Before the pandemic, flying for me was as easy as riding a bike as I had gotten to know the airline industry inside and out after taking countless flights. I would often book the cheapest flight on any airline, arrive at the terminal just a few minutes before boarding, and breeze through the airport like George Clooney’s character in “Up in the Air,” still making it to the gate before my row was called.
After my trips in June, it became clear that travel was going to be different for a while but what shocked me most wasn’t the adjustments that I would need to make but the lack of adjustments that some of the airlines and airports were making.
Not all airlines value safety in the same way
The concept of safety varies from airline to airline. On each trip I took, I went from one airline that was entirely gung-ho about safety and social distancing to another airline that was less concerned. Going from one directly to the other, it didn’t take long to spot the differences.
On my second flight with American Airlines, for example, I was auto-assigned a middle seat when I checked in because I had a basic economy ticket. It was a risk I was willing to take, of course, but there were other seats and entire open rows available.
Had it not been for a kind gate agent, I would have had to either take the middle seat or hope that I could change seats mid-flight. This came just after I had taken a Delta flight where all middle seats and some aisle seats were blocked.
American was the only airline where, if it weren’t for the face-covering requirement and suspension of in-flight service, I wouldn’t know that there was a pandemic going on, especially as the airline started filling flights to capacity starting July 1. Everything else was the same from the boarding procedure to the nickel-and-dime basic economy rules that seek to punish passengers.
I came prepared with a face mask and gladly donned it for the duration of the journey to Georgia as Delta would also requiring a face covering onboard the aircraft. But as soon as I stepped off of the plane into the jetway at the airport in Atlanta, that restriction no longer applied as Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport didn’t require passengers to wear any face covering.
While a major regional airport, Hartford’s Bradley International Airport barely compares to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International, which was the world’s busiest airport before the pandemic, and I was stunned that the smaller airport would require face coverings but not the larger one.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in June that Atlanta’s primary gateway had wanted to implement the regulation but was blocked due to the Georgia governor’s executive order. A few weeks after that report, Atlanta’s mayor ordered face masks to be worn in public, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, but not before three Delta passengers who had flown from Albany to Atlanta tested positive for COVID-19 one day after their flight, USA Today reported.