Every health official and government is recommending against travel during the pandemic. And yet for a host of reasons, people are traveling. It may be you are in the military and received orders to a new post. You may be an essential medical worker going to a COVID hotspot. Some folks are just wanting to see something other than their own back yard.
For us, the reason for travel is to help a family member move. My SIL finally sold her house just outside of Anchorage and is relocating to Bend, OR. This relocation means driving her truck and all her belongings in a U-haul the full length of the Alaska Highway. SIL is a single lady, and my DH and I have volunteered to help out. And this is how we find ourselves traveling during the pandemic.
If you’re wondering what it’s like to stay in a hotel or fly during this crazy time, here’s a breakdown of what I experienced on a recent trip.
Hotel Stays When You Travel During the Pandemic
We decide to stay by San Francisco International Aiport the night before our trip, at the Embassy Suites. Our flight to Anchorage is one of the first flights in the morning, so this will save us an hour’s drive allowing us to sleep in a bit. Also, we can leave our car at the hotel and not have to pay for off-airport parking. So in terms of costs, the hotel is a break-even, and I don’t have to get up at 3:30 am!
The first thing you notice here in the San Francisco Bay Area is that nearly everyone is wearing a mask. The next thing you notice is that there are very few people.
There is no porter; we have to haul all our luggage in ourselves. And unfortunately, we have a lot of bags for this trip. There is only one reception person, and the hotel is pretty empty. We only see two other people. We finish check-in and head up to our room.
There are signs posted around the room with the Lysol logo explaining the enhanced cleaning procedures the hotel is taking to ensure our well-being. However, I never really believe that hotel cleaning staff have the time to clean as I like, and I don’t think now is any different. So I’ve brought my disinfecting wipes, and we wipe everything down.
Service at the Hotel
Done with the domestics, I take a quick tour around the hotel to see what’s going on. Nothing is going on. The reception and the common areas, where you usually can sit, and people watch, are empty.
No excited travelers are coming and going. The cocktail lounge overlooking the Bay that should be crowded with guests enjoying a beverage as they watch planes land; closed with the chairs stacked on the tables. No one in the fitness center, no one in the spa. The hotel is a ghost town.
As I head back to the room, I meet up with a hotel employee who is posting signs in the elevator lobbies. I ask if he can answer a few questions for me. He is willing to share but does give the company line. I ask how full the hotel is today. The occupancy he tells me around 30%. He says, since April, their occupancy has been as low as 10%, and 30% is high.
This employee tells me that the current cleaning policy is to leave every room empty for 24 hours after cleaning and between guests. So the hotel never really has a full complement of rooms available. This leaves me wondering if the 30% is anywhere a valid number.
Fewer Services Are Available
Embassy Suites is usually a full-service hotel. But due to COVID-19, none of the services are open, not even room service. We will have to go out to get dinner, or order Door-Dash or Uber Eats to be delivered.
If you are not an employee or a guest, you are not allowed into the hotel. So if we have delivery, when the food arrives, we will have to go down to get it. We choose to order from a restaurant nearby for pickup.
This hotel, which should be full of excited business and vacation travelers, is empty, and it makes me sad. Good thing we leave at the crack of dawn.
Flying as Part of Travel During the Pandemic
San Francisco Airport
Our flight to Anchorage is on Alaska Airlines, leaving out of San Francisco (SFO) with a connection in Seattle. It’s early when we arrive at the airport, and there is hardly anyone there. We are checking baggage, so we head to the check-in counter. There is no-one at any of the counters. I’ve taken early morning flights out of SFO hundreds of times; this is not normal.
Going through security is a breeze even though we don’t have PreCheck for this flight; there are no lines. At the gate, the ground crew is asking for passengers to come forward for seat re-assignments because they need to “weight balance” the aircraft. Having to weight balance an aircraft usually means there are not many passengers, and they need to spread them out.
The concourse is very sparsely populated. Everyone is complying with the Mask requirements. You remember the saying, “you could shoot a cannon and not hit anything?” That saying is how the gate area looks and feels.
On Board the Plane
The aircraft for this leg of our trip is a 737, which typically holds around 130 passengers. On our first leg to Seattle, the flight seems pretty empty. I ask our flight attendant, and she tells me there are only 50 passengers on the flight. The flight attendant says this is light, that her trips have been running closer to 100 passengers.
