My First Flight Experience During a Pandemic
Like many of you, I have been staying home and missing travel during the COVID Global Pandemic. In normal times, I would be traveling to Europe every other month. So to be grounded at home, has been a big lifestyle change.
The last time I was on an airplane was back in January. Many family and friends who know me well have genuinely asked the question "How are you doing, Jess? I know you love to travel. This must be so hard for you." And my answer has been a comfortable reply of "I'm doing okay. It's nice to stay home and focus on what matters."
BUT.... living within a normally heavily-trafficked flight pattern seeing and hearing an increase in flights, having more friends who have been traveling via air, and starting to see more travelers flying on social media started to give me the itch and to feel more confident in stepping out.
Going back to Italy would definitely be my first choice, but travel to Europe is absolutely not available to Americans right now. So starting to look at my options, and I remembered my friends at Thrifty Traveler sharing on their site how the Caribbean is a good option for Americans. So I started looking, and one of the countries w a low infection and positivity rate, yet also open to American tourists was Jamaica. I started reviewing some the vacation packages on Delta Vacations and then started to slowly let the idea fester a bit. My research was reading reviews on TripAdvisor and also looking at Instagram. A couple days more and then I was really comfortable booking travel. So I settled on a Delta Vacations package that included air, 4 nights stay at an all-inclusive resort, and roundtrip transfers.
My flights to/from Montego Bay, Jamaica included a connection in Atlanta both ways. Living near a Delta hub and being very loyal to them, it was easy to choose Delta. Especially because of the strong safety and cleanliness protocol they have been enforcing during the pandemic. So for me, Delta was really my only choice. Like the phrase "If it's a Boeing, I'm going" - if it's Delta, I'm going! That's how loyal and comfortable I am with flying them.
My first flight left Minneapolis at 5:40am on a Saturday, with a 50min connection in ATL. It seriously has been SO long that I traveled, that I was concerned if 50min would even be enough time at the normally "World's Busiest Airport". So to further boost my confidence, I purchased an Allianz Travel Insurance with the Delta Vacations package for $29.
5:40am is certainly pretty early for a flight. The front check-in agents start their shifts at 4am, and at MSP only the north TSA side was open when I arrived at 3:30am; so that is where I went through. I only had carry-on luggage, so I didn't need to check anything anyways. They only had one lane, and neither TSA pre-check nor Clear were open. But when I met the TSA officer they notated my boarding pass that I was TSA pre-check, so then that way I didn't have to take off my shoes, etc.
At MSP airport, masks are required. So the few people that saw, everyone was wearing masks. It was too early to go to the Delta SkyClub, as it opened at 5:30am and boarding was at 5:00am. So I waiting for a while by myself in the open "mall" area of the airport. And when it got closer to boarding I went to the gate.
At the gate and as expected, everyone was wearing masks. The disposable surgical masks, handmade masks, and the N95 masks. There was about 1/2 dozen people who did not fully wear the mask over their mouth and nose. So basically just under their nose. THAT really frustrated me. But I just kept my distance.
The Delta gate agent started the boarding and reminded everyone of their mask policy with no vents. And there were two gentlemen that had N95s traveling together. One had a vent, and I saw the gate agent give them a new disposable surgical mask. So I appreciated how firm Delta was following their safety protocols.
On the plane the flight attendants were so genuinely friendly. And you could hear just how grateful they were for us to be supporting them with travel. But.... for me, and maybe because it was still so early in the morning, I just felt very anxious. Flying out at such an early time would possibly help me sleep a bit, which I did. And clearly, I wore my mask the entire time. But I still felt a bit.... anxious.
The aircraft was a large 757, and as a Gold Medallion I received a complimentary upgrade to Comfort Plus. True to their word, every middle seat was open and blocked for booking on Delta. The flight attendants did come around with a clear zip bag containing a small bottle of water, napkin, hand sanitizer, cheez-its, and a Kind granola bar. The granola bar was almost comical to eat, as it kept crumbling - very messy. But I appreciated the gesture. It also was a bit awkward to eat. What is the proper etiquette? Do I take my mask off temporarily? Do I pull it down or do I lift it up? What will the other passengers think? What would be the most respectful way to eat? So I chose to lift the mask up so that my nose was still covered. Still awkward, but that's what I felt the most comfortable with.
I forgot to also mention that when I boarded the plane the FA's were right there w a tray of individually wrapped sanitizer wipes. So once I got to my seat, I was able to wipe my hands again and/or the space around my seat. Delta has partnered w Lysol - so between every flight, they wipe down every seat and the space around. And also, the Sky Magazine is no longer in the seat pocket, so you don't have to worry about that.
The landing was fine at the International Terminal in ATL - Terminal F, I believe. And we arrived two gates away from the gate that I was departing from. So there was no worry at all w the 50min. I had enough time to use the restroom and then to get back in line at the gate to show the Gate Agent my Jamaica Travel Authorization form.
Boarding ATL to MBJ was a similar experience. This time I believe the gate agent advised we would be boarding back to front, with First Class able to board anytime they wanted. This aircraft was an A321 and row 15 was the first row behind Comfort Plus. So while I was one of the last to board and my luggage was all carry-on, overhead space wasn't a concern since all the middle seats were empty. And I ended up having my side all to myself - I had the window and no one was in the middle or aisle. Yay! I can put my backpack under the middle seat space.
What struck me on this flight too was the same similar, quiet feeling among all the passengers. It's just such a weird time to travel right now. I have never been to Jamaica before, so I would imagine that previous flights would have had excitement in the air - kinda like a Vegas flight. Everyone loves going to Vegas. But this flight didn't have that same excitement in the air..... it was somewhat somber. These are weird times understandably.
But then we landed and all was good.
Now on the return portion back home, again same return routing of MBJ-ATL-MSP. As a Gold Medallion I received an upgrade for the ATL-MSP flight, but all First Class and Delta Comfort Plus seats were booked on the MBJ-ATL leg, which was an Airbus A321 again. That's okay.... because the ATL-MSP was a newly renovated 767-400 and I was medallion-upgraded to the Delta One cabin!! Too bad it was only a two-hour flight.
The MBJ-ATL flight.... I felt totally comfortable now. I had done two flights and knew what to expect. No stress, no anxious.... just happy there were no issues getting back home. Flight was relatively quiet, but again.... I felt comfortable. (Other than the family behind me that had purchased a Monkey Drum souvenir for their toddler. Who does that?) *A monkey drum is that toy with the handle that has the small drum with two strings attached w balls. So when you shake the handle, the balls annoyingly beat the drum. Don't bring one of those on an airplane, please.
I do have Global Entry and that was also a different experience upon landing in ATL. Due to COVID, you no longer place your passport or answer the questions on the screen. Instead you line up your face w a face outline on the screen, and then tap to take the photo. A receipt prints and you hand that to the US Customs agent. He/She will then request to see your passport and the usual questions.
The rest of the ATL airport was absolutely empty! I had arrived around 5pm, and it was absolutely empty. Pretty weird to see that actually.
Now the ATL-MSP flight, this upgrade was definitely memorable! The flight attendants, per usual, were super friendly and welcoming to everyone. You could tell they were also excited to be on this newly renovated plane. In Delta One, the seats were all individually enclosed - somewhat similar to the Delta One Suites but without the door. Nice large monitor, large over-ear headphones, and a seat that would adjust to fully flat.I just kept it in lounge mode so that I could watch a movie on this two hour flight. In Delta One, we had our choice w a snack pack - so that is technically an upgrade over the zipped baggie. It just felt so luxurious to be traveling again up front on a wide-body plane.
So when's my next flight? I'm not sure, I don't have anything booked. And I'm okay with that. I had my fun for four nights, and got my plane fix in. So I'm good for now. Just feeling grateful that I had the opportunity to get away for a few days and safely fly with Delta.