When Mark wrote a trip report about traveling during COVID-19 back in March showing empty airports and planes, I figured things would be much busier nearly four months later. But my journey to Chicago this week was surreal in how eerily quiet California’s two largest airports remain.
My July 2020 Trip To Chicago On United Airlines
My trip was to Chicago and I could have just flown nonstop from Los Angeles. But I chose to travel via San Francisco for one primary reason. To maximize my day and time with family, I chose to take a redeye flight. The choice was a 737-800 nonstop or a 777-300ER via San Francisco. Both flights would have been upgraded. I don’t know about you, but a lie-flat bed on a redeye flight is worth an extra connection.
I arrived in Los Angeles about 45 minutes before my flight to San Francisco. The United Club remains opens, but every shop and restaurant was closed except for the newsstand. I figured I’d at least be able to get coffee or a sandwich (I had not eaten dinner), but there was nothing.
Boarding is now from back to front, though Global Services, 1K, military, and families with young children are still invited to board first, regardless of seat assignment. I was on a telephone call and ended up being one of the last to board.
My fight was uneventful and very empty. Flight attendants handed out sanitizing wipes while boarding and a small snack (bottle of water, stroopwaffel, pretzels) after takeoff. Additional beverages were available upon request.
I like sitting on the starboard side when flying up to SFO because of the airport views upon takeoff and because I love flying over the iconic Apple headquarters in Cupertino.
San Francisco International Airport was really quiet. I had a four hour layover (which was fine because it gave me time to work quietly) and I used part of that layover to take an extended walk through the United terminal and international terminal.
At SFO, virtually everything was closed. One coffee shop was open in the food court, but everything else was shuttered.
The usually-bustling international terminal was empty, save for one United flights (to New Delhi). One noodle bar was open, but the only people eating were employees on break.
I walked all the way down to the end of the terminal and stepped out onto the observation deck. The air was so fresh and cool…I miss San Francisco so much. I just stood there, alone, for several minutes enjoying the ambiance and fresh air (I’ll admit, I lowered my mask here).
Back inside, I proceeded to my gate and continued to work until it was time for boarding at about 11:00PM.
The flight to Chicago was very empty. Business class was about 1/4 full and economy class departed with over 200 open seats. With actual flight time under four hours, the plan was to eat a quick snack and then take a nice nap.
After takeoff, flight attendants offered a snack box. This time, I chose the kid’s snack box, which hit the spot with beef jerky, crackers, apple sauce, cookies, and fruit snacks.
Then I slept…very well. I woke up very cold as the cabin was being prepared for landing and instantly regretted not bringing my own blanket.
The lavatories still feature full amenities and were clean.
I shared about my experience in Chicago here.
Even though I traveled during off-peak hours, the airports were a lot emptier than I imagined they would be. For all the talk about United not blocking middle seats, that was not an issue for anyone on this journey, with flights loads 25% at best.
Everyone wore masks, everyone kept their space during boarding and deplaning, the aircraft were clean, and I felt very safe onboard.
Tomorrow: my trip home.