Strange is the word I would use to describe it. My wife and I canceled a special trip three times during the plague year. So when we got confirmation of our COVID vaccine dates, the first thing we did was rebook this ‘lost’ trip.
America is in a bit of a strange place right now – vaccination numbers are high, ‘normal’ life is resuming. But COVID is still an ever-present threat and dictates everything you experience while you travel through the air in the United States.
I’ve always liked flying, it used to excite me. It did not this time. I just wanted to get it over with so I could get to where I wanted to go. The problem is that we were flying across the country – so it was going to be a long flight.
So, as I’m writing this, despite the CDC saying you no longer need to wear a mask when you’re inside or outside if you’ve had the vaccine, you still have to wear it on an airplane and going through an airport.
The flight from ORD to LAX is at a minimum of four hours. You’re supposed to arrive two hours early and add time at the end for your arrival and you’re looking at at least 8 hours wearing a mask with few breaks.
I was not looking forward to this.
So first, our airfare was extortionate. Airlines are operating as full flights as possible. We’d booked the trip with a flight credit, but because we decided to go over Memorial Day weekend, it was $800 additional to get the seats. We figured we deserved it after everything we went through in the last 14 months.
We were very leary of our flight leaving as we’d watched the news and it kept saying how it was going to be so busy and whatnot. We expected long waits at security. Honestly, it was not long at all – we practically sailed through security.
But once through, we were with more people than we’d been with in the same place in the last 14 months. It was terrifying and my anxiety levels were quite high. We had to tell ourselves that we had the vaccine, this was low risk. Everything is fine.
EVERYTHING IS FINE.
It doesn’t help that the United terminal at ORD is rather cramped so people were very close, even when people attempted to respect the social distancing rules.
We had an extra set of hands as a friend arranged for us to be guided through the terminal with a greeter from Air General Travel Services. He helped us through security, helped with our bags, and kept us company, making sure we got on the plane and departed. It was comforting and helped! If you’re unsure about returning to flying or need an extra hand getting through the airport – I highly recommend getting in touch with them! Check out their website here.
Everything went smoothly, our flight was on time. People boarded the plane in an orderly fashion. I applaud for United staff for handling it so well and keeping people in line. They did well! Throughout the airport and on board, there were ample warnings about how you were legally required to wear a mask and that there were very real penalties if you refused to comply. For the most part, everyone listened to directions (a few people didn’t listen when the flight attendants told people to remain seated until their rows were called to deplane).
The plane was a 737-900 and the flight was full. I’ve become rather claustrophobic as I age and I will admit that when you combine wearing a mask, it felt like the walls were closing in. We left on time, flight time was about 4 hours.
So, the mask.
This was by far the worst part.
The elastic on masks always make my ears hurt after a while. It was never really much of a problem because I never had to wear them for extended periods. But on the flight, my ears were screaming after an hour. There were, however, short breaks. You get a break when you eat or drink. I also took it off in the bathroom and gave myself a chance to breathe.
I don’t mind doing my part, but it’s irritating that we have to keep the mask mandate on air travel when we don’t anywhere else. I watched a movie on my laptop and that helped keep my mind off the confined space and the mask. Before I knew it, we landed in LA and once we got into our rental car, the mask went off and it was heaven to breathe fresh California Pacific air.
Coming home was a bit stranger. When we’d left the airport in Chicago was heaving with people. We were flying home on a holiday, so we expected LAX to be the same.
It was a ghost town!
The terminal was practically empty with only a couple of flights. Most of the restaurants and stores were closed, which was irritating as we had only one option for lunch and it wasn’t very good. We wish we’d stopped somewhere before we got to the airport.
Waiting for the flight was leisurely. People respected distance. Mask wearing was 100% except when people were eating. United staff once again handled things perfectly and before we knew it, we were on the plane and heading home.
I learned a trick the second time around. I put the elastic loops of my mask around the headphone cups on my noise-canceling headphones, this took the strain off my ears and made the flight home much more pleasant. I watched another movie to keep my mind off things. Despite a bit of turbulence, we arrived in Chicago early. The United terminal was again empty and we were in our car quickly. We were in bed by midnight.
So, all in all, everything was a bit weird but everything went smoothly. It was definitely worth the trouble for a quick weekend away. It was an odd experience sleeping somewhere not my bed for the first time in so long.
I have another trip later this year that we’ve rescheduled several times. This one is transatlantic though. After struggling with the mask-wearing for so long on a flight half as long, I’m not sure if I want to do a transatlantic flight until the mask mandate has been lifted. Problem is, no one knows when that will be. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to go on the trip anyway. So much is still in flux. I’ve been waiting three years to take this trip, so I might have to be a big boy and deal with it. We shall see.
That being said, we had a wonderful time finally going on a long-deferred trip and any mild inconvenience was very much worth it.