Get Us in Your Inbox
Few travel industry professionals have greater contact with the public than airline cabin crews. And today, in the age of COVID-19, they’re dealing with a new reality — one that’s equipped them to share new wisdom with passengers and those who sell travel.
The most important piece of advice about air travel today, according to Boston-based flight attendant Antonio Lopez, is simple: “If you don’t have to — then don’t.”
“A couple days ago, I was on a flight, and my coworker and I were talking to an older couple who said they were traveling just to increase their mileage and to get better status as frequent flyers,” Lopez said. “We were shocked. To be exposing yourself to risks at that age, and also running the risk of getting the virus and passing it on to other people, doesn’t make any sense.”
Orlando, Fla.-based flight attendant Tito Gonzalez agrees that now is the time for travelers to stay put.
“My issue is with the people who think nothing will ever happen to them,” he said, noting he recently met a couple flying with their two children simply because they found an $18 airfare to Los Angeles. “A lot of people aren’t thinking straight.”
Most people, of course, aren’t making plans to fly — at least for now. The number of commercial flights plunged 70% in the second quarter of 2020, according to year-over-year statistics from International Air Transport Association. Those who must travel by air, meanwhile, must learn to navigate an environment that presents potentially hazardous challenges to the concept of social distancing.
Staying SafeIt’s no surprise that health and safety are top of mind for cabin crews. These worries were heightened with the recent news that 100 flight attendants and 41 pilots recently tested positive for the coronavirus at American Airlines.
“Dealing with the public can be difficult anytime, but now people are on edge,” said Nena Zahedi, a flight attendant for a major U.S. airline and an advisory board member for Travel Enthusiast, an online travel resource. “Our aircrafts have never been cleaner. People are wiping down their own tray tables, seats and vents. Our biggest concern as cabin crew is the safety of ourselves and our passengers.”
Economic worries are also prevalent, according to Patrick Smith, a Somerville, Mass.-based airline pilot who operates a website called Ask the Pilot.
“The illness itself is one of the least of my concerns,” Smith said. “Pretty much all the fear and stress I’m grappling with right now concerns the future of my airline and, hence, my career. I’m in my early 50s now. I’ve been through three bankruptcies and a six-year layoff after 9/11. I’ve worked at five different airlines and began again at the bottom each time. The thought of having to go through that again is what scares me — not catching COVID-19.”
RELATED: COVID-19's Impact on Travel Will Be 9 Times Worse Than 9/11
What It’s Like to Fly TodayEmpty terminals. Empty planes. For people who haven’t boarded a plane in a month or more, the description of flying during an international health crisis might sound surreal.
“On the last Cancun flights I worked, we went down with zero passengers and came back with 15,” Lopez said. “It doesn’t matter the size of the aircraft, there are only about four to 15 passengers on each flight.”
Lopez noted that travelers can expect a very different experience than pre-pandemic days.
“In many ways the airlines have done an excellent job because they’ve taken a lot of actions to reduce our contact with the passengers,” he said. “They’ve reduced or eliminated in-flight service, even in first class. We don’t serve any food; we don’t serve any alcohol or other beverages. Anything that has to do with being in contact with passengers has been reduced or eliminated.”
The airlines have reduced or eliminated in-flight service, even in first class. We don’t serve any food; we don’t serve any alcohol or other beverages. Anything that has to do with being in contact with passengers has been reduced or eliminated.
The airport experience has also changed substantially; one of the few positive changes is reduced wait time at security checkpoints.
“It’s great,” flight attendant Gonzalez said. “There are no lines. TSA agents are just waiting for you to come through. And they’re more personable.”
On the negative side, many businesses inside the airports are closed, so passengers should bring everything from home that they might need on board.
“Don’t expect the same in-flight service as usual,” Gonzalez said. “Arrive with food that won’t perish quickly, wear comfortable shoes and use the bathroom ahead of time to minimize your movement in the aircraft.”
Safety AdviceGonzalez advises travelers to stock up on sanitizer, gloves and masks before departing for the airport.
“Protect yourself with tons of everything disposable,” he said. “Don’t reuse anything. Don’t travel with just two pairs of gloves or just a few sanitizer wipes. Bring a lot.”
Flight attendant Zahedi offered some additional tips for airline passengers.
“Please do not try to hand your flight crew anything if they are not wearing gloves, and don’t be offended if they do not want to touch your articles without them,” she said. “We can see upward of 1,000 people a day and do not want to put anyone at risk. If you must travel, please protect yourself by washing your hands, limiting getting up to use the lavatory, cleaning your area and not traveling if you feel sick.”
We can see upward of 1,000 people a day and do not want to put anyone at risk. If you must travel, please protect yourself by washing your hands, limiting getting up to use the lavatory, cleaning your area and not traveling if you feel sick.
The best recommendation, according to Lopez, is to simply avoid air travel altogether until the pandemic ends.
“At a time like this, you should only be flying if you have a really, really good reason or your job is essential,” he said. “You shouldn’t be flying just because the tickets are cheap. People should stay home. Be safe and keep your family safe, too.”
The DetailsAsk the Pilot www.askthepilot.com
Travel Enthusiast www.travelenthusiast.com
Read more from TravelAge West about the COVID-19 outbreak.