anyone in my immediate family. 

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This trip made me realize that this pandemic really looks different depending on where you are in the country (and presumably the world). I currently live on the East Coast, and my OG followers will know that I am originally from the Midwest. Listen, the Northeast has been taking this pandemic miles more seriously than the Midwest. Nearly every single person in the East Coast airport had a mask, and at least 10% of people in the Midwest airport were mask-less while indoors. I also noticed the general culture of the people around me in my hometown was more relaxed about the precautions than those in my current community.

I didn’t get to experience going to a grocery store or a restaurant while on my trip, and now I kind of wish I had the opportunity to compare (especially after all of the truly phenomenal experiences over the past few months of restaurants around me going above and beyond to take precautions while we order takeout). I was trying to distance myself as much as I could on my trip since I had been in an airport, so I had my family members do the grocery shopping and picking up takeout. 

Related to this point, this pandemic has made me really pay attention to local government. Let me start off by saying that our federal government is a joke when it comes to managing the pandemic. I don’t know anyone who takes the White House recommendations seriously. But local government is where actual change is happening and I now see how our local system takes care of us. I have been so proud of my state and what we have done to curb the cases. It seems to be both the state government and the attitude of the people in it that has brought about positive change. It feels like the entire Northeast has been “in it together” since the crisis-level outbreak in NYC in the beginning. We were all hit among the hardest in the country, and because of the extreme precautions we took we are now doing the best in the country with keeping the cases going downward. Meanwhile those state governments that did not take precautions are continuing to see a rise in cases (I’m appalled at how many of them STILL have not hit their peak!). I know the second wave is coming for my state, but I feel prepared to continue with what was successful for us thus far. 

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