This week, I traveled alone for the first time in over a year.
It’s incredibly weird leaving my well-insulated bubble of an island for the Mainland.
Truth be told, I wouldn’t be traveling under normal circumstances. I don’t think anyone should be traveling for funzies right now. I don’t think anyone should be heading to their families for Thanksgiving (outside their normal household) either.
There are extenuating family circumstances where I have the ability to help. I’m grateful for the flexibility my career offers that I can typically work from anywhere which means when help is needed, I’m around (typically). Don’t go thinking I’m about to head across the Pacific to help with Girl Scout sales…although those Thin Mints are legit.
I’ll also be getting two COVID tests before heading home to Hawaii.
So, as I hugged my husband goodbye when he dropped me off at the airport, I had such a mix of emotions. It’s been over a year since I’ve traveled alone! My heart was happy. My mind was anxious.
Ask anyone who enters an airport with me and suddenly, as if my little feet have rocket boosters, there’s an extra pep in my step and I’m movin’ and groovin’ through airport processes. I’ve got all the zippers in my backpack memorized to easily glide through TSA Pre-check by popping out my Global Entry card and boarding pass in one hand and once done, zipping it back into my pre-determined compartment in the other hand. I was so excited to bop through our super tiny Kona International Airport, sit at a gate (no real lounges here), maybe grab a beer and wait for my group to be called.
We’ve flown since the pandemic started. In fact, we literally moved across an ocean during it. But I had my life buddy with me then to navigate this odd, new COVID-travel world. I also had my 14 year old kitty to worry about during our nearly 20-hour travel day.
This time, it’s just me.
As exciting as that was, I was quite anxious, and truth be told, a little rusty.
I was always that person who would wipe down seats and windows and air vents and flight attendant buttons, but I almost sat down before I went into full disinfecting mode this time.
Perhaps I was just excited to have a seat at the table again, so to speak.
There’s something unnerving about flying over an ocean for 5-6 hours without any land mass in sight. Did you know that the Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated island chains in the world? That means anytime I leave to visit anyone, whether that be in Japan or the US, I’m making a major hike across an ocean, something we knew when we moved here, of course.
It’s still a bit discombobulating to know that if there’s an emergency mid-air, we have a bit to go to find some land. Not that I ever think like that. Or catastrophize anything and everything. Nope, not me.
I’ve flown to Australia, Thailand and Hong Kong twice, so these 5-6 hour flights are not much by comparison.
The longer flights always give me more time to settle in. I realize that sounds odd to people who view flying as simply getting from point A to point B, but I really enjoy the experience of it. (For the most part. If people could still figure out what you can and can’t bring through security that would make it infinitely better.) On longer flights, I appreciate being able to bang out some work, sip on a glass of wine, maybe watch a movie and if I’m lucky enough to have cashed in some airline miles, put that seat in full flat bed mode and catch some zzzzzs.
I know a lot of you are curious what air travel is like currently and boy do I miss writing about travel, so lucky you–you get to join me on a day of COVID-travel!
LEG ONE: Traveling from Kona, Hawaii to Seattle, Washington
I booked a red-eye from Kona, which is on the other side of the Big Island where we live in Hilo. It’s about an hour and a half drive there, which is the furthest we’ve ever lived away from an airport. Our airport in Hilo is great, it’s about a 10-minute drive from our home and flies to any of the Hawaiian islands on “the big planes” as my friends put it. (Meaning, they aren’t puddle jumpers.) But, it didn’t offer many flights to the mainland.
So to avoid flying from Hilo to Honolulu, then to the mainland, I opted to drive to the other side of the island which has direct flights to mainland.
This avoided an extra layover, which in my mind is the safer route when traveling during a pandemic.
COVID-Travel Pro Tip: If you can, avoid (multiple) layovers.
Kona’s airport is all outdoors. Bonus for COVID-travel times. Not so much if you want to avoid getting sweaty before your 6-hour flight. But I planned for this accordingly with layers. Travel pro here, folks.
I checked my bag and was told that TSA Pre-check was on the right side of the security line. But once I got there, I couldn’t find it because people were lined up like game day outside the bars at Michigan State. There was zero social distancing. I asked someone who I saw asking the TSA employees where the pre-check line started and he pointed me to the middle of a giant group of people.
So I made my way there and left room between me and the people in front of me, as much as I could without people using it as an invitation to cut.
Aloha spirit, what?
The line barely moved. At all.
It should be noted, I got to the airport an hour and a half before my domestic flight, where I have Delta status that gives me access to Sky Priority lines. I also have Global Entry which gives me TSA Pre-check. Both options were painfully slow and there was little difference between the regular and priority lines.
But, since I’ve lived in Hawaii for 5 months at this point, I took it in the Aloha Spirit stride because I had an hour and half before my flight. No problem, right?
Except both took so long that I literally got to the gate as they were calling Sky Priority. I’m glad I had time to get a water because I soon found out we got a small bag of munchies and tiny water for the entire flight.
I specifically booked this flight because of the aircraft flown, a Boeing 757-200 (75S). I knew it had 3 rows in the back that were huge exit rows. Additionally, Delta is still blocking the middle seat so there was a chance I’d have the whole row to myself.
I successfully gambled as the flight was barely booked and I did have the whole row to myself! I missed being upgraded to First Class by one person. If I had, I would have been laying down in my flat bed seat enjoying all the wine and food I could get.
But since I was in the lowly Main Cabin (I say this facetiously, people!), we got a ziplock back of a tiny water, Cheez-its and my favorite Biscoff cookie. As it was a red-eye I had already eaten and prepared to basically just sleep.
