After 2 months of lockdown in California, governor Gavin Newsom announced that they would be extending it another 2 months, taking us into late July. I had been pretty obedient for the most part. Only making weekly trips to the market and meeting a few friends while social-distancing. But I wanted a break and saw that other states were re-opening while their Covid19 cases were very low. I decided to fly to South Carolina where a good friend lives, on a ranch with thousands of acres of open space. So what is it like to fly within the US now – post-COVID19 lockdown?
To no surprise, the atmosphere of airports, airlines, people and places have changed drastically.
Booking Flights during COVID
Almost every airline is offering a no-cost change in flight schedules and cancellations. This is in an effort for you to book future flights so that they can still earn money. I had booked just a week before so the prices were pretty high: a one-way flight from LAX to CAE (Columbia, South Carolina) for about $250. But there are steals if you book with miles starting at only 10,000 miles.
After 10 days lounging in the South, I was deciding if I would make my way to Miami or back to LA. I ended up booking 2 one-way flights on the same morning. On May 31, 2020, the Black Lives Matter protest reached its height across the country. I felt that it would be most safe to come home to LA. 5 hours before, I canceled my flight to Miami with American Airlines, which only took a minute through the APP. My mileage was reinstated within 24 hours. And they refunded the $5.60 (taxes) within a week.
What It’s Like In the Airport and Security
Masks are required at LAX. The airport as you can imagine is relatively empty. Lines to TSA have marks and security to make sure you’re standing 6 feet apart. The TSA professionals are supposed to switch out their gloves after inspecting every luggage.
Most lounges at the airport are closed.
What It’s Like Boarding and Flying
Passengers and Crew are all required to wear masks on the flight.
Some airlines like Delta and Alaska have completely blocked out the middle-seat. Not American Airlines though. We flew AA and they supposedly capped passenger tickets at 85% capacity. I’m not sure how much difference that is to 100% at that point. AA apparently first blocks out middle-seats when the flight is first open to booking. But as the window and aisle seats fill up, they begin opening the middle-seats on their online portal. On my red-eye flight, the plane felt like a full flight.
There is no in-flight service now (including alcoholic beverages), nor are pre-order meals available. Flight attendants will hand you a small paper bag with a bottle of water and a bag of chips. Many concession stands and restaurants in the airport are closed. Some fast food and coffee shops that are opened in the airport have extremely long lines.
Tip: Pack your own meal and snacks, especially for a longer flight. Bring a reusable water bottle and refill it at the airport.
People are stressed and paranoid – in the airport and on the flight.
It kind of feels like you’re in an apocolypse.
Canceling Airbnb during COVID19 and Protests
I had also booked an Airbnb for 3 nights in South Beach. And although the protests and riots were mainly in Downtown Miami, I didn’t want to risk if the looting spread to restaurants and apartment buildings in South Beach. Under Airbnb cancellation rules, if your reasoning falls under “Extenuating Circumstances“, they will allow you to cancel and get a refund. I had identified my reasoning under Political/Civil Unrest and Safety Concerns. The Airbnb host wasn’t willing to refund my money as she had done with so many guests due to COVID19 (required by Airbnb).
So I called Airbnb, had a 5-minute conversation and then he advised that somebody would reach out to me the next day via email. Following day, I got an email saying that 2/3 of my money will be refunded.
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Wearing a Mask has become Somewhat of a Political Statement
I wanted a break from California as I felt that the atmosphere all-around became very paranoid and negative. But then I realized right as we landed in Charlotte, North Carolina (for a layover) that the complete opposite was true there. It was like “What Corona Virus?” While California laws of Shelter-in-Place might have been purely what the Governor and Mayors thought was best, people living in other states see Covid19 as “not a big deal” or a “complete hoax”.
Don’t forget that one of the first statements trump came out in early February was that Corona Virus is a “Democratic hoax”. He has flip-flopped his views on a daily basis, going to the other extreme days later that the Corona Virus is a 10/10 emergency.
People have picked up the information for what’s convenient for them to believe.
Just in the same way that people in California perceive how severe the virus is, in various degrees, based on information given to them.
As we had an hour layover in Charlotte, there were only about 10% of people wearing masks. Those not wearing masks look at you like you’re a crazy person. That’s when I realized that wearing a mask has become some kind of political statement for those in red states. We ultimately landed in Columbia, South Carolina. Pretty much everything opened up: Restaurants, Bars and Barber Shops. Throughout the week and a half there, most people were not wearing masks. Though wait staff at restaurants and bars did wear masks. Even at grocery stores, 80-year-old couples were not wearing it. They clearly don’t believe the effects of the virus.
I would go on to have conversations with people that either called the Corona Virus “bullshit” or “not a big deal”. I really felt like I was in a different country. Not just on the subject of Covid19, but on to their views on guns, politics and the protests which would start in the midst of my trip.