Last weekend I took my first plane flights since COVID-19 pretty much grounded me from my normal business travel schedule. Actually, as I look back on my calendar, I have not been on a plane this year!
So, this trip took me from Orange County through Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) to change planes.
I had seen photos that friends had posted on Facebook of eerily empty airports and planes, so I was somewhat prepared. I carried my own mask (plus a back-up), along with sanitizing wipes. And, of course, I packed my own snacks.
The Orange County airport was incredibly empty. There are three separate terminals, and only the central terminal was open for security; flights and food outlets were quite limited.
That all changed when we boarded our flight, as I would estimate the flight was half to two-thirds full. Interestingly, there was little chatting or the usual banter between passengers. After take-off, the flight attendants were rarely seen. Of course, I realized that this was because currently there is no food service on domestic flights.
Once we landed, exited the flight at DFW, and rode the Skylink to another terminal, I had a chance to chat with a few flight attendants. They shared with me that the passenger load on flights had just started to increase in the last week or two. They had been flying the last three months, but anticipated there would be furloughs after the summer.
Since we had an extra hour on the ground, we made our way to a restaurant and witnessed firsthand physical distancing practices in food establishments. The young host was calm as he let us know our seating options, and we decided to sit at the bar, as we saw two chairs available there. Tables in the restaurant were spaced out farther than usual, and there was no silverware or anything on the tables.
We sat and had an adult beverage and did our people-watching. Of course, we were wearing our masks at all times until our drinks came.
And that’s when I witnessed incredible, gentle kindness.
A 60-something gentleman traveling alone was getting up from the bar and could not find his mask. He was visibly flustered, as it was obvious he would be getting on a flight soon, and a mask would be required. He checked with the bartender, “Did you accidently throw away my mask?” The bartender looked; none of us could find his mask.
Then a 20-something young man came to sit at the bar and could tell the older gentleman was a bit frantic. The 20-something deposited his backpack on a bar chair and said, “What kind of mask do you want?” As he opened his backpack, he pulled out a large sleeve of masks in every style imaginable! There must have been 15 or 20 masks in that clear plastic bag. The 60-something-year-old man was so grateful and picked out the kind of mask he wanted and said thank you. No handshaking, of course. Just big smiles.
I was so struck by the simple kind gesture of that 20-something man. Travel is stressful enough with trying to make connections and getting a quick bite to eat between flights, but in these times of COVID-19 and physical distancing, many people are walking on eggshells. With everyone wearing masks, even if you smile at someone, it is doubtful that they will feel the impact of a smiling face, since our mouths are covered.
But a simple act of selfless kindness goes a long way. And I am hoping that we see more of this in the months to come.
And, about getting on your first airplane after months of not traveling … it’s not so hard. Just prepare (with masks, wipes, snacks and reading). Be kind to your fellow passengers. I do recommend taking a nice hot, soapy shower once you arrive at your destination. You will sleep better knowing that any errant germs are gone!