I disinfected all 3 seats, pulled out all my layers of clothes from my bag because exit rows are notoriously cold on long-hauls and then settled in for the 6 hours. I wrote for about 1 hour and tried to sleep the rest. I even asked the flight attendant if I could use my 6 (SIX!) Delta drink vouchers I have because–hello, we don’t travel anymore–to grab a glass of wine, but he told me they aren’t able to do it in the Main Cabin.
About 10 minutes later, he came back and told me I could move up to Delta Comfort and he’d be happy to serve me there. How sweet. I asked if there were many people there and he said no. But I already had settled in and the glass of wine wasn’t worth it.
Mark the date and time as words you’ll never hear me say again.
As we landed people, in general, followed social distancing rules. Delta specifically tells everyone to wait for people to get their luggage out of the overhead bins before moving forward. It’s something I really hope people abide by post-COVID because nothing grinds my gears more than people barreling through to the front to avoid waiting for others in front of them to leave. (Barring a tight connection, there is no excuse for this.)
LEG TWO: Traveling from Seattle, Washington to Portland, Oregon
Thus, began my layover in Seattle.
If any of you follow me on Instagram, you remember how appalled I was when we moved to Hawaii this summer and had a layover in Seattle. It was Packed. Yes, with a capital P. Perhaps it was COVID-fatigue, perhaps because cases were lower then and people felt more comfortable not abiding by guidelines, but whatever it was, it was packed.
I was pleasantly surprised with Seattle again this time.
Please note, it was 5 am. So that helped immensely.
COVID-Travel Pro Tip: If you can, book your flights for very early in the morning.
I headed to Terminal B where my next flight was taking off and again, happy to see people social distancing on the train to get there.
Once I got there I saw I had about an hour to kill, so I made my way to the Delta Sky Club in Terminal A. I had not been to this one before and the lounge life geek in me was super excited to check it out.
Once checked in, I saw the upper level mezzanine was closed and all available food options were individually packaged. In general, it was the same things you’d get during non-COVID times in the Delta Sky Club; they are just taking precautionary measures to ensure people aren’t double dipping and using the same serving utensils.The Starbucks machine still worked and I grabbed a double espresso after that 6-hour red eye. Praise be!
I didn’t take any pictures of my food, but for the weirdos that like to know: I got hard boiled eggs, an avocado egg breakfast sandwich and some Greek yogurt. Again, all packaged individually.
At one point, while I was eating my hard boiled eggs, a Delta agent came up to me and started to say, “Ma’am you’ll need to wear…” and then she saw I was eating and stopped and smiled. I was super grateful they are monitoring people wearing masks. I wasn’t offended. My freedsom hasn’t been taken away. She was ensuring everyone was safe and being taken care of.
COVID-Travel Pro Tip: You’ll be asked to only take off your masks between bites and sips. Use one hand to slip your mask down and the other to eat.
I know this seems basic, but you’ll want to keep each hand available, which means using your tray table or table in the lounge to keep your food on.
I disinfected all of my area before sitting down to eat and then went to the bathroom because I love the smell of the hand wash and lotion Delta uses. (Oh yeah, and I needed pee.) Yes, as a marketer I know which brands use what scents. Delta uses Malin + Goetz and the scent takes me back to my days of traveling more regularly.
Plus, bathroom goals!
From there, I quickly hopped into a co-writing session with my fave MOFOs and started writing this very blog.
Then it was time to head to my gate. I was upgraded to First on this leg for my whopping 45-minute flight to Portland.
The people in my boarding group were cognizant of 6-feet separation and again, the flight attendant handed our hand sanitizer. I got to work sanitizing my whole area again.
When I was upgraded, I was assigned a seat in a row with 2 seats. First class on Delta’s Embraer E-175 are a 1-2 seat configuration. Main Cabin is 2-2. I decided to select the side of the plane that had 1 seat. This ensured I’d be as far from people as possible.
My flight wasn’t packed at all. Everyone was spaced out well, even for a smaller plane.
COVID-Travel Pro Tip: Many airlines are still blocking the middle seat. I would recommend going with these airlines.
Even if it’s more expensive, if you have the means, having the middle seat blocked is ideal. Right now, Delta, Hawaiian and Alaska are blocking the middle seats. While air travel is still safe, you do need to take proper precautions and having that extra distance is an added benefit.
The flight was uneventful. I literally was in the air for about 12 minutes before we started our descent into Portland.
Once we landed, people were again respectful of letting the person in front of them get their luggage out of the overhead compartment and once those people left, then getting up to get their own luggage.
PDX was pretty empty or at least emptier than I’ve ever seen it before. (Check out that famous carpet.)
It was still pretty early, so I’m sure that helped with how empty it was. Most of the stores and shops were still open. They had a lot of signage about distancing, similar to Seattle.
I went to baggage claim where people were again very mindful. Please know though, because of my husband’s line of work, I’m pretty vigilant about distance and masks, so some of this may be that I’m placing myself far away from other people.
After that, I grabbed my bag and then another coffee because when in Portland…
Overall, everything went smoothly.
Please bear in mind:
- I’m traveling alone. Traveling with kids would be significantly more stressful.
- Having airline status is an added social distancing benefit I had never thought about. Upgrades and lounge access are nice ways to get away from crowds.
- I was on a red-eye and my layover was very early. This helped significantly with crowds.
- I’m flying from a place that people are more or less flying to more often. That means my flight home to Hawaii may be more packed.
Anything I missed that you’d specifically like to know about?