Flying During COVID: Sue Glover’s take on what it’s like flying today.

Wondering whether it’s like to fly right now? Whether you are up for it?  Here’s my experience on my recent flights so you know what you may face.  

I recently flew from Chicago O’Hare (i.e. a HUGE airport) to a midsize airport on United Airlines and then returned to Chicago Midway on Southwest Airlines.  The experiences on these two airlines were drastically different, and not necessarily in a good way for one of these airlines.  Here are a few thoughts based on my experience:

1. Be flexible and prepared for flight changes.  

My flights were originally booked pre-COVID in February on Southwest Airlines.  Between April and June, the flights were cancelled and/or changed five times.  The closest change to the actual flight took place 8 hours prior to the flight with an email from United stating that they were changing aircraft and that the flight would now be completely full. Other changes included adding a layover to an existing non-stop flight; changing the flight time by a whole day; and cancelling the flight altogether.  The vast majority of these changes took place in the 3 weeks prior to flying. 

2. Be prepared for little to no service on the flight itself.

Southwest Airlines handled inflight service much better than United Airlines in my opinion.  When boarding, flyers were offered disinfectant wipes if they did not have their own.  Water and a snack were offered on the flight. Garbage pickup took place more often that a preCOVID flight. Flight attendants also discussed their safety and cleaning procedures onboard. 

United Airlines offered no service but one garbage pick-up service.  No beverages or snacks were offered, nor were disinfectant wipes. 

3.   Be prepared for limited food and beverage options in the airport.

The three airports I travelled through, Chicago O’Hare, Charleston and Chicago Midway, had very few opportunities to purchase food or drinks. The vast majority of restaurants, sundry stores and snack bars were closed.  

4. Do not assume your flight, or the airport. will be empty.  

Both United and American Airlines have stated they allow their flights to be fully booked.  Southwest and Delta have stated that they will maintain their limited booking policies. Keep this in mind when deciding who to fly with and your comfort level in flying on full flight.  Airports are getting busier too. Both O’Hare and Charleston were relatively empty, However, Midway was bustling and appeared to have normal pre-COVID number of people walking around at 11:00 am on a Wednesday.

5. Masks must be worn and can be hot. Bring extras if you can. 

All airlines are mandating masks to be worn on-board.  All airports require wearing masks inside the airport.  Bring an extra mask or two that you can change out, especially on longer flights. If they are cloth masks, you’ll be glad to be able to wash out your mask once you arrive.

Overall, the flying experience definitely had its ups and downs, but as we return to a “new normal” at least for now, the steps taken by some airlines, over others, were certainly appreciated and apparent when comparing the two experiences.