How I Roll: TPG Credit Cards Reporter Chris Dong

Oct 31, 2020

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Welcome to a special COVID edition of How I Roll, an airport routine series with a focus on health and safety while traveling. Today, we’re asking TPG travel expert and Credit Cards Reporter Chris Dong a shortlist of questions about how he travels during the pandemic, covering everything from how he preps for a trip to what he wears on the plane. Here’s what he had to say. Safe travels!

The itinerary

TPG: What is the last flight you caught?

CD: My last flight was from Los Angeles to New York with American Airlines a few weeks ago. I was lucky enough to score an upgrade from economy to business on a flight that was pretty empty.

American A321T business class (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Related: Review of American Airlines Flagship First during the pandemic

TPG: Was the trip for business or pleasure?

CD: The trip was for pleasure and a much-needed escape from my home in New York City. I visited four national parks in total across the Pacific Northwest and Mountain West.

TPG: With whom were you traveling? If you had a travel companion, what conversations did you have to align on safety precautions? Did you need to reassure them?

CD: For this specific flight, I traveled back home alone. However, during the course of the trip, I had two companions and we chatted about the potential risks. Since the trip was primarily focused on the outdoors — and they had gotten COVID tests — I was cautious but not overly concerned.

Related: What do travelers want this holiday season? Safety, cheap flights and flexibility

TPG: Did you plan this trip pre-pandemic, or were these new travel plans?

CD: These were new travel plans for national parks and cities I had never visited before.

TPG: What’s a trip you’re hoping to take in the future, that’s been put on hold?

CD: I had big plans to visit Santiago, Buenos Aires and explore the Patagonia region. I love trips that mix both city and nature. Of course, that’s on hold for now, but I wrote about my tentative plans here.

torres del paine patagonia
Torres Del Paine National Park in the Patagonia region (Photo by Houda Chaloun / Getty Images)

Pre-departure prep:

TPG: What does your pre-travel to-do list entail?

CD: Making sure everything fits into my carry-on (I don’t check bags unless I absolutely must). I regularly sit on my Away bag to ensure it closes. Of course, as a credit cards reporter, I make sure I’ve brought the right cards with me for my trip.

TPG: Did you purchase any additional supplies, masks or protective gear for the trip?

CD: Yes, I have a few trusty N-95 masks that I specifically use in flight.

Masked up at the AA Admirals Club (Photo by Chris Dong / The Points Guy)

TPG: Did you get a COVID test? If so, what kind?

CD: Yes, I got a PCR test but rapid tests are increasingly becoming easier to find (and some are free!).

Related: The 3 NYC-area airports now offering COVID testing

Packing strategy:

TPG: What items did you pack to protect yourself from coronavirus?

CD: I’ve got a trusty bottle of hand sanitizer, some wipes and of course, a mask. I like to bring several masks with me on a trip since one might be for working out or a run, one is for wearing around every day and another for the flight(s).

TPG: Is there anything you left at home that you normally would have taken?

CD: No, the pandemic hasn’t drastically altered my packing routine which, to be fair, was pretty haphazard to begin with. I just make sure I have my protective gear.

TPG: What are your carry-on essentials?

CD: Noise-canceling headphones and chargers (including portable ones) are super important for the flight. I need a good hand moisturizer, face wash, face lotion and lip balm — those go in my former airline amenity kit turned dopp kit. I usually bring a book everywhere I travel but half the time, it never gets read.

Photo by Chris Dong / The Points Guy

Related: Best carry-on bags of 2020

TPG: What’s your go-to travel outfit, and has it changed at all during the pandemic?

CD: I have a pair of super-comfy (but still stylish) joggers from Everlane that are my go-to for flights. I usually wear a soft t-shirt and will layer it with a hoodie. Typically, I don’t really get dressed up for flying and that hasn’t changed during the pandemic.

Related: 14 packing hacks for just traveling with a carry-on

Before boarding

TPG: Do you get to the airport early or with just enough time to spare?

