Something that feels illegal but is not? Traveling in 2020. I don’t really know where I am going with this article, but I had a huge urge to write about my unpleasant yet pleasant experience traveling during the COVID pandemic. I have had to travel multiple times during the pandemic since I had to move out of my college apartment and had to look for new apartments for next year.
The first time I traveled during the start of COVID was during spring break when I was kicked out from college and had to go straight from Miami (where I was spending my break) back home instead of college. It was during March, and I remember everything felt weird, but nothing was taken seriously. My flight had no social distancing protocols in place, and most of the travelers were not wearing masks. I got my Starbucks before boarding, which is my normal flying routine. Many restaurants and shops were full at the Miami airport, and everything felt chaotically normal.
The pandemic started to get worse when I got back home, and things were taken much more seriously. I had to travel again in June to move out of my college apartment. This time everything was different. The first thing I tried to do all of May was actually find an available flight. There were absolutely no flights with Delta or American Airlines. I had to call the American embassy and explain my situation on why it was an emergency. They had to book my flight.
When I got to the Santo Domingo airport, everybody had masks on, and nobody was interacting, looking, or even acknowledging each other. I don’t know about you, but personally, one of my favorite things to do at an airport is people-watch, and I did no such thing. It felt like I would get in trouble if my eyes interacted with another human being. It felt unreal, uncomfortable, but mostly scary. I had a connecting flight to New York because JetBlue was the only airline available in the Dominican Republic, and they had no direct flights to Atlanta. When I landed in New York, I remember being in complete shock. It was like arriving at an abandoned building.
It took me 30 minutes to find a shop where I could buy a bottle of water and a snack. Only one shop was open, and I quickly bought water. Everything was closed, and I could easily count the people at my gate with one hand. I remember getting emotional for the first time and actually questioning if life would ever go back to normal.
During my flight, there was social distancing (not that there were enough people on the flight anyway), but the middle seat was kept empty, leaving space between the other passenger and me. There were no longer drink options or snack options. Instead, they gave you a Ziplock with a small water bottle and Cheez-its. When I arrived at ATL, my bag was already waiting for me since there were only five checked bags on my flight.
I came back to my country in August and was able to travel with Delta, where most of the precautions were the same as in June – not much had changed except there were more airline options. I traveled from the Atlanta airport, which is supposed to be one of the busiest airports in the country, but it definitely did not feel or look like one. TSA, checking my bags and the flight itself felt like a one-hour meeting.
When I arrived at the Punta Cana airport, there was one guy (maybe a nurse or doctor?) who took our temperature and made us sign a paper that we would social distance for seven days once we arrived at our destination. I wanted to sneeze, but I held it in.
I had to go back to ATL in October to look for a future apartment for next year. This time I could definitely see a change. Obviously, the airports were not as packed as they normally would be, but I did notice more traffic and long lines. It had a different vibe of relaxation but also of humanity starting to build up again. I flew with Delta again, which meant I had a direct flight to my destination. The middle seat was empty, which is always nice, and I received my typical ziplock treat.
When I arrived at ATL, I could see that some shops (definitely not all of them) were opening up again. I was also surprised to see that some people were not wearing masks when walking around the airport. It took longer to get my checked bag and go through security and felt more like a two-hour meeting.
I came back last week, and the guy was not there to take my temperature. I thought that was weird.
As I said, I don’t know where I was going with this article, but I hope you enjoyed my experience traveling during a global pandemic.