Sunday, August 22, 2021

First Flights in the Pandemic and Impressions

We returned from the West Coast at 1AM this morning from Seattle/Tacoma. I had not flown since the INFORMS Security Conference in beautiful Monterey, California in February 2020. I had also not taken a "vacation" since way before then and, frankly, it felt good to put up the "I am away message."

In 2019 alone, I had given invited talks in Chile, Ireland, France, Greece, Colombia, and Mexico as well as in many parts of the US and had also been to Ukraine for an academic business meeting. I was, pre-pandemic, a frequent flier, and have missed travel tremendously. My travels, almost exclusively, involve professional travel but, this past Wednesday, it was time to visit family before we all begin another busy academic year of teaching.

My husband and I flew out of Bradley airport (in Hartford/Springfield) early last Wednesday morning on United and we had a connection in Denver. The flights we took yesterday, also through Denver, were actually rebooked from today and, thank goodness, that we did get rebooked since the last flight into Bradley that we were originally scheduled for got cancelled because of Hurricane Henri, the first hurricane to hit New England in 30 years. We always "dress up" when we fly and, believe me, one gets better service then. We got whisked through fast lanes on TSA check ins!

I am one of those travelers that enjoys the journey and I also love flying.

All the flights were jam-packed and I had a middle seat on all 4 flights. United was very efficient in boarding us, which certainly pleased me and there was only one kerfuffle with our online checkin yesterday and then the changing of our seat assignments so I was passing notes to my husband with the help of multiple passengers in our row (he got a window seat) to get messages to him.

I had many impressions on the flying and airport experiences in the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite announcements that everyone was to have their masks  covering both the nose and mouth, I saw quite a few masks below the nose in the airports and some folks seemed to dilly dally with their drinks and food to have their masks below their chins as long as possible.

I had packed extra masks in my briefcase (this was not professional travel but I still can't fly without my briefcase) and these came in handy since the gentleman yesterday next to me on the flight from Denver had his mask consistently slipping below his nose. His was very grateful for my mask and thanked me. I had a marvelous conversation with him (yes, I am one of those "talkers" on planes but I am genuinely interested in people and have made some amazing connections on flights - even a teaching gig at Harvard in Executive Education). He was a trucker he told me for UPS. As someone who will soon be teaching her Transportation and Logistics class, who could be a better seat-mate? He has been doing long distance journeys for UPS in the pandemic so the conversation was so interesting and informative (I could write a post just about it but my students will get to hear a lot). And, on the flight on Wednesday from Bradley to Denver, I had a top lawyer next to me, who had driven his daughter all the way to the University of Hartford, where she is a student! My husband teaches there, so the conversation was also amazing - plus, the lawyer has 4 children and was involved in the Amazon IPO! And, on the flight yesterday from Seattle to Denver, I was seated next to a student from Washington University who had been an intern at Amazon all summer and was flying from Denver to Newark to get home to Jersey City. He is a CS major focusing on hardware. So we chatted about his experiences at Amazon and also learning in the pandemic.

The lady on the other side of me on the last flight yesterday was cold, so I lent her one of my travel scarves to warm her up.

Outside of the student who sat next to me, everyone was flying for family reasons - they had not seen children or grandchildren for about 2 years - were now fully vaccinated, and could not put off living any more.

We wore N-95 masks throughout our travel on planes, taxis, and being in airports, and, when the lady behind us was coughing on the first leg, I offered her Ricola cough drops, which she declined, and said that she had "an allergy." I could go on about this but will stop here. It was time for us to double mask, which we did.

Tacoma was gorgeous - I could easily live there. I will share some photos at another time. 

And,  as I write this, we have torrential rains and high winds in Amherst due to Henri. There already are over 100,000 people without power in the northeast. While we were on the West Coast, I heard from many colleagues and friends as far as Hong Kong who were very  concerned about us making it back east because of Henri. Thank you for the thoughtfulness, which is so appreciated.

We managed to get some fresh produce at local farm stands but were shocked and disappointed that at the Cumberland Farms in northern Amherst very few were wearing masks, even people with children and we have a mask mandate now in public interior places in Amherst.