Reader Mark, a family friend, travelled on United earlier this week. He shared with me with this report, which is interesting on so many levels about what it was like to travel across the country during the height of the COVID-19 epidemic.
I’m a worker in the medical industry. While life has slowed to a halt for many of you, it has only intensified for me. Work took me to New York this week (again), giving me another chance to fly United. Even since my trip last week, much has changed.
I live in Westchester, the neighborhood of Los Angeles just a short walk from LAX. To be more precise, my home is under 10 minutes from the famous In-N-Out Burger on Sepulveda Boulevard where I’ve spent many a day watching exotic aircraft land while eating “veggie” burgers, which are like a cheeseburger minus the beef patty.
Yes, unlike Matthew I am a vegetarian. A fat one, I might add (being vegetarian does not translate to being slim for me), but I pay penitence by walking to the airport whenever I travel. It’s a 20-25 minute walk that has allowed me to burn millions of calories over the years. Or something like that…
It was absolutely eerie how quiet Sepulveda Boulevard was on Monday night. This street is usually packed at 7:45PM. Instead, the cars were few and far between. Even eerier, there were hardly any airplanes landing. While airliners will usually be landing one after the other with 2-3 minutes of spacing, I only passed a China Airlines 777 and Delta regional jet over a 15-minute period. Scary times! You could literally hear the sound of silence.
I cut through the rideshare parking lot, which was like a ghost town. Imagine that this was so busy just a couple months earlier that passengers were waiting over an hour for a ride. Now it was silent. A few workers standing around, one or two cars waiting, but silent.
Continuing my walk, I made it to Terminal 7 and entered the baggage claim area. Mostly empty, though I encountered a few passengers wearing masks. I do not wear masks, although I do travel with gloves and plenty of hand sanitizer. So far, so good.
Proceeding upstairs, it seemed like it was the middle of the night, not the airport’s most crowded time of day. For those who know LAX, the 8:00 PM hour is usually the time it will take you 30-40 minutes just to get from the freeway exit to the terminal. Not today. Not anymore. It was silent.
One couple was checking in, but the check-in lines were otherwise empty. So were the security lines. I was the only passenger, as dozens of TSA agents and a trio of CLEAR employees sat around talking.
Since I was flying business class, I could have used the lounge, but cut it close and proceeded directly to the gate. Terminal 7 was silent. A few passengers sat in the gate area, some wearing masks. A flight to London showed an “early” departure, which is easily doable when you can count the number of passengers on one hand.
Boarding soon began for my flight to Newark. Matthew always rushes aboard flights to take pictures but that was hardly necessary here. There were only about a dozen passengers on the whole flight.
In the Polaris business-class cabin were only six other passengers. The pictures below, folks, are of the fully boarded cabin!
Flight attendants were friendly and many were on the young side. I would have thought the more senior flight attendants would be the ones to keep flying, but maybe they are just staying home. I was still offered a pre-departure beverage, which I passed on. An amenity kit was offered.
There were three young men who tried to self-upgrade to business class, but were gently returned to their seats in economy class. The Premium Plus cabin, which is United’s premium economy product, stayed empty.
After the captain welcomed us onboard, we pushed back and soon took off. There was no traffic tonight.
Last weekend, United drastically cut service onboard. I was actually curious what would be served, though I had eaten dinner earlier. Usually it is a carb-heavy snack or a salad on a flight that departs around this time.
A fight attendant came around and asked me what I wanted to drink. No coffee or tea is available anymore. Instead, you can have water, soft drinks, beer, or wine. All drinks are served in individual bottles and no ice is available.
The same flight attendant returned and asked if I wanted to eat dinner. He said the choices were kale lasagna or chicken with pesto. I love the pasta on United and ordered the lasagna.
A tray soon arrived with the salad and main course sealed. Nuts, bread, and dessert were also in a bag.
Unwrapping it, I found that I was actually served mushroom ravioli instead of lasagna. I like that dish too so it was not a problem. The label said lasagna so it wasn’t the flight attendant’s fault.
I played flight attendant and think I did a pretty good job making my dish look pretty, didn’t I?
The purser came by and was shocked that I received ravioli not lasagna. He offered to switch it out. When I declined, he offered to bring it in addition to the ravioli. I agreed.
Is it any wonder I am overweight?
The lasagna also came wrapped and included kale and mushroom toppings and a creamy white sauce. I’m not sure which dish I preferred, but I ate them both entirely. And two bags of nuts. And two salads. And two cookies.
After washing my hands, I had a walk through the aircraft. This era in travel is unlike anything I have ever seen. It was so quiet. So empty. The little lamps at each business class seat and cold blue lighting made the mood even more somber.
I reclined my seat and quickly fell asleep. One nice thing about an empty cabin is that no one hears my snoring! About 22 minutes before landing I was gently shaken awake by a flight attendant. After preparing the cabin for landing, the lights were darkened again and we landed in Newark with a short taxi to the gate.
The 787-10, by the way, was cleaner than I’ve ever seen one, especially the lavatory. I don’t know when they scrubbed it, but it smelled like someone had just cleaned it and the cabin was very clean.
The terminal in Newark was also empty. I keep using the word eery but I cannot think of a better word.
So there you have it. This is what flying is like in the era of COVID-19. I’ll let Matthew know if anything interesting transpires on my return trip.
-Thank you Mark for this detailed trip report during unprecedented times and for the work you do in the medical field.