The pandemic is raging but you find yourself with a situation that requires you to get somewhere in a short amount of time… Flying during a pandemic is scary. Flying with your children adds another layer of complexity. But with some planning and some precautions (okay a lot of precautions) you can fly with your family relatively safely.
I was faced with this decision early in the summer. My nephew was supposed to be baptized. When we canceled our April trip , we used the credit to purchase our summer tickets to New Jersey. But the pandemic continued. We discussed if we should go or cancel. When my aging grandmother had a series of falls and then hospitalized to have her gallbladder removed, I knew that I could not cancel. Instinctively I knew that this might be one of my last trips to be with her, even for a short while. While I am hopeful, I will see her again, I also knew I would never forgive myself if I don’t. Armed with masks, hand sanitizer, and a lot of anxiety, we decided to fly.
On the way to New Jersey, at last minute my husband could not join us, so I flew by myself with the two children, ages 10 and 8. We were flying with three backpacks, two carry on bags, and one checked suitcase. We flew Alaska Airlines which (at the time of publication) is still blocking middle seats.
Both on the way to New Jersey and back, I was surprised at how empty the airport was. I had seen the videos of empty airports on Instagram but seeing it myself was surreal. Security line was quick, and it was easy to find seats with plug points by the gate as we waited to board.
I made sure to research ahead of time, what was open in the terminal. Most restaurants are still closed but there are some food stands that sell food to go. I was able to grab a pre-made salad at the Napa Farms Market in SFO and a coffee at Java Moon Express in Newark. But fearing not finding food in the airport, I came prepared with Uncrustables and Lunchables for the kids, and a gallon size bag of snacks for each of us. We also came with empty water bottles and made sure to fill up as soon as we were past security.
While nearly everyone wore a mask I would say that there were still places where people didn’t maintain the requisite 6′ distance. Some habits die hard. In the security line, the woman behind me kept coming close, even though no one was behind her. I would take a step forward and so would she. I finally put my children in front of me and then stayed with my arms out until they were further ahead, to at least block her from them. In addition, when boarding the flight, people gave each other a little space, but certainly not 6 feet.
Since Alaska was blocking the middle seats, we were able to fly in both directions without being next to a stranger. In fact, in both directions we ended up with two rows to ourselves. On the flight to Newark, I had intended to sit with the children, but when neither of them was willing to take the middle seat (when did they grow enough to revolt this way?) I decided to take my aisle seat next to them, with a stranger in the window. Once the airline door was closed, the flight attendants went around looking for strangers seated together and moved them to empty rows.
I had planned to fly the red eye, reducing the amount of time my kids were awake and moving around on the flight. However, due to the reduced flight schedule, we were forced to fly mid-day the only flight available in both directions. I came prepared with fully loaded electronics, the in-flight entertainment apps download, and a movie on each of the kids devices from Netflix . We also brought books to read, activity books, homework (yes I’m that mom, I make my kids do homework in the summer), and some toys. The kids were plenty entertained the whole flight, loving the unfettered access to electronics they don’t normally get.
With a significantly emptier flight, there were no lines at the back toilets, and people mostly stayed in their seat as opposed to try and walk around and stretch as they normally do. Everyone kept on their mask from what I could see, and there were no infamous incidents you see in the news. Alaska served one small snack and a small canned drink or bottled water. But no ice and no food for sale, so we were glad to have our water bottles and snacks.
Deplaning was more orderly than usual, but social distancing was not exercised. People mostly listened to the request to not get up until the previous row had gotten out. However, most people were jumping up the minute the previous row started to take a step. The couple behind us was already standing as we gathered our stuff, so we sat down and let them pass.
We did take a few important safety precautions that I had alluded to earlier…
Masks – My children and I are very well trained on mask wearing in public at this point. On the flight, at the advice of one of my doctors, I wore an N95 mask. I gave my children disposable masks to wear under their cloth masks. However, they revolted and went down to one mask during the flight. You can’t win all battles.
Hand Sanitizer – TSA now allows you to take larger hand sanitizer bottles through security. I didn’t take a large bottle, but I did travel with several small ones. I have a carrier that attaches a bottle to my bag, so that was accessible at all times. We sanitized when we entered the airport. Again after security. Before and after every time we ate. When we left the plane. When we got the bags. When we left the airport. My hands were dry as a bone and the kids complained but I was not taking any chances.
Disinfecting Wipes – In addition, I traveled with several travel sized packages of disinfecting wipes. As we boarded the plane, I gave each kid a wipe and took one myself and we went to work on our whole row. Armrests, tray tables, air vents and seat belt buckles. Yes, the plane had been cleaned beforehand, but for my peace of mind we did this anyway. Afterwards I collected all the wipes in a plastic bag I brought for garbage and we, you guessed it, used hand sanitizer on our hands.
Eating and Drinking – I tried to keep eating and drinking to a minimum on the flight (even though I had a gallon size bag of snacks). If it had been a short hour or two-hour flight, I would have refrained from doing it at all. But with five to six-hour flights, it is impossible. (or at least not healthy). While I normally encourage the kids to take off their mask when eating, instead I allowed them to use the chin strap method on the flight. They would eat or sip, and then pull up the mask between bites. I did the same. Is this overkill, probably. But I wanted to feel safe. Occasionally I would find them with the mask down after a snack, or not fully covering the nose, but a quick reminder had them back in line soon.
Gloves and Face-shields – We did NOT wear gloves or face-shields. I did not miss the gloves. Since gloves, to be effective, need to be changed every time you touch a contaminated surface, and we touched a lot of surfaces, I decided to stick with hand sanitizer and frequent hand washing. I do wish I had gotten us face-shields. Wearing a mask that long can feel suffocating, and a face shield would have allowed us a break, and I would have felt safer when eating. Note, I would still have worn a mask, but I would have liked the added layer of protection.
Training – The first 2-3 months of quarantine my kids were never in an indoor place besides our home. But once I realized how long this was going to go on, I started taking my kids on small outings to the store, specifically to train. We practiced sanitizing in and out. We practiced walking the aisles and looking but not touching. We practiced staying six feet from others and giving everyone space in line. When we ran into people we knew, the hardest thing was to practice keeping a distance and not running in for the hug. We discussed the protocol in the airport before we flew and what that would mean. We even discussed the seating. The day of the flights, the kids knew the drill. They did not protest (too much) on the masks and hand sanitizing. They kept their distance. They did not touch surfaces they didn’t need to. They were sad to pass the play spot, but understood when I said no. We all agreed, we were working to keep everyone healthy.
Post Flight –I had everyone pack one outfit out of the packing cubes and on top of the suitcase. When we got to our destination, I had everyone strip down everything they had worn on the plane, change, and then it all went straight in the washing machine on hot. Disposable masks were quickly disposed off. The N95 masks were put in a paper bag and closed, not to be touched for two days. I wanted to be sure that any lingering germs that may have come on us was destroyed.
Flying during a pandemic is scary, there is no two ways about it. Flying with your children adds an additional layer of risk and worry. But with some preparation you can take some of the stress out of flying.
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