I just took my first flight in 453 days and it was amazing
OK, nothing about my trip was amazing.
Yet, the fact that I was even taking it was.
After 453 days of being grounded, I was finally in the air again. It was just a two-night trip to Texas to meet with some folks at American Airlines and Southwest Airlines. But it was so much more to me.
Back in 2019, I flew 49 flight segments totaling 61,580 miles in the air. My average stage length was just 1,257 miles. So, basically lots of flying around the U.S. and a few longer trips. Last year was shaping up to be an even busier year. Then the pandemic brought it all to an end. My final flight was on Feb. 25, 2020, flying home to New York, after visiting my in-laws in Florida.
Like many other travelers, I wasn’t comfortable stepping on a plane until I was fully vaccinated. And even then, I still wasn’t ready to travel for work. My daughter was only in school, in person, every other day. It wouldn’t be fair to leave my wife home alone with her, juggling her own job plus virtual kindergarten. Then, school reopened for daily, in-person lessons and I started booking flights.
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The first thing I noticed was how limited flight schedules were. Airlines have revamped their route networks to cater to leisure travelers. That means plenty of new non-stop routes, especially to Florida, Mexico and airports near national parks.
Those new routes have come at the expense of frequent flights between business hubs. In the past, it felt like there was a flight every 45 minutes between Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) and New York’s three airports. For my Sunday afternoon departures, the only flights were every three hours apart.
I’ve currently got American Airlines Executive Platinum status (thanks to my Hyatt Globalist status) and Delta Air Lines Diamond Medallion status. So I decided to fly American to Texas and Delta — on the Airbus A220 — back.
The first surprise on my Sunday-Tuesday trip: no upgrade to first class, either way. Even as a top-tier elite. I was near the top — but not at the top — of the upgrade list. That felt like the surest sign that travel was back.
Packing for the trip felt normal. My family has been taking lots of road trips and last week I took my first business trip, a train ride to Washington, D.C., and back. There were a few tweaks, like the addition of my noise-canceling headphones and preloading some movies onto my iPad.
My phone alerted me when it was time to check-in, 24 hours before departure. I loaded the boarding pass into my digital wallet, double-checked for TSA PreCheck. It wasn’t until I was on the way to the airport that I remembered to set alerts for my flight and my inbound aircraft.
There were little joys that I missed. The moving flight map. Watching luggage get loaded into the belly of the jet. The Airbus “barking dogs.” The views. Crossing the Mississippi River. Seeing another plane fly 10,000 feet directly below your jet.
And then there were the annoyances that might have pissed me off in the past but that I now just took in stride. They included not having a dedicated PreCheck lane at Newark’s aging Terminal A. Broken Wi-Fi on my American flight. (Luckily, it was a Sunday and I got to watch a preloaded movie on my iPad — one that I couldn’t seem to find three and a half uninterrupted hours to watch until that flight.)
The fight to board first still exists, but it wasn’t quite as bad as I remember it. Maybe we still want to be a bit distant. I didn’t like waiting until the last second to see if the empty seat next to me was filled. (It was, both times.) And I’ll never appreciate the strong credit card pitch from flight attendants. Then there is the questionable seat padding, $4.25 bottles of water in the terminal and the awkwardness of asking your neighbor to get up so you can walk to the bathroom.
I was even delayed by a Texas thunderstorm (and a long wait for Delta's phone agent to see if I could move flights.)
None of that mattered: I was back on a plane. Up in the air.
Being vaccinated has given me the freedom not to worry anymore. I trust science. I trust that the vaccine will protect me. I’m not worrying — as much — about wiping down every surface or about that fellow passenger who isn’t wearing their mask just right. Airports aren’t yet full but they are far from empty. And lots of people are eating and drinking, pulling down their masks to do so. I quickly accepted that and put my faith in those shots in my arm.
I have five more trips with flights planned for the next six weeks. It feels good to be flying again. It’s good to see the world. It’s great to see other people enjoying this trip (almost) as much as I am.
Now, I’m going to go and watch to ensure that my miles posted properly.