Mar 31st, 2020

Flying During a Pandemic: A humorous look at a not so humorous situation

Posted in Aviation News

I flew during the Corona Virus Pandemic and lived to tell about it.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not making light of the situation or the suffering.  I didn’t just decide to take advantage of a super cheap fare and head south.  In reality, I needed to be with a loved who is medically doing poorly.  So I flew during a pandemic.  Below is a light hearted look at a serious situation. 

The Airport

My first clue that things would be different is when I pulled up to the airport and there were three cars at the curb, four if you count mine, five if you count the parked police SUV, or back to four if you don’t count the car pulling away.

As I unloaded my bags, I could see one worker at the counter.  By the time I walked inside the terminal she was gone.  Hhmmm, no passengers in line and no customer service rep behind the counter, maybe they cancelled the flight.  They had not.  She was down the counter visiting with another airline.  I asked her if, due to my height (BTW: Short people please don’t ask for an exit row seat), if I could have an exit row seat.  She gave me the whole row.

I asked her how many folks would be on the plane.  She replied that she couldn’t tell me, but pointed out that she had given me the whole row.


View from the Front, Exit Row Looks Clear

Then on to the dreaded TSA.  I passed the Air Canada desk, it was empty (guess that makes sense with no international flights).  Then United, three people at the counter, make that four, but one was carting away the bags.  The conveyor belt was turned off.  Come to think of it, the customer service rep at my counter rolled my bag down to United as well.  Hhhmmm, wonder how it got to Florida?

Delta long dominated the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.  I looked down at their 21 person service counter.  Three or four service reps, same as United, and no passengers, same as United.  I don’t want to go out on a limb, but I would say that United was overstaffed.

OK, back to the TSA.  Eleven people in line.  If you stacked them on top of each other it would look like nine, because two of them were little guys (aka: small kids).  I guess if you count me, it would be more like ten.  My height sometimes counts for two, sometimes.

I’m not making this next part up.  I am putting my stuff in the bin and a dude comes up behind me, “Excuse me buddy, my flight leaves in ten minutes, would you mind if I cut in front of you?”  “Go right ahead”.

I’m thinking, there’s hardly a soul in this airport and you are about to miss your flight? 

The fun was only beginning.  The guy is about to go through the machine when the TSA agent says, “Are all the electronics out of your bag?”  “Oh, I forgot”, the guy jumps out of line, starts to unzip his bag, stops and jumps back in line, “Oh, I didn’t bring any”.  Wonder how this guy was running late for his flight?

But, there’s more.  He sets off the screening detector!  Now he has to stand there while some TSA agent finds his gloves so he can pat him down.  I think I got through the line before “the dude” did.

On the other side, I asked a young TSA agent if their hours were being cut back.  “There doing a good job of cycling through so that all of us get our regular hours, but we feel for a lot of airport employees who are being cut to part time or laid off”. 

“That’s too bad, but I guess it reminds us of what is eternally important”, I replied.

He stared at me, like a deer in the headlights.

His older counterpart at the X-ray machine shouts, “You got that right”.  He was tracking with me.

“How has this affected your traffic”, I asked older clued-in guy.

“At this time of morning, we would normally have 2,000 people in this room” was his reply.

I did a quick count, 21, including the TSA agents.  “I would say that numbers are down a little bit”.

The Terminal

View from the Back, No Waiting Line at the Lavatory

On the walk to the gate, I saw one guy.  A pilot quickly walking to Terminal B to take a flight.

Up the escalator where I spotted the Subway gal behind the counter.  I went over and she put the tray down, ready to serve me.  “I don’t want anything to eat, just wanted to ask a question.

How many restaurants are open at CVG? “

“I think there are two, us and McDonald’s.”

“Are you serving many people?”

“Maybe 20 in a day…and those are mostly flight crews, almost no passengers.”

“Wow, I guess it reminds of of what is eternally important.” 

“Amen to that”

She had a clue.

She wished me a blessed day and I was off for the gate.

As a side note, on the way to the gate, I passed a large slice of a tree cut down in the 1930s.  The labels on the cross section stated that the tree had germinated around 524 AD and was cut down in the 1930s, wow that is an old tree. When I read the new signage at the bottom of the display is says the tree germinated around 524 CE (Common Era).  What is the dating based on for Common Era and Before Common Era…the birth of Christ.  Why don’t we just stick to what has always worked, BC and AD.  It makes you wonder why the traditional dating bothered people.

The Flight

Back to the flight.  I loaded onto the airplane. Sure enough I had an exit row seat, and the entire row and the entire exit row behind me. 

I heard someone ask the flight attendant, how many were on board.  Here is my summary: 177 seats, 15 passengers, 4 flight attendants, two pilots, and a partridge in a pear tree.  It was really weird.

I include some photos from the back and front of the plane which I took while getting a stretch break. 

The Galley, but No Snacks

Stranger still was the crew service area in the back where the flight attendants prepare the drinks and snacks…empty.  See the photo. 

Things grew stranger still.

For the first time since the 1970s, my passenger flight had to go into a holding pattern.  Our destination city was reporting no wind and limited visibility.  It was fogged in.  We had to hold until either a) a wind blew out the fog or b) the sun burned it off.

Cloud Deck Below

The sun did its job.  After 15 minutes of holding we began descending.  I wrapped up the final few papers I was trying to grade.  I waited to go through the thick cloud deck below (see photo) but by the time we got below 10,000 feet the deck was gone.  We descended right through a wide VFR stretch.  By the time we got into the flare to touchdown (see photo) there was no sign of fog.

The Arrival

On the way out, I checked in with the pilots.  A couple of nice guys, one was a former KC-135 tanker pilot, so you know he was a good man.  We talked flying for a few minutes.  I asked about the visibility requirements.  We needed ¾ mile visibility to shoot the only ILS approach into the airport.  By the time we descended we could and did a VFR approach.

Shuffling into the airport I was exposed to an empty TSA room.  Completely empty except for multiple TSA contract personnel.  I snapped a picture for posterity.  Ditto in the luggage area.  Completely empty except for my bag.

I emerged from the terminal, when I had flown in one month earlier, the parking lot was crammed.  It was now, virtually, empty (see photo).

Surreal, odd, strange and very entertaining.  Flying during a pandemic, I don’t recommend it, but it is interesting.

Oh, one footnote.  Of the 15 passengers aboard the flight, only one wore a mask.  I can’t blame her, but I must observe that I hope that one day she becomes as concerned about the health risk associated with the many extra pounds she was carrying, as she is with picking up the virus.

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