Alaska is still leaving middle seats empty unless people traveling together request those seats. The crew tells us they are also alternating rows in first class, but I don’t see this on my flights. Typically this flight would be oversold and have a long list of stand-by passengers hoping for a seat. There are obviously fewer people who want to travel during the pandemic
Gate crew announces there will be no food and limited beverage service on the flight. The plane boards from back to front, kind of like in the old days, for social distancing. Persons with disabilities are allowed on first, and First Class passengers can board at any time.
After we are seated, the flight attendant comes by and offers us water and a disinfecting wipe. We’ve already wiped down our area (I came prepared), but we still accept the wipes. These days you can never have enough disinfectant.
Seattle Airport Layover
I have never seen SeaTac this empty. It’s 9:30 on a Wednesday morning, we just got off the SFO flight and are at our gate waiting for our ANC leg. So we are going to catch up on some work. For me, its writing and a few quick photo ops. For DH (still attached to the 9 – 5 thing), its emails.
The airport terminals have truly upped their outlet game since the last time I was here. There are outlets between every two seats, a counter with multiple chairs and outlets, and even these cute flower looking things (I guess this is seating) with an outlet in the middle. No problem getting juice for all your electronics here.
By the way, as I noted above, it’s early, just now around 10 am. I’ve already washed my hands four times and used Purell every time I passed a station… not sure how many times that has been. I really need some hand lotion, but I don’t have any in my carry-on—bad planning.
The People – Travel During the Pandemic
So far, everyone in the terminals from passengers to check-in to TSA to gate attendants has been cordial, respectful, and considerate. I have to say I was concerned, based on the stories you read on-line and hear on the news that there might be a kerfuffle.
Some folks are not wearing masks. And some have their face covering hanging around their neck or below their nose; no one is enforcing the mask rules. It’s frustrating that there are these inconsiderate individuals and that staff are afraid to confront them. I’ve been wearing both a face shield and mask all morning. It’s not so bad.
People traffic is picking up now; it seems this leg of the flight will be fuller. Just before takeoff, I take a quick look through the plane. Based on current guidelines, our Anchorage flight is full. In the economy cabin, the middle seats have been left open, but otherwise, all seats are filled.
Seattle to Anchorage
The usual safety talk flight attendants give before take-off has been slightly modified to remind passengers of the requirement to wear the face mask at all times during the flight (except when eating or drinking). However, the flight attendant closest to us fails to wear her mask even while doing the talk. I don’t see how the airline can get passengers to follow the protocol if their staff doesn’t.
Again the in-flight services are curtailed. But as this is a longer flight, there are more options. In First Class, we should get snacks. However, I planned for no services, and we both have a lunch bag just in case. It’s a beautiful day up in the clouds today, so both flights have left early and are making good time in the air. We should be in Anchorage ahead of schedule.
Arrival in Anchorage
The State of Alaska requires that you show evidence of being tested for COVID-19 with a negative result 72 hours before arrival or take a test upon arrival. We did our tests two days before we left, but don’t have our results back before we go. We complete the Mandatory Declaration form for the State of Alaska and are carrying copies of our paperwork showing our test.
However, when we land, we are told that as of now, all declarations must be completed on-line. We are shown the website to go to and complete the form again. I also notice that while most passengers seem aware of the requirement for testing, few have actually taken a test. We maybe took the warning more seriously than others.
There are not enough employees from the State of Alaska at the kiosks available to check through the passengers, so this is slow going. But in reality, the time it took to go through this minor questioning, only means that our bags are already on the baggage carousel when we get to baggage claim.
What’s True for Travel During the Pandemic?
Travel during the pandemic is mostly the same as traveling when there are no extreme circumstances. You need to be aware of the conditions surrounding your travels. Understand the requirements of the travel providers (hotels, airlines, trains, etc.) and plan accordingly.
The process of getting to where you need or want to be is never without pitfalls. Getting to your destination is a process, and its all part of the journey. Follow the adage, “Be Prepared.” If we are patient with ourselves and others, the travels are still to be had.
But getting to Anchorage is just the starting point for us. Now the real adventure begins. Driving the Alaska Highway!