The surreal experience of flying during a pandemic

I have flown during this pandemic, and I guess I also am but the feeling is mutual. The passengers have to sit in their assigned seats prior to takeoff so the plane is balanced. Apparently that’s a thing, who knew? I just thought it was another urban legend. But the flight crew made me sit in my assigned seat next to a couple who were flying together. They clearly didn’t want me there, and I didn’t want to sit next to them either, but who were we to argue with the flight crew? As soon as the plane was in the air and the fasten seatbelt sign was off, they moved to another row by themselves, so it was all good.

I wouldn’t say it’s common, but it’s been known to happen. Even as asocial as I am, I’ve still hung out with random strangers preflight. When an extended layover became even more extended due to technical problems, I’ve shared meals, played cards, exchanged book recommendations etc with others. And just to prove it’s not just me, I was traveling with co-workers for some of this.

They still do, in Cincinnati and I think Winston Salem NC.

I tend to agree, but… piano bar?


An N95 mask ($1 in the before times) and a pair of goggles would make flying as safe as it ever was.

Why aren’t Boeing, Airbus, and all the airlines pooling their money to build the world’s largest N95-mask factory like, right now.


Yeah. They took it out in…76? 77? The train was no fun after that, I started to fly.


It would make more money than their airplanes right now.


Honestly it’s hard to believe that air travel could be made worse than it was pre-COVID-19, but with hard work and fat government subsidies beyond the ones they already enjoy, the airlines have done it!

Lufthansa is looking at offering more flights again starting in June, but with (presumably) social distancing and “restricted catering options”. My guess is that once (as we all hope) there’s an efficacious vaccine in wide distribution and everything goes mostly back to normal, this will be their opportunity to get rid of free in-flight meals.

My mother-in-law passed suddenly on the 11th of March. We’re in Australia, she was in the UK. We flew out on the next flight available (by bringing the flights for my father-in-law’s 70th birthday forward, which happened to be with Qatar).

The flight out was normal-ish. For anyone that hasn’t done Perth to Cardiff it’s something like 12 hours to Doha then another 7 hours to Cardiff. There’s about 90 minutes between planes, but you wouldn’t want much less. Both flights had empty seats next to us, which really helped us get some sleep. Doha provided us a short-cut through the airport, so we didn’t interact with much. When we arrived in Cardiff, everything seemed normal (small airports are a joy).

Then the world fell apart.

The Monday before the funeral my wife noticed that there didn’t appear to be any Qatar flights from Cardiff in April. We confirmed that the Monday after the funeral was the first and last Quatar flight out of Cardiff for about two months. We moved our return flights to it. Then on Sunday the flight vanished and we determined that the airport closed. So we moved the flight again, this time from Heathrow on the Wednesday. Fortunately we had a rental car and you don’t have to actually drive into London to get to Heathrow.

Heathrow was weird. No queues, staff outnumbered travellers. But also, everything was closed. The first plane back was full. A lot of Asian students were transiting between Florida and Doha, then on to wherever. Everyone was happy to be moving forward. Staff had masks and we had some too; I think all of us were wearing them to keep everyone else happy. Service was otherwise normal.

Six people from that flight transited to the Perth flight. The plane was maybe 10% full. I know that everyone on that flight and their luggage fitted on two busses because we were escorted by police to two-week forced hotel quarantine. You can sleep if you have three or four seats to lay across.

Happy anniversary to us.

We never had any symptoms, but we must have caught it, surely. We were never tested in quarantine; I don’t think “they” wanted to ruin their stats.


》Flying has always been unpleasant, and rife with small indignities.

No. It hasn’t.

I am old enough to remember flying before deregulation, before all the air traffic controllers were fired for trying to make the skies safer. When tickets were much more expensive, and the airlines competed with each other, not to get us there more cheaply, but to provide a more pleasant experience.

Admittedly, I was young enough then that 30,000 feet felt magical, and it coild have been a cattle car and I would have been happy with it. But the ever-shrinking seat pitch was a direct product of deregulation.

Given how much air travel contributes to global warming, it’s not clear to me that resuming pre-covid flight habits will ever be a good idea.


We used to trust each other?

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Did you have to pay for the hotel in Perth? Around the same time my sister, who lives in London, suddenly decided to move back to Melbourne but her quarantine idea seemed to involve staying with her elderly mother. I told her to stay where she was.

That does sound pretty awful.

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No, but we weren’t allowed to step out of the room.

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Because you can’t just “build” and N95 factory. If you want to build an N95 factory, you first need a pile of money to go on a mass hiring spree of engineers and technicians to put together the place and build out a process. You then need to learn how to build an N95. Then you need a hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment installed in your factory where you have gathered a small horde of engineers and technicians. They need to spend some quality time figuring out how to learn how to use all of this equipment and get it setup. Then you need to gather all of the materials from the various supply chains to make the masks. You need to figure out how to test the masks you make, pass any FDA health inspections, build inspection systems to make sure your product doesn’t kill people or make them sick, and maybe if get that all running in a few years, you can have yourself the big N95 factory. Of course, the airlines will have no fucking clue how to run it because they are airlines and would be murdered by their competitors, but they could certainly find a new and interesting ways to rapidly lose all of their money.

I work in manufacturing. Random companies don’t just slap down factories of products they have never built for the first time and just start turning out product. That isn’t how any of this works. You might as well suggest the airlines switch to building moon rockets. At least they might have some aerodynamic expertise to bring to table if they were building moon rockets.


If the airlines had HEPA filtration installed in the HVAC system the recycled air wouldn’t be a problem. HEPA filters actually are better than N95 masks at catching viruses.

N95 masks are called that because they filter 95% of particles 0.3 microns in size. HEPA filters filter 99.9% of particles 0.3 microns in size.


I remember those days. Calling ahead to book your meal so you could have steak instead of chicken, having actual legroom, visiting the cockpit and speaking with the pilots in flight, complimentary playing cards to wile away the time.

Flying used to be wonderful, now it is Greyhound with wings.


“The air already in the cabin is passed through high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filters to remove bacteria and viruses and then mixed 50:50 with the fresh air from outside. The excess cabin air is vented through valves to the rear of the plane to keep the cabin pressure constant.” from a BBC Magazine article

It looks like your more positive view of the situation is correct; bravo! And thank you for providing a ray of sunshine in to this dark worldview of mine.


I’ve already missed three funerals because of the epidemic and associated travel limitations.


I feel for you. No actual service for my father in law until after this is all over - hopefully in the fall if we are lucky. But three? Kenny, it breaks my heart to know that you have suffered triple the loss and pain that I’m going through. I cannot imagine. Words cannot express my condolences.


I wonder if it is still like that. I still have to piece together a flight from Oslo home to Hawaii, I’ve been trying to avoid flying through Covid hotspots like London and New York. A practically empty Heathrow doesn’t sound too awful.

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