CD: If I know there’s an awesome lounge — or great planespotting and people watching — I will go to the airport early. If there are none of those things, or if it’s an early morning flight, I’ll just get to the airport in the nick of time to catch a flight.

TPG: How do you normally prefer to kill any extra time at the airport?

CD: Give me a good lounge with views of planes and I’ll be a happy camper. But I also just love people watching and considering why people are traveling and where they might be going.

TPG: Has that changed at all?

CD: Well, during the pandemic, many lounges have temporarily suspended operations entirely or altered service. Still, I prefer a space that won’t have too many people so whether that’s the lounge or out in the terminal, I’ll have to make a judgment call when I arrive at the airport.

TPG: What is your airport food strategy?

CD: I try to eat before arriving — or if I know a lounge will have food offered, will eat up there. However, I will not say no to food in the airport terminal, either. This is especially true if I’m leaving a country or region known for some food item — and I have one last chance to get it. Also, it depends on if I’ll be served anything onboard.

TPG: What differences have you noticed at the airport since the pandemic began?

CD: There are way fewer options in terminals now. And the eateries that are open have really long lines. It’s best to be prepared and bring your own food, in many cases.

One of the few open dining options at LAX Terminal 2 (Photo by Chris Dong / The Points Guy)

Inflight routine:

TPG: What is your strategy for choosing your seat on the plane?

CD: Window if I think my flight will be fairly empty. Aisle if it’s a full flight since I go to the bathroom often. (I drink water on planes like no one else I know.) However, I love it when you can have both a window and an aisle if you’re flying in a first or business class on some planes.

TPG: Were you able to work or relax during the flight?

CD: On this flight back from Los Angeles, I was able to relax, watch a couple of movies, and enjoy dinner on board (I was upgraded to business thanks to my Executive Platinum status with American).

My American Airlines business class meal (Photo by Chris Dong / The Points Guy)

TPG: Do you eat or drink on the plane? Has that changed in any way?

CD: If there’s food in front of me, I’ll eat it — including while onboard flights. Of course, I try to eat quickly and put my mask back on out of courtesy for other passengers and crew.

TPG: Have you noticed any changes in in-flight service?

CD: Yes, many airlines have cut back on food and beverage service. Some airlines are not offering food or drinks — or even the option to buy them. Hopefully, that will change in the coming months but I also understand the concern about flight attendants walking up and down the aisle.

Lucky for me, my American flight in business class was a premium transcontinental flight and had almost the exact same service as before the pandemic, though.

Everything else:

TPG: Overall, did you still enjoy traveling during the pandemic?

CD: Yes, I did enjoy my travels but you just have to go into it knowing that things will be very different than before.

TPG: How much traveling have you done since the pandemic began?

CD: I’ve gone on several domestic trips, including road trips close to home during the summer and two trips out to the west coast this fall. I never plan anything more than a few weeks in advance though.

TPG: Any travel pearls of wisdom or hacks for flying right now?

CD: Prepare — but don’t over-prepare. Now, more than ever, things will change on the fly and you have to be okay with that in order to travel. Also, know that airlines, hotels and the experiences you’re accustomed to at your destination will look a lot different. Finally, please be kind to front-line workers.

Rapid-fire questions:

TPG: Are you Team Ask or Not Ask fellow travelers to put their mask on/over their nose?

CD: I’m Team Not Ask but will actively avoid those travelers.

TPG: Airline blanket & pillow — take ’em or leave ’em?

CD: Leave ’em.

TPG: Latex gloves — yay or nay?

CD: Nay, I’ll use any wipe and sanitizer given to me though.

TPG: Favorite hand sanitizer brand?

CD: Anything that doesn’t smell too strongly (no scents please).

TPG: Favorite mask brand?

CD: I actually love my masks from Old Navy.

TPG: Favorite pandemic travel gear innovation?

CD: Still waiting for someone to invent a mask that doesn’t fog my glasses.

Featured photo by Chris Dong / The Points Guy. 

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