This time last year I flew home in fear. Now, I’m hitting the skies with hope
Almost exactly one year ago today, I was on a spring break ski trip with my family. Aside from some additional sanitation precautions, the trip felt relatively normal — at least at first.
The trip ended just a day before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. A sense of anxiety and dread accompanied us on the latter half of that trip, and flew alongside us on the way home.
Schools and borders closed shortly after we landed safely back in Texas. Statewide stay-at-home and curfew orders were announced in the ensuing days. We all know how the following months would play out like a real-life, unscripted version of “Outbreak.”
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The U.S. would rapidly go from screening 2.2 million travelers on a relatively normal travel day on March 1 to fewer than 1 million by March 17. Those numbers bottomed out on April 14 with just 87,534 travelers screened across the country. It would take seven months for numbers to surpass the 1 million per day mark.
One year later, things are far from “normal” — but they are markedly better than those dark, scary days in 2020.
This is true not only on paper, as the U.S. is now screening around 50% of the normal number of air travelers most days, but also on an emotional level.
As my two kids (ages 5 and 11) and I stand at the boarding gate, again bound for a spring break ski trip, we feel genuinely hopeful.
I’ve flown a number of times during the pandemic, first in July, and then occasionally through the fall months until cases really started to tick upward around the holidays. So, while this isn’t my first time boarding an aircraft armed for battle against an invisible enemy with face masks and shields, the previous flights didn’t feel like this one.
On our flight today, there’s a palpable shift. An exhale.
This time last year, and even during our most recent flight in November, we were boarding a plane during a worsening public health crisis.
Yes, we had some fun on those trips, smiled for pictures and made the most of it — but those excursions were hardly carefree. In fact, the last trip we took in November was so stressful (safety precautions, COVID-19 tests and constant mental risk-evaluations) that once we got home, I postponed our other trips until the timing again felt right.
That time, it turns out, is now.
We are taking off out into a world where things are actually, finally, getting better. And while our luggage may be stuffed to the brim with ski gear, just as it was on that last “normal” trip in March of 2020, we now feel lighter and more optimistic.
That’s because the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is finally down to the levels we saw in early October — and still falling.
But it’s not just a decline in cases that’s making us feel hopeful, as we’ve seen that before, always followed by another spike. This time, the number of vaccinations in the country is ramping up at the same time the cases are decreasing. The Biden administration recently announced that COVID-19 vaccines should be available to all adults who want one by the end of May.
That’s not some vague, faraway future we can hardly imagine — that’s just two months from now. In fact, we’ve already seen one state make vaccinations open to all adults.
As for me? I’ve had the first vaccine dose in my arm for about two weeks.
That’s not the same as being fully vaccinated, but it’s enough to have more than just a placebo effect on my outlook. We will continue to take all reasonable precautions, and I’m hardly going to be sipping chardonnay without a care at 36,000 feet, but I’m unquestionably breathing easier through my (double) mask.
After yearning to fully embrace travel — and the people who I care about most — for a year, I can now see the horizon. And it’s a welcome, beautiful sight.
While somewhat coincidental, it’s symbolic to me that, for my family, we’re essentially returning to where this all started.
Last year, our lives and the entire world changed dramatically while we are on a spring break ski trip.
There are no guarantees in life, but this year we are returning to the mountains with optimism, hope and faith in a brighter tomorrow that we can now see emerging just beyond the summit.
Featured image by Jens Hauspurg/Getty Images
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