After two shots of the Pfizer vaccine, I boarded a flight from D.C. to Miami, breaking my 18-month abstinence from airport travel. While I hoped to find a new utopia of conscientious flyers, the cynic in me anticipated that getting to my gate was going to be like that final scene in World War Z where Brad Pitt’s character attempts to walk by the zombies without getting chewed on. However, neither scenario proved true.
TL;DR Everything’s the same, except the snacks are worse.
Flying post-pandemic was entirely anti-climactic. Other than passengers wearing face coverings, nothing else has changed.
Pre-boarding announcements continue to be inaudible and mumbled, only now they are also muffled by a mask. “Heho and war come to fight five-ten-twenty with hard socks pelvis to mammy.”
Passengers in Group 8 maintain their strict practice of crowding around the gate, forcing the First Class folks to weave through them while groaning, “Excuuuse me.”
After washing my hands, dousing my bag with Lysol, and covering my face with two masks, I, like the hundred before me, placed the front of my phone on the QR reader to get through the gate and then immediately put my thumbs on it to text my wife.
I prefer the aisle seat. So much so that if I were to tally the fees the airlines have charged me to select said seat throughout the years, I could have single-handedly fueled up a 747. The major downside of the seat is and always will be getting smacked by backpacks and purses during the boarding process. A pandemic didn’t stop this practice, but I did become hyper aware of the very many bare hands of boarding passengers that draped over my seat and the seat in front of me.
Once everyone was seated, the flight attendants began their safety demonstration. I confess that I have never been one to pay attention to the mimed version of how to blow into my life vest, but this time I did. I took it all in. I noticed the detail of my flight attendant’s messy bun, the tiredness in her blue eyes, and the premature stress lines that had cracked her otherwise youthful forehead. I took a closer look at the entire crew as they walked down the aisles on their final check. Man, they all looked haggard. They pointed at relaxed seatbacks, downed tray tables, open laptops, unbuckled seatbelts, and masks under noses…and that was just my row.
Once in the air, I took a closer look at the cabin. While I did notice less crumbs encrusted on the carpet, there was a large smear of mustard on one of the overhead bins.
The person in the seat behind me opened and closed their tray table at least 400 times over the course of 90 minutes. First prying it open without sliding the latch open and then slamming it shut, like she’s pressing a panini.
Speaking of food, there is none. Aboard American Airlines, guests outside of First Class are provided a very large plastic resealable bag with a very tiny bottle of water, one disinfectant wipe, and a sample-size pack of pretzels.
I watched as passengers flung off their facial coverings to devour the contents. Masks hung precariously on one ear, while others were splayed on tray tables. It was the first time I had seen strangers’ mouths in more than a year. And let me tell you, I didn’t miss it.
And then, there was the guy in the aisle next to me who, like me, was not eating. His face remained covered by two masks, a trendy cloth one over a green surgical covering, in addition to a clear face shield with the words SHIELD scrawled across the top. Yet, he felt comfortable enough to take off his shoes.
As the plane taxied to the gate, the metallic clangs of seatbelts being illegally unfastened pinged throughout the cabin. So did the text message alerts and ringtones, but the chime we were all waiting for was that final bing that indicates we can all stand in the aisle, a mere centimeters from each other, while we dangerously pry our bags from the overhead bins and hope not to catch a concussion or a virus in the process.
Was it always like this? Yes. It was.