Last fall, I wrote how 2020 had been a “No-Fly” year for me, the first in my entire adult life. Well with the pandemic still raging on into the spring of 2021, that winging drought continued for a total of 15 months, at least until mid-April. That was when my wife and I were able to take our first airline trip, thanks to us both having been vaccinated.
Not having seen our west coast kids and grandkids since December of 2019, my wife and I often discussed during 2020 that once it was safe to travel by air again, that our first trips would be to the two west coast cities where our two oldest kids and their families lived. We knew that was what we would do and just had to wait.
Based on my wife’s profession, she was in the first phase of the vaccination roll-out and received her first shot in December and her second shot in January. I just had to wait until vaccinations for my age and health condition group was opened. That came up early in March and the day before St. Patrick’s Day, I received my first (and only required) shot. As I sat there for the obligatory 15 minutes after receiving my shot, it felt like the world was opening back up for me. How long it had been since I felt free to do almost anything I wanted to do. It opened a whole host of opportunities, foremost the ability to travel by air.
While my kids knew my wife had been vaccinated early and openly wondered when I might be vaccinated to allow visits, they did not know when I might become eligible. Having thought it would be May before I could get my shot and having said so to them, it was a real thrill to surprise them that night with the now so common selfie of me holding up my COVID-19 vaccination card. The text responses I received were most excited!
Within days of my vaccination, I was ready to make airline reservations. Navigating to our airline’s website, I suddenly realized that it was the first time in over a year I had even logged into our accounts (thank goodness our computers remembered the passwords). I was pleased to discover that both my wife and I had several e-credits for our canceled flights from 2020. I could barely remember for what destination the trips were booked. Quickly learning how to access the credits and search available options, I booked our first flight to visit our daughter and her family in Seattle. When I received that confirmatory e-mail with the flight details, it finally all began to seem real.
Having made the reservation, the weeks seemed to roll by quickly and the night before our flight, we did our usual pre-trip routine and drove to our midtown condo to spend the night since it is just a quick 10-minute drive to the airport from there. We debated whether we would pick up dinner to take back to our condo or eat out and decided to splurge with our newfound freedom and walk to a restaurant we often frequented on these nights before a flight. This was another first for us in over a year to both be eating at a restaurant together, all be it al fresco.
Our flight the next morning was a little before 8:00 AM and so I calculated what time we needed to leave to get to the gate on time. When we were ready to go through security, I was amazed at the long general passenger line but then suddenly feared our Pre-TSA status might have expired since we had not flown in so long. Fortunately, it had not, and we whisked through screening having only a single person in front of us.
As we made our way towards our gate, it felt weird to be walking through the airport for the first time in over 15 months. Once we arrived, I discovered the boarding process had already begun and that the call for my higher frequent flyer status (which I had never been able to use since I earned it during my busy travel year of 2019), had been made. I rushed my wife forward to board quickly as at that point, they were boarding passengers in the rear of the plane.
Once we were safely in our seats, I wondered to myself if because of the pandemic, they were boarding planes earlier and thus my historical database of how early we needed to arrive was no longer valid. Putting those thoughts aside, I looked around to see the many other faces of fellow travelers all with a variety of masks covering their noses and mouths. Knowing no one would be squeezing into the middle seat between my wife and me, I settled in with my e-reader and headphones to enjoy some jazz music and good reading.
To be extra cautious, I never took off my N95 mask off even when offered snacks and drink. Towards the end of our connecting flight, the headphones pressing on my ears and the elastic mask strap began to cut into the back of my ears. It suddenly hit me that I would be wearing this mask for my entire travel day, a fact I had overlooked in my excitement to once again be able to fly. The thought that then struck me was that if all my grandkids could wear masks all day long at school, surely, I could do the same. To help relieve some of the pain, I took off the headphones giving up my jazz concert.
After we landed and made our way to our next gate, it seemed like in no time they were calling our flight. But then hearing the gate agent announce the full boarding process (which I had missed on our earlier flight), I learned their process had in fact changed and other than those needing special assistance, those families traveling with small children, or those seated in first class, the process was to board from the rear of the plane first to avoid so many people walking past your seat—which during a pandemic, did seem most appropriate. So, for our earlier flight, we had not missed the call for our group, it had never come.
I have always thought boarding from the back of the plane forward made the most sense which was the standard practice for KLM which I used to fly many years ago on my annual trips to Amsterdam. So, I willingly accepted this change.
To be even more cautious, once seated on this second plane, I decided to discard my previous mask and put on a fresh one as I heard the worst areas for potential exposure were in airports, not on planes. But in no time, the new even tighter elastic straps began to cut into the back of my ears. Fortunately, this was the shorter of our two flights, but I still occasionally had to pull the elastic back from my ear to get some relief, tightening the mask on my face even more. My only comforting thought was I knew my grandkids could do this.
Once we landed and were safely cocooned within our rental car, I could finally take the mask off. As the pain behind my ears subsided on our drive north, I looked forward to our long overdue reunion with my daughter and her family.
To be continued…