Flying in a pandemic: The awkward transformation of air travel

BOSTON — As Massachusetts and the rest of the country slowly reopen, many people are eager to get back to traveling this summer.

But what will that really look like?

Jim Meyn, a Maynard native who lives in Houston now, agreed to chronicle his flights into and out of Logan Airport. He flew in the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and flew back that Friday.

He described a surreal experience from start to finish.

“It was unpleasant in a lot of ways because you were constantly reminded that you were at risk of COVID-19,” Meyn said.

Meyn said researching the flights to visit friends back home was daunting, with different states in different phases, and different airlines with different protocols.

“I was pretty apprehensive about taking a trip in the first place. Even though I was going to a specific destination, I didn’t want to flagrantly violate whatever each state had going on and to be honest, it was pretty hard to figure it out,” Meyn said.


The first change was obvious: masks are required at all times. Meyn said he’d never worn his mask continuously for such an extended period of time, and it was not a great feeling.

Signs about the rules greeted him at baggage claim upon landing at Logan Airport. The typical rush to grab bags was subdued as passengers kept their distance.

Meyn says his trip flying out of Logan presented new challenges.

The first was getting a ride to the airport.

His first Uber driver canceled when he learned the destination. Once underway, Meyn chronicled the lack of crowds at every turn.


No cars lined up to drop off passengers at departures.

Check-in, security lines… all nearly empty.

“It’s eerie, you feel like you’re in a, like you’re in some sort of apocalypse movie. Because there’s nobody there. You know, the TSA folks are there, the check-in folks are there. But all of the shops are closed down. There’s hardly anyone wandering the halls. And you can’t help but think that you’re not meant to be there,” Meyn reflected.

Meyn flew on United Airlines and said no snacks or drinks were served in coach on his flights. But he says he couldn't find anything to take on-board either, since the only stand open for passengers in the terminal was at least a 10 minute walk from his gate.


Meyn says people kept their distance at the gate waiting to board. Staff boarded passengers from the rear of the plane forward to reduce backups in the aisles, but said they still got jammed up on the jetway.

Walking on the plane, Meyn said flight attendants greeted passengers with a masked hello, and sanitizer issued with tongs.


Jim says both of his flights were about 20 percent full. As a frequent United flier, his