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  • - [Flight Attendant] Please remember wearing your mask

  • or covering over both your nose and mouth

  • is required throughout our flight.

  • (light upbeat music)

  • - My name is Sebastian Modak,

  • and I'm one of many travel writers no longer traveling.

  • Like many, the thought of flying now makes me nervous.

  • But as a formerly frequent flyer, I'm also curious.

  • Many months into the COVID-19 pandemic,

  • I wondered what does the new normal of air travel

  • look like around the world?

  • How are different airlines, different airports,

  • and different countries responding to the pandemic?

  • To find out, I had to get on a flight.

  • And, stuck as I am in the United States

  • for the foreseeable future,

  • I also needed to call on some others for help.

  • - I can't believe how many shops are open.

  • - I'm feeling pretty good about the flight.

  • - [Sebastian] I decided to take a quick trip

  • from New York where I live to Chicago and back.

  • Eva Xaio was set to fly to Istanbul on a reporting trip.

  • And George Downs was making the trip home to London

  • after a work visit to Toulouse.

  • First, I wanted to get an idea

  • from someone who knows what they're talking about

  • of what I should and shouldn't do on a plane.

  • So I spoke to Dr. Celine Gounder,

  • infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist

  • at NYU and Bellevue Hospital.

  • - The risk on planes is really related

  • to the people who are closest to you on the plane.

  • The HVAC systems on planes are quite robust.

  • And so the air exchanges you get on planes

  • are actually quite good.

  • So it's the people sitting within a couple rows of you

  • that we really worry about.

  • And masks and potentially some sort of eye covering,

  • face shields, would be really important

  • for reducing that risk.

  • - Then I was ready to fly.

  • By car, by coach, by train, George, Eva and I

  • made our way to our respective airports.

  • And we were all struck by one thing.

  • I've never seen it this empty.

  • - It does feel quiet in here.

  • - [Eva] This station's usually not in this empty.

  • - I had decided to fly two different domestic airlines

  • to get an idea of what sets them apart.

  • American Airlines to Chicago,

  • Delta Airlines back to New York.

  • - [Pilot] Hey, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

  • - And even when I bought the tickets,

  • I knew there was gonna be a difference.

  • When I look at the seat maps on American Airlines,

  • everything's up for grabs, including the middle seat.

  • On Delta, however, they've blocked out the middle seat,

  • or at least it appears that way.

  • In George's case, his entire route was unusual,

  • a result of a drop in flight frequency

  • based on diminishing demand.

  • - I have to go to Charles de Gaulle in Paris

  • and then swap planes and go to London from there.

  • - [Sebastian] For Eva, things were mostly normal at home.

  • The situation in Turkey was more uncertain.

  • - Turkey's had over 1,000, 1,500 cases every day.

  • Whereas, Hong Kong I think had seven today.

  • - Because of our different routes,

  • we had different arrival regulations we had to follow.

  • In my case, the arrival protocols in Chicago and New York

  • more closely resembled recommendations than rules.

  • It's kind of interesting that I'm seeing the sign

  • telling me to quarantine as I'm leaving (laughing),

  • because I did not see it as I arrived in Chicago.

  • Meanwhile, George was ready

  • for two weeks of quarantine at home.

  • - When I travel from England to France,

  • that's a travel corridor.

  • So I was able to arrive here

  • and get about my day without having to quarantine.

  • However, the same, unfortunately for me,

  • doesn't work in the other direction.

  • So when I get back,

  • I'm going to have to quarantine for two weeks.

  • - [Sebastian] But even then, when he arrived in London,

  • he found that rules and processes had seemed to relax a bit.

  • - When I walked through, nobody took my temperature.

  • - [Sebastian] Eva, meanwhile, got tested before leaving

  • with a self testing kit she acquired from her doctor.

  • Upon arriving in Turkey,

  • she would have to present a health declaration form,

  • but there was no quarantine requirement.

