Fear of flying in the summer of coronavirus

Fight the virus by wearing a mask!

  • Joseph Darius Jaafari
Happy Tuesday, Contexters. I’ve said it before, but I’m a big dude who overheats very quickly. It’s not fun during the summer for me. And wearing a mask? It’s very much my 9th circle of Hell. But I still wear one whenever I go inside buildings or other people’s homes, and even when I’m outside if I know I’ll wind up closer than 6 feet from other people. Being outside has its advantages. If you’re like me and don’t mind walking out of your way to maintain the 6-foot rule and avoid wearing a mask, that’s great. But indoors? Masks on! If I can do it – sweaty and breathing heavy the whole way through – so can you. —Joseph Darius Jaafari, staff writer  

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Arriving travelers walk by a sign in the baggage claim area of Terminal B at LaGuardia Airport, Thursday, June 25, 2020, in New York. New York, Connecticut and New Jersey are asking visitors from states with high coronavirus infection rates to quarantine for 14 days. The “travel advisory” affects three adjacent Northeastern states that managed to check the spread of the virus this spring as New York City became a hot spot. Travelers from mostly southern and southwestern states including Florida, Texas Arizona and Utah will be affected starting Thursday. The two-week quarantine will last two weeks from the time of last contact within the identified state. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Travelling right now is weird. At the start of the pandemic, the country came to a screeching halt, and it looked like travel industries were going to suffer tremendously. Airlines canceled nearly all their flights, the world’s largest airports were empty, and train stations and bus terminals were emptied.

That anxiety over travel started to ease in the past month or so, thanks in part to the lifting of coronavirus restrictions across the country. More so than just four weeks ago, Americans today are gathering in bars, eating in restaurants, shopping in stores and going on trips.

I spent most of the past month in the Southwest, visiting family and getting sun while working remotely. Last week, I spent time in Arizona, where I was able  to get outside and do some hikes and walk around the desert. But it was an anxiety-filled experience, as Arizona started seeing a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. Fueling that increase was the fact that wearing masks in public wasn’t required in Arizona — in any setting.

I flew back to Pennsylvania from Arizona over the weekend, and it wasn’t lost on me that many of the people on my flight were leaving a place where the rules of social distancing and mask wearing were largely not observed.

Air travel in the United States is at 25% of its numbers compared to last year. That’s a big decline, yes. But it’s dramatically higher than where the industry was only two months ago when it slumped to single digit usage.

In Philadelphia, ABC6 reported that passenger travel could soon be as close as 50% of last year’s numbers, while Frontier airlines added six new routes to Philadelphia starting this week.

Americans are starting to travel again, and the coronavirus is very much still spreading with them. The airlines seem to be shrugging off coronavirus precautions. United and American decided to end their social distancing guidelines starting tomorrow. (Though, as I tweeted about on my return flight, it seems like they had already started doing so.)

The logic from the airlines is that social distancing – specifically on airplanes – isn’t something that can be done without a dramatic hike in ticket prices. (Important to note here that the industry received a $25 billion coronavirus bailout to keep operations afloat.)

As a trade-off, airlines say they are requiring passengers to wear face masks, which is a good thing (as we noted in yesterday’s Context, masks are very helpful in reducing the spread). But are the airlines enforcing that mask requirement? A quick scan of Twitter or Facebook provides hundreds of anecdotes of mask-less passengers and air crews indifferent or unwilling to step in.

All of this to say that air travel is just as scary today as it was when coronavirus first hit. Probably even more so, as there are less restrictions in place and hot-spot states continue to allow people to fly without quarantine requirements.

So, what is there to do if you’re going stir crazy, but don’t want to fly. Road trips, for one. In Washington, D.C., people are fielding the idea of road trips up to Pennsylvania and parts of Maryland, foregoing their beach vacation plans.

For staycations, there are still opportunities to get outside and celebrate summer without cramming indoors and sharing circulated air. Hershey Park is reopening this Friday, Erie’s beaches are open for sunbathing, boating on lakes is now available everywhere. And don’t forget Pennsylvania’s amazing collection of state parks, full of hiking, camping and even swimming opportunities.

But the biggest determining factor of safety, even in these outdoor situations, is your willingness to care for other people by wearing a mask.

We know that masks work tremendously in reducing the spread of COVID-19. Even if you don’t think you have the virus, the best approach is to act as if you have it.

Here’s a basic rule you can go by: Indoors or outdoors, if you’re within 6 feet of people who you don’t trust or don’t know, simply put on a mask.  —Joseph Darius Jaafari

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