What it's like to fly across the United States right now

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(CNN) – After months of solitary isolation in my one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, I finally decided to bite the bullet and fly to Northern California on Saturday, taking the utmost precautions with a pre-assembled Covid-19 kit: mask, gloves, hand sanitizer, wipes disinfectants and a straw.

Three days before my Delta flight on Saturday morning from New York JFK to San Francisco International on Saturday, June 27 (the only nonstop between those two cities that Delta Air Lines currently operates), I received a text message. "To ensure everyone's safety on their next Delta flight, all customers will be required to wear a mask, starting at check-in. Delta.com/facemasks."

I received two more emails and another security reminder before boarding. As for flying during a pandemic, they really went the extra mile to make sure you knew this wouldn't be like any other flight.

He hadn't really considered flying at all until Delta (and other airlines) cracked down on wearing masks. And when Delta confirmed that they would not sell intermediate seats, I thought I could do this.

Empty doors, few planes, unused equipment: Welcome to the pandemic airport.

Empty doors, few planes, unused equipment: Welcome to the pandemic airport.

Brekke Fletcher / CNN

Still, he wasn't sure if he should. New York City had so many cases, and despite the fact that I had taken every precaution to protect myself and others, and had been examined (negative) despite being exposed, I still felt that I trusted others. Passengers was as concerned and careful as I have been and remain a bad bet.

The amount of things that you can control with air travel is around the zero mark regardless of this global pandemic, so I felt that if airlines took this step for our safety, they could fly with a little less anxiety.

Good morning darling

But even though my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m., I thought, maybe I should skip it. Airlines have been great at offering unprecedented flexibility in terms of changing plans without penalties (though not so much with refunds), and I'm sitting on many unused airline tickets from the earlier days when I had travel plans.

I asked for my Uber (and this was my fourth time using the service during the pandemic), and the young driver was not masked, nor was there any discussion about the masks. The previous rides he had taken were like plastic partitioned hazardous materials cars and signs on how to keep his mask on and windows open and a hand sanitizer tank with tape on the back of the center console.

With an auspicious start, we reached the airport in less than 25 minutes; I kept my face masked pointing to the open window like a watery-eyed pit bull.

Welcome back

The JFK Terminal 4 airport delivery area, usually packed with city taxis and cars, was a ghost town. I think I saw a tumbleweed, which I followed metaphorically in the empty log area.

Inside JFK Terminal 4 after passing the almost empty security checkpoint on June 27, 2020.

Inside JFK Terminal 4 after passing the almost empty security checkpoint on June 27, 2020.

Brekke Fletcher / CNN

I proceeded to drop the bag, and there were only four other travelers receiving help. The desk agent asked me if I was going to Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Atlanta, because those were the only three flights leaving at that time.

I went through clear Security because, why not, I paid for it, but there were only two or three people moving in queues. It felt like the largest private jet terminal in the world, or what I imagine it might feel like because I've never flown privately.

The tumbleweb led me through the empty terminal, a long walk to gate B37, where only in February had swarms of people passed, fetching last-minute supplies at Kiehl & # 39; s, cleaning up the duty-free stock of Absolut , stocking up on the Hudson News, queuing for Shake Shack. But aside from the empty Hudson News and the essential Peets Coffee & Tea, there wasn't much open.

Et you, Shake Shack? Closed shops, closed restaurants in a sparsely populated Terminal 4 in JFK.

Et you, Shake Shack? Closed shops, closed restaurants in a sparsely populated Terminal 4 in JFK.

Brekke Fletcher / CNN

I saw few humans. Walking felt like a post-apocalyptic movie about a group of survivors in an abandoned airport terminal, who survived on a diet of rationed Smart Water, self-help books, and Pringles. But at least there was plenty of hand sanitizer.

I got to the door just as it was time to board, and somehow it was already empty. Was I really the last person to board an 8 a.m. flight? at 7:20? It seemed so. He had planned to get to the last one anyway, so it was a victory, albeit a strange one.

A lonely journey ends on a squirting road, Gate 37 at JFK Terminal 4.

A lonely journey ends on a squirting road, Gate 37 at JFK Terminal 4.

Brekke Fletcher / CNN

Welcome aboard – with warnings

Once I walked through the door and headed for the plane, I finally saw a line of about 15 people waiting to board. They were all masked as far as I could tell using the back of the head as a reference, but no one was close to six feet away. Another great reason to raise the rear because that's the only way you can control staying away from others.

The stewardess, masked, gloved and orderly, smiled with her eyes as she handed me a small package of Purell. Looking down the aisle of the 757-200 (and reaching the 16-seat business class cabin), I couldn't see anyone sitting next to anyone. The middle seats were empty as promised, and the rest of the cabin was basically full.

Even the airplane lighting was in a bad mood.

Even the airplane lighting was in a bad mood.

Brekke Fletcher / CNN

I always use the hallway because I like to get up and walk a lot during six-hour flights, and I am a heavy water drinker. However, I tried to keep my fluid intake to a minimum as I wanted to minimize bathroom visits.

