I am in 14-day self-isolation after completing two cross-country airline roundtrips for some medical tests not available in New Mexico. I was reluctant to make the trips, originally scheduled for March. Finally, I decided to go ahead this month using the highest caution.
(Actually, not the HIGHEST caution. I saw people on my flights in full Tyvek suits, shoe covers, gloves and goggles. I had masks and Lysol wipes.)
Let me start with the airplane experience: expect planes to be full. Expect to wear a mask from leaving your car at the departure airport until your arrival in your hotel room or similar private destination. You are allowed to bring larger sizes of hand sanitizer in your carry-on, but they require additional screening. Your flight will be quiet. No one is making idle flight chatter.
At the airport, expect most food and beverage outlets to be closed. Expect TSA to request you to lower your mask to confirm your identity. Expect airline lounges to be partially closed with limited amenities. Expect crowds, and especially families, in gate areas. Many major airports have online ordering for food and beverage; this is a good time to use it.
At your destination, expect more of the same. Hotels will have limited food and beverage options, concierge lounges are closed, many restaurants are closed. Many restaurants that are open request a full name and phone number prior to seating you so they can notify you and the health department if they have an outbreak. You have to request hotel housekeeping service the night before. Mask, mask, mask. Retail outlets have limited hours, and limit the number of shoppers allowed inside at a time.
I share all of this to say, if you want to keep your vacation plans no matter what, you may want to rethink it. Many of the things that make vacation tourism fun are not available, and more importantly, airports and hotels are not posting their food and beverage closures on their websites. Before you take three children under the age of five on a plane, think about what they will eat and drink and what you are allowed to carry on, and how you will keep their hands clean. When you arrive at your destination, does stocking up at a local grocery store and relying on restaurant takeout and delivery sound fun? Do you want to experience amusement parks and malls with full social distancing? And are you sure you want to pack your kids on a plane to a destination that will keep you all cooped up in your hotel far more than you had planned?
Yes, you can still go. No, it will not be the same experience. And everyone has pretty good cancellation or rescheduling policies right now. Also note that when you return to New Mexico, you are required to self-isolate for 14 days. Currently, returns via airport in New Mexico are not subject to contact tracing or any sort of screening. Masks are made available for any passenger deplaning without one.
Some specific notes from my trips:
Best major hub airport for open services, restrooms, and mask compliance: Dallas/Fort Worth.
Worst major hub airport: Phoenix. Nothing is open, no one wears a mask, and everyone brought all the kids.
Worse that I thought it would be major hub airport: Chicago O’Hare. Nothing is open, very crowded.
Gloves + mask? Mayo Clinic, where I was, says no to the former, and does not allow entry to persons wearing gloves. The reasoning is frequently cleaned hands are better than never-cleaned gloves.
Surface contact worries? Mayo Clinic isn’t too worried. Masks are absolutely mandatory, and hand sanitizer is everywhere. Smaller waiting areas have seats blocked off for social distancing. But I didn’t see constant wiping down of reception and waiting areas.
I hope this limited travelogue is useful to my neighbors weighing their upcoming travel plans. Looking back, I am okay with my decision to travel for medical testing but would absolutely not do this for recreation right now. I would also not travel with young children or elderly individuals this summer. That’s my opinion, though. I tried to lay out the reality as I saw it so that you can make your own informed decision.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and a former Navy officer. She lives amicably with her Democratic husband and Republican mother north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat.