I Traveled for the First Time in 16 Months: An Alliance Member’s Experience

Editor’s note: As hopeful news about COVID-19 vaccines spreads nationwide, more people are returning to “normal” activities, including travel, vacations, family gatherings and in-person meetings. As we countdown to Alliance Connect, Alliance members are sharing their recent, post-vaccine travel experiences on the Almanac. Here, Audrie Tornow shares an overview of her cross-country trip to Seattle for a family wedding.

In February 2019, I boarded a flight home from the SACME annual conference. Then, the world came to a screeching halt as we all retreated to our homes for over a year.

Now fully vaccinated, three weeks ago I found myself standing in Newark Airport for the first time in 16 months. Yes, I was apprehensive. Yes, I packed a million masks. Yes, I had hand sanitizer. It felt so odd to fly after so long, especially since it had been so common for me previously. Now, I was finally traveling to attend my brother’s wedding in Seattle, which was postponed in 2020 and rescheduled as an intimate ceremony of just the immediate family.

Here is what I experienced on my cross-country trip:

  • Maybe it was me, but people made eye contact because it was just genuinely nice to see others.
  • The bathrooms in the airports were neat and tidy, which most travelers know is not a common occurrence. However, I had not even considered the fact that air hand dryers would be turned off. The very politely worded signage read, “Due to the current health concerns, air dryers are not available.” The silence in the restroom should have tipped me off, but perhaps silence has become something of a more normal circumstance. The lack of those voracious whirling hand dryers makes a big difference.
  • Giving new meaning to the word contactless, many of the options for purchasing convenience items within the airport either happen via scanning barcodes or placing orders online on your phone. For travelers used to New York City airports, many of these conveniences were already in place prior to the pandemic; however, I would assume this will become customary in most airports moving forward.
  • The pre-boarding area had limited seats open for use to ensure social distancing, a term with which we are familiar.
  • Upon boarding the flight, we received a sanitary wipe to clean the armrests and tray table. I have to say, after years of traveling, I was amazed because the wipe was clean after I used it. Airline staff made statements informing guests that all seats and tray tables were disinfected prior to each and every flight. It did make me stop and wonder how often this was done in the past. It's nice to know that we are now doing this, and let's hope that we maintain this habit post-pandemic.
  • The rules of the flight ask for all travelers to wear their masks for the duration of the flight (in my case six hours) and to simply lift them when drinking or biting food. I have to say all of the travelers on my six-hour flight were respectful and simply did so with no complaints. Thank you.
  • We received an individually packaged bag, complete with a sealed beverage as well as snacks. There was an increased collection of garbage by flight attendants throughout the flight.
  • We deplaned when our row was announced, starting at the front. Again, everyone was patient and considerate. Please, let’s keep this habit, too.
  • Uber drivers have gotten creative with protective barriers for themselves. One of mine attached three clear Rubbermaid bin lids connected via zip ties to create a safe zone for them.
  • The building we stayed contained Airbnb units and had protocols in place, including only allowing one individual household in elevators at a time to limit exposure.

Here are the things that did not change over the last year and a half:

  • I was not randomly upgraded to first class. ☹
  • Upon exiting the six-hour flight, the floor underneath many, many seats looked like a pigsty. I am sure an analysis of the outcomes would determine that most of these messy travelers were adults. Clean up after yourselves, people. I would have thought we all learned a little bit about hygiene over the pandemic.
  • After 7 p.m. in any time zone, you have very limited options as to what remains open within the airport.

I traveled for a very personal event, and for each of you the decision to travel is your own. As you consider your future plans, I hope you all do so with courtesy for those around you, please follow the rules and wash your hands. Simple lessons we all learned in kindergarten still hold true for adults. Stay safe, my friends.

Ready to return to the airport? Start planning your trip to join the Alliance in Orlando, Florida, for Alliance Connect, July 14–17. Review the COVID-19 health and safety protocol, and register now to experience four days of educational sessions tailored to CE professionals across the spectrum of organizational settings.

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