360 Magazine Culture Editor, Tom Wilmer reports on the numerous glitches in the process of traveling safe in the air.
The day before I checked in for an early morning flight to Austin, Texas via SFO and Houston, United Airlines was advertising their promise to maintain empty middle-seat flights. But something went haywire at United overnight, as two of my three flights to Austin were packed to the gills with most middle seats occupied—it would have been all three flights, but I was upgraded to first on one leg.
When I checked in for my flight, a notice popped up on my phone from United informing me that it would be a fairly full flight and they offered alternative flights as an option. Nice gesture but rerouting would have entailed a delay until the following day to get to my destination—with no guarantee that the alternate flight option would have blocked middle seats.
As of this writing, virtually all airlines proudly tout mandatory mask requirements for all passengers—but while en route onboard my flights, the dutiful masked passengers dropped their face coverings as flight attendants dispensed beverages (water) and cookies. So there I was, mere inches from my seat mate, both of us doing our duty, wearing our masks – but now protecting only our chins, from the evil, invisible germ. And throughout the cabin it was the same, basically mask-less, scene.
Arriving at Austin/Bergstrom’s TSA cattle chutes, Social-Distancing sticker reminders adorned the concrete floor, every six feet…and the queued-up passengers were actually compliant in their attempts to maintain their distance — that is until we were flagged past the TSA ticket/identification checker. As passengers queued up to take shoes off, extract make-up bags, computers etc., they suddenly, randomly squished frantically up to within three or four inches from one another.
Throughout this collapse of proper social distancing, TSA workers ignored the traffic jamb and continued barking out reminders to remove laptops etc., from bags—but zero, zippo, nada, commands were interjected to maintain proper social distancing as the jumbled-up passengers squished toward the x-ray bag tunnel and body scanner.
Transiting through Denver’s DIA Airport, gaggles of Boulderites, and Denverians dutifully and proudly wore their masks. However, salted in to the hord of obedient, transiting passengers were the all-too-frequent mask less rogues with chins held high and chests puffed out proudly.
The reality of traveling by air today is akin to rush hour commuting by automobile. One moment you’re flowing along at a comfortably safe, even clip while maintaining a proper distance between you and the car ahead. A split second later the flow of traffic snarls up and you jamb on the brakes—Traveling by air is much the same, it’s a continual battle to protect yourself and maintain a bubble of safety.