By Shawn Collins
I fly pretty much every week. Back in March 2020 I flew in the first week of the month, and then not again until April 26, 2020. That was the longest stretch I can remember where I didn’t fly.
When I finally returned to the airport several weeks later in the new, COVID-19 world, it was spooky, empty, and largely closed.
Leading up to the flight I pulled together a bunch of items to take precautions… masks, gloves, wipes, hand sanitizer. I didn’t check luggage and just had a backpack as a carry-on and I kept that in a transparent plastic bag for the whole trip.
The TSA guy furrowed his brow when he saw my backpack in a clear bag. I don’t know if it made much of a difference, and I didn’t see anybody else doing it. But I wanted to take any preventative measure I could, and I figured some barrier around my belongings was better than nothing.
The stores and restaurants in the airports were closed and blocked off. People at the few active gates were wearing a variety of masks. Most of them, at least.
But some things hadn’t changed and brought me a sort of familiar aggravation. There were people in later boarding groups crowding around the gate to create a human wall. And after we landed, passengers rushed to the front with no attempt at social distancing.
This was before airlines put COVID-19 safety and security measures into place. On that first flight back there were even airline staff flying without masks on.
During the early days of COVID-19, there were some positives about flying. ABIA slashed the rates for parking in the garages, and with the number of people flying had dropped so much that my status mostly got me free upgrades to First Class on my flights.
Prior to all of this I was a member of CLEAR and TSA Pre, so the security process was expedited for me. This was nice to avoid close contact with others at the airports. I started scanning my eyes, rather than my finger prints with CLEAR to avoid touching surfaces. I already had been checking in from home and using mobile boarding passes, so nothing changed with that.
Typically, I would go through security and then head to a lounge to get some work done. For quite a while, most of the lounges were closed, so I didn’t have that option to separate me from crowds. They have largely re-opened now, so that makes things more comfortable.
The lines for baggage check and security are typically pretty long, so if you’re flying soon I’d recommend getting there extra early if you don’t have CLEAR and/or TSA Pre.
And bring a comfortable mask (and a backup) since you’ll be wearing it a good while. It felt strange to me at first to be wearing a mask for an extended period of time, but now it’s just normal to me.
For the latest ABIA COVID-19 guidelines, see austintexas.gov/page/aus-covid-19-information