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Flying is Squeaky Clean

I flew last weekend for the first time since Covid-19 upended life. It’s a strange new world, but one that I believe we’ve got to engage with if we are ever going to move forward. I flew Delta, and I must say, I’ve never felt so clean!

The first big change is the absence of the frenetic pace that typifies airports and the entire arrival process. No traffic congestion in front of the terminal, no security people shooing lingerers away from the loading/no waiting zones. Inside, the check-in counters were empty with one lone agent standing at Delta. All those frequent flier perks that we work so hard to accumulate so that we can skip the lines, were suddenly irrelevant. No one was there but me.

The biggest change? Each time you move from one step of the flying process to the next, someone is sanitizing you and your surroundings.

It starts with the Clear line. No more putting your fingers on the touch pad, instead, with mask on, you stare in to the just-wiped screen for an eyeballs-only scan. No full-face scan because they don’t want you to lower your mask. That finished, a chubby bottle of hand sanitizer is plopped in your hand. Next, step up to the TSA agent who does not touch your ticket or ID. It is do-it-yourself scanning. That done, use sanitizer again.

In Delta’s frequent flier lounge, the Sky Club, the always friendly hosts are now ensconced behind Plexi-glass walls making them seem less approachable. It’s like looking at them through a store window display. The normally jammed club is usually filled with passengers bustling to all points of the globe and the energy always fires me up and makes me feel like I’m part of something special. This visit, I was seated alone in an empty lobby, so quiet that I could hear a man’s food wrapper rattling from the other side of the room.

The Sky Club’s big draw is the always delicious hot and cold, self-serve buffet that makes the weary traveler whole without having to go to a restaurant. On this day, hot soups, fresh salads, side dishes and baked goods were replaced by a space-age looking, carefully organized selection of wrapped, labeled foods arranged on a grid by someone who must be an engineer, not a chef.  Everything was encased in protective plastic from vegetables to tiny individually wrapped pita breads. As soon as you finish eating, attendants whose hands are covered in black safety gloves swoop in to whisk away your debris and swab all surfaces you may have touched with disinfectant. Guests are spaced so far apart, it’s as if you are there alone. The local newspapers that I love to read are gone (you can learn a lot about a place by reading its newspaper) as are the slick travel magazines that never fail to fire my vacation fantasies.

As we stepped on board the jet, a masked, gloved flight attendant handed each passenger another sanitizing wipe and encouraged us to use them. We were all assigned a luxurious amount of room with no one in the dreaded middle seats. Once airborne, the chance to ponder whether my snack should be Biscoff cookies or Cheetos, and if it is too early for a glass of wine, is gone. Curated refreshments now arrive in little plastic bags and include a small bottled water, packaged snacks, and tiny individual one-squirt packets of hand sanitizer accompanied by a note about keeping clean and safe (as if we had forgotten).

Even the cabin safety announcements have changed. Passengers are now asked to refrain from placing used sanitizing wipes in the seat pockets in front of us. Instead, the attendants will come through the aisles to collect them. Ugh.

Now that I’ve had my first taste of protective flying in the Covid era, I’ll definitely do it again, but I long for the good old days of traffic jams, big crowds, rushing people, smiling flight attendants, overflowing overhead bins, and rubbing arms with some stranger who is crammed in the middle seat beside me.