  • She would have to quarantine at home though

  • when she returned to Hong Kong.

  • Perhaps the biggest change in flying

  • everywhere around the world,

  • regardless of airline or destination,

  • is the requirement to wear a mask.

  • It was a mixed bag though when it came to compliance.

  • - Mask standards are slipping.

  • - Everyone's wearing masks, of course.

  • - People are just coughing without their masks on

  • and things like that, so I'm a little nervous.

  • And in George's case, there were rules he had to follow

  • about the type of mask he was to wear.

  • - I'm just boarding the plane now,

  • but there were signs everywhere saying that I had to have

  • a disposable surgical mask specifically for this flight.

  • - [Sebastian] That's despite Dr. Gounder telling me

  • that cloth, surgical, or KN95 would all do the trick.

  • - Any of those that you showed us would be fine.

  • - [Sebastian] Eva brought back up

  • because of the length of her 12 hour flight.

  • - I've been told I should just wear it

  • for a maximum of six hours.

  • So actually I have another one.

  • I have to switch in the middle.

  • - [Sebastian] Before flying, I had heard from some people

  • that the boarding process had changed

  • from the cryptic zone system

  • to a far more logical and far more COVID safe

  • back to front process.

  • It turns out that was only the case with some airlines.

  • Eva who was flying Turkish Airlines had that experience.

  • - It looks like they're boarding from the back to the front.

  • - And I only had that experience on my way back,

  • when flying Delta.

  • On American Airlines, by contrast,

  • not only were middle seats not blocked out

  • and the plane packed,

  • but the boarding process was business as usual.

  • Delta said it will be blocking off middle seats

  • at least through January 6, 2021.

  • American confirmed it is not blocking middle seats,

  • nor has it changed its boarding process.

  • The airline did say it informs customers

  • when a flight is full and allows them to change

  • to a more open flight without fees.

  • George's flights were full.

  • And not only were middle seats not blocked off,

  • but he found himself in one.

  • In my case, it was one of many parts

  • of the process I found surprising,

  • mainly how different the experience was

  • between Delta and American,

  • two of the United States' big three airlines.

  • As a passenger, I've always thought

  • there has been very little light between the two.

  • Through their responses to the pandemic, that has changed.

  • On my first flight to Chicago,

  • besides the face masks, not a lot had changed.

  • This flight back to New York was a whole other story.

  • There was constant reminders that this was not normal.

  • The middle seats were blocked.

  • Nobody was sitting next to anyone else.

  • Amenities were altered across the board

  • no matter what plane we were on on.

  • On American, I received nothing but a single wet wipe.

  • Flight attendants only appeared to collect garbage.

  • On Delta, I got the wipe

  • plus a Ziploc bag of snacks and water.

  • Eva got a full boxed cold meal.

  • Her hygiene kit was quite a bit more impressive

  • than the single wipes both George and I were treated to.

  • When I arrived back in New York,

  • at a kiosk near a baggage claim,

  • I was asked to fill out paperwork

  • with my personal information.

  • In it, I agreed to quarantine for 14 days.

  • A week after my flight,

  • I hadn't been contacted by anyone to check that I was.

  • So what is flying like in 2020?

  • The short answer is it depends.

  • Safeguards vary widely from country to country,

  • and even within one country.

  • Most people are still choosing to postpone their trips.

  • In the week we traveled in mid-October, for example,

  • the number of scheduled flights was down 47%

  • compared to last year.

  • In the United States during that week,

  • the number of travelers going through TSA checkpoints

  • surpassed 1 million for the first time since March,

  • but that's still less than half as many as last year.

  • No transit authority, airport, or airline

  • has figured out a standard one size fits all model

  • to being 100% safe in these unprecedented times.

  • Passenger numbers reflect the uncertainty

  • many feel around air travel right now.

  • (light upbeat music)

- [Flight Attendant] Please remember wearing your mask

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How Different Flights Around the World Look During a Pandemic | WSJ

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/31
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