How I Roll: TPG Travel Analyst Zach Griff

Nov 15, 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 Travel Analyst Zach Griff 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?

ZG: I last flew from Los Angeles to New York in JetBlue’s Mint cabin.

TPG: Was the trip for business or pleasure?

ZG: This was a “fun” trip — spent a weekend in San Diego catching up with friends and reviewing the new iPhone 12.

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

ZG: I was actually meeting with a buddy who works at a major airline. We flew separately but stayed at the same hotel. Both of us recently had negative COVID tests, so we felt comfortable hanging out together indoors. When we were outside our “bubble”, we both followed the same precautions as we do back home in New York — masks on, outdoor dining only, etc.

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

ZG: This was a new trip, planned when we both realized we had a free weekend.

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

ZG: I’ve been itching to try United’s island hopper service from Honolulu to Guam, with five stops on a bunch of islands in the Pacific. Hopefully, I’ll be able to take that aviation-themed adventure soon!

Related: A country-by-country guide to Caribbean reopenings

Pre-departure prep:

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

ZG: I always have my travel backpack mostly packed. This includes a spare laptop and iPhone charger, extra masks, some contacts and other toiletries. Sometimes, I make travel plans right at the last minute, so having my bag pre-packed minimizes the risk of me forgetting something.

Related: Face shields and sanitizer: 5 things we’re packing for flights during the pandemic

TPG: Are you getting a COVID test? If so, what kind?

ZG: Yes! In my opinion, this is one of the most important steps in the pandemic-era travel experience. I get tested before and after each trip. Fortunately, getting a reliable, fast and free PCR nasal swab is quite easy in NYC.

Packing strategy:

TPG: What items are you packing to protect yourself from coronavirus?

ZG: I keep a healthy supply of extra masks (both surgical and N95) and hand sanitizer anytime I’m on the road! And some extra snacks since I try to minimize how much time I take my mask off when flying, so I’ll eat my snacks before I get to the airport and after I land.

TPG: Is there anything you are leaving at home that you would normally take?

ZG: Nope! I’m a man of routine.

TPG: What are your carry-on essentials?

ZG: Some might laugh, but the most important thing I pack is an international power adapter. (True story: I once thought I was flying to Los Angeles before finding a great deal and changing my flight to China at the airport.) Nowadays, I’m not doing all that much international travel, but I’m still bringing my converter! Why? Because most U.S. airlines have power outlets, but they’re often loose and don’t hold a U.S. power adapter. So, instead, I used a U.K. or European adapter, and I find that it always fit without falling out.

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

ZG: Before the pandemic, you’d always find me wearing a t-shirt and jeans on most flights. (When flying in a premium cabin with pajamas on offer, I always change before departure.) Since COVID hit, I’ve switched from jeans to Lululemon pants — they’re more breathable, especially when I’m sitting with a mask on for the entire flight.

Before boarding:

TPG: Are you getting to the airport early or with just enough time to spare?

ZG: Have you read my article about why I skip the airport lounge?

TPG: Has that changed at all?

ZG: Now that I’m flying with less frequency, I try to get to the airport a little bit earlier than before. I miss seeing planes and getting the “airport experience.” Also, there are many fewer flights these days, so if I cut it too short, I’d likely need to wait a while to be re-accommodated.

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

ZG: If I get to the airport with extra time, I’m always looking for the windows with the best airport and tarmac views. And then uploading my best shots to my Instagram account (follow me!).

TPG: What is your airport food strategy?

ZG: These days, eat before arriving at the airport to keep my mask on during the entire end-to-end journey.

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

ZG: Airports are actually getting a lot busier leading up to the holidays. However, many stores and restaurants are still shuttered, fewer security lines are open and lounges are still operating with limited hours and services.

Related: Which airport lounges in the U.S. are currently open?

Inflight routine:

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

ZG: I have an article for that: Why I always choose the window seat!

Related: 7 tips for picking the perfect airplane seat every time

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

ZG: I aim to accomplish a bit of both. But for me, being in the air always has a work component.

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

ZG: Unless I’m six feet from other passengers, I’m keeping my mask on and waiting to eat when I’m on the ground.

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

ZG: Every airline has made adjustments to the inflight service. Some are more extensive than others, but the bottom line is: these days, don’t rely on the airlines to feed you.

Everything else:

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

ZG: I’ve now taken 12 flights since the pandemic started. I was nervous about my first one back in August, but with masks and HEPA filters, I’m feeling quite confident about the return to travel.

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

ZG: 12 flights:

JFK – LAX JetBlue Mint
JFK – LAX American Flagship First
LAX – JFK JetBlue Mint
SFO – EWR United Polaris
EWR – DEN United first
DEN – PHX Frontier
PHX – SLC – JFK – FLL Delta!
MIA – EWR United first
JFK – DXB and DXB – JFK Emirates’ “game-changer” first-class

Rapid-fire questions:

Are you Team Ask or Not Ask when it comes to fellow travelers who aren’t wearing a mask? Team Ask.

Latex gloves — yay or nay? Nay.

Favorite hand sanitizer brand? The free ones that Clear hands out.

Favorite mask brand? I’m a fan of the basic disposable surgical ones — one a day keeps the doctor away.

Favorite pandemic travel gear innovation? A mask?

Feature image by Zach Griff/TPG.

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