Flying during Covid-19: Empty airports, empty airplanes
Updated: Aug 14
How is it to fly during the corona crisis? A Southwestern reporter tried it out.
By Johannes Becht
I am not seeking seeing myself being infected with the virus that is literally shutting down most of the world right now. But unfortunately, I had to get back to campus from my Spring Break vacation in Las Vegas. One flight was canceled and I was worried the next one could face the same fate. But everything went well eventually, and it was very interesting to see how air traveling works during a time like this.
11:29 a.m. (PT): I am on my way to Terminal 1 of Las Vegas McCarran International Airport. I really don't see that many cars on the streets, most Nevadans seem to obey the official stay-at-home order by the governor, issued just two days earlier. The Uber driver tells me that he now delivers food in addition to passengers in order to make money. At least he is not one of the millions of Americans who have filed for unemployment.
11:39 a.m. (PT): Just arrived at Terminal 1. I see exactly two people outside the building. McCarran Airport has made headlines this week by closing all gates at two concourses (B & E).
11:48 a.m. (PT): I am on my way to the security checkpoint, passing empty check-ins, closed gambling machines, and a few people who always will stay away at least 6 feet from me. I still have to get used to the fact that we are living in different times at the moment. It still feels surreal.
11:56 a.m. (PT): I have arrived at the security checkpoint. As expected, no line at all, the only TSA officer wears a mask. "Thank you", he says and hands me back my passport. "What about the boarding pass?", I ask. "No, you're fine", he says. It's my first time being allowed in the security area without showing my boarding pass. Crazy times.
12:12 p.m. (PT): I finally reach my gate. 30 minutes until boarding. I look at the other gates. No sign of any upcoming departures, despite the closure of two concourses. I also realize that the level of noise is far far lower than usual. Could stay that way.
12:55 p.m. (PT): Boarding starts a little bit delayed, but there aren't many passengers anyway. The whole boarding process maybe takes 10 minutes. American Airlines informs its passengers that they will not serve drinks or snacks on board as usual.
1:20 p.m. (PT): The plane is on its way to the runway. Meanwhile, I discover several other planes in parking position. No use for them during these times. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has even closed one of its runways to allow airlines to park unused planes there.
2:29 p.m. (MT, no DST): Transfer in Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. The airport expects 50% flight cancellations in April by its main carriers American Airlines and Southwest Airlines. The airport has closed its B and D security checkpoints in Terminal 4. On my way from concourse A to B, I hardly see any people. Spoiler: This won't change for the rest of the day.
3:30 p.m. (MT, no DST): I am one out of 6 passengers on the plane. Oklahoma, I am coming!
7:20 p.m. (CT): Will Rogers World Airport looks even emptier than the other airports. The restaurant in the West Concourse is closed, and a sign orders travelers from the states of New York, New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Washington, and Louisiana to self-quarantine for 14 days. Quick look on the screen: Roughly 1 out of 5 flights canceled.
7:26 p.m. (CT): I step outside. 34 degrees! Oklahoma, are you kidding me?