When I got to 23C, the woman at 23A was in deep cleaning mode, reminding me of Naomi Campbell's pre-flight ritual (shared this time last year, long before Covid-19), which is very much in line with my own cleaning from the airplane seat. regime.

Cleaning is king

She looked at me suspiciously. I knew she was wondering if I was, well, a clean person. So when I settled in, I took out my coronavirus kit with the antiviral wipes and went to town at every touchpoint in my neighborhood. I saw her smile (I think) – she made eye contact and her cheeks seemed raised – as I wrapped my used wipes and threw them, along with my used gloves, in a plastic bag that I placed under my seat, followed by a rigorous application of my recently purchased Aesop hand sanitizer. Yes, I spent $ 10 on hand sanitizer because I'm worth it.

I took some photos, but nothing could really communicate the silence. It was quiet, and everyone with a window seat seemed to decide that even though it was TOMORROW on a beautiful SUNNY day, we all needed to fly in a grave.

He felt solemn, I dare say, funeral in that 757-200. In the dark, no one spoke above a whisper if it was as if they had noise-canceling headphones.

The author's selfie aboard a nonstop Delta flight from New York City to San Francisco.

The author's selfie aboard a nonstop Delta flight from New York City to San Francisco.

Brekke Fletcher / CNN

All announcements from the crew before takeoff acquired a tone of endurance and resolution: wear a mask, keep your distance, if you need to eat or drink, do it quickly and put that mask back on. Don't move around the sink, don't move, try your best to keep your distance, understanding that it's impossible to stay six feet away inside a narrow tube that goes 580 miles per hour at 38,000 feet. There will be no food or beverage service, but we will pass snack bags.

And we go

We were, as expected, number one for takeoff. All he could hear was the roar of the engines. They all looked forward, some watched movies, some read, others slept. It could have been half the night for all she knew with those drawn shadows and the lack of human voices or screeches of babies and children.

Once the WiFi turned on after ascending above 10,000 feet, I started working, actually wrote some of the above and made notes on this article, because I found that makes time go faster than watching "Knives Out "for the fifth time. I watched the movie "Cats" but decided it was a bridge too far for me first thing in the morning, even with Idris Elba playing Macavity.

Snack pack with Cheez-Its, water, Biscoff and Purell cookies.

Snack pack with Cheez-Its, water, Biscoff and Purell cookies.

Brekke Fletcher / CNN

When the snack bag cart came up to me, I craved the sweet relief of a morning ginger ale to soothe my tummy, but instead received a sealed plastic bag, which immediately reminded me of school lunches on field trips, but in instead of real food, I received Cheez-Its, a Biscoff cookie and a bottle of water.

Not to be ungrateful, but would it kill them to throw a banana or a nice stick?

Passing time

Since that was all the hallway action we could hope for (except for the eight times the stewardesses walked the halls picking up litter), I decided to throw a bone and review "Cats."

I tried to see "Cats", but it was not necessary.

I tried to see "Cats", but it was not necessary.

Brekke Fletcher / CNN

After about 15 minutes, he returned to work. That movie. I can't even ironically.

Unfortunately I had to go to the laundry several times, as did 23A, but it was the cleanest and least gross airplane toilet I have ever encountered. There is not a shred of evidence that someone has ever been inside, so it seems that people are not always disgusting and disgusting animals. I still don't understand what usually happens there.

Because if. I do want another Cheez-Its bag.

Because if. I do want another Cheez-Its bag.

Brekke Fletcher / CNN

Before I knew it, three bags of snacks later (and yes, I ate six Biscoffs and three bags of Cheez-Its in six hours), the pilot announced our descent. Time passed so quickly that I was surprised. I thought it would feel endless.

Touchdown, heavy on touch

When the plane landed and the flight leader welcomed us into the OFS, he received explicit unpacking instructions. Remain seated until the row in front of you has collected your belongings and cleared at least six feet.

The seatbelt sign went out and guess what, that's when the humans returned to their usual mode of air travel / animal brain / fight or flight.

EVERYONE (not me or 23A, of course) shot up and began to climb on top of each other to get their belongings out of the overhead bins. The hallway was immediately jammed, and despite trying to stay away from the crowd, I felt a part of another traveler's body pressed against my right arm, which I tugged, while making the dirtiest look I could muster while I was masked.

Pandemonium on landing: All behavior bets are disabled.

Pandemonium on landing: All behavior bets are disabled.

Brekke Fletcher / CNN

Being reluctant to conflict, I texted my friend in New York saying the wheels had officially come off the bus. It instantly reminded me of how New Yorkers had handled pandemic closings in April. Almost everyone followed the rules, the streets were empty and calm.

And then, boom, it's in late May, the captains turned off the seatbelt sign, and they were all milling around the parks and streets as if it was all over, simply because they had gotten over it.

Clearly, six hours was the most my traveling companions could give. As I tried to take my turn, get up and go while holding my ground, I stepped aside as people pushed and pounced on me.

Then 23A passed by me and I said with my eyes: "Thank you for being such a thoughtful hallmate."

His polite but polite nod as he passed by said, "You too. Be careful. Take care of yourself."

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