My Pandemic Era Flight and the Mask Issue
For Some Airport Employees, It Still Seems Hard to Wear a Mask
By Tab Hauser
As a regular contributor to GoNOMAD and a serious traveler, getting on a flight to some corner of the world is very routine.
With the pandemic, I have been “grounded” since my last flight (and story) on the British Virgin Islands in early March. COVID then became serious and we were lucky to get out before the airport was shut down.
This included the cancellation of our son’s and fiancé’s dream mountain top wedding affair with 130 family and friends.
Time for Plan B
With the bride’s dress looking beautiful, and the groom’s suit tailored, the photographer and flowers paid for and realizing they lost their $5000 deposit on the wedding venue they announced Plan B.
This was a private self-ceremony with immediate family only at sunrise on the Flat Iron peaks over Boulder.
Decision to Fly
Flying to Colorado was an easy decision as its citizens had a mask requirement a month earlier and their COVID numbers came down quickly. New York, our departure point in August, was the country’s poster child for low COVID counts too. With this positive news and Jet Blue blocking the middle seats to Denver we decided to take our first flight in five months.
Flying these days is a concern to everyone, even for experienced travelers. Before getting our ticket I researched with doctors and medical sites on flights, looked into the different masks as well as Jet Blue’s web site on air circulation and sanitizing.
At the Terminals
At JFK’s Terminal 5 we were initially pleased to see all the Jet Blue employees at the ticket kiosks, baggage check-in, and other places to assist passengers all masked up. Other airport staff were wiping things down.
COVID matters were not as tight from security check-in and beyond. We were disappointed at the TSA checkpoint.
At the identification check, we walked up to TSA Agent Walsh, who had his mask under his nose.
Staying back a little further we asked him very politely if he can wear his mask over his nose as required.
He handed back my boarding pass and told me no because he had to breathe all day. He then told me to go to another agent because “he was not comfortable checking me in”.
Finding a Masked TSA Agent
I was pretty stunned at his response and had to walk to another agent who was masked up, polite and efficient. In calling up a TSA friend of mine I was told that the agent should have been written up for not wearing his mask correctly and for being rude.
A complaint placed to TSA has not been answered as of this date. Waiting in line we not pleased by an airport assistant standing to assist people with a mask below her upper lip.
After passing through security I witnessed about 80 percent of custodial and other employees wearing masks. One janitor was wearing his mask under his chin while sanitizing a door and breathing on it.
While there were inconsistencies in COVID protocol, we still felt safe. We gave more than 6 feet distance to the staff not wearing a mask properly and did not touch anything.
Denver Was Better
Denver did a much better job with their staff. On arrival and then departing five days later I noticed 100% compliance with masks and witnessed constant cleaning.
I picked Jet Blue to Denver because they were the only non-stop flight offering a blocked middle seat. To further protect before boarding we switched out from our normal hand sewn masks we use every day to an N95 respirator.
The reason is that the N95 forms a seal around your nose and mouth and filters out 95% of airborne particles.
After some research and speaking to doctors, they felt this offered a significant amount of protection making the flight low risk. We also wore eye protection to keep any airborne away from them.
Many Mask Announcements
Jet Blue was excellent about making sure masks were worn. Announcements were made at the gate and repeated on the flight saying the exception was only when you were having a snack.
Arriving at our seats we wiped everything one can touch with sanitizing spray and clothes before sitting down. This was not new for us as we wipe things down on flights before the pandemic.
Simple Snacks on the Flight
For snacks, the airline kept it simple. They did not pass out their usual assortment of goodies, drinks, and coffee.
Instead, everyone received a sealed zip-lock bag with a water bottle, bag of cookies, granola bar, and a note confirming how it was safely packed.
While I missed the blue potato chips, it easy to see why flight attendants were not working the rows like they usually do.
Recently many tourist-oriented businesses and locations are starting to offer some significant discounts to lure you out.
If you are going to fly somewhere, check the airline web sites to see if they are blocking seats and for how long.
Check their COVID protocol also. Also, check if you will be subject to any quarantining when you get there.
Also, pick a place where you can feel like you are in your own bubble. Using a condo at VRBO or Airbnb on a tropical island, hanging out on a beach and dining outdoors may be just what you need after the last six months.
It’s Tough after 4.5 Hours in a Mask
If you fly, I will say that after four and half hours the N95 was getting uncomfortable so be prepared. Lastly, do your research and talk to your doctor and see what they say about your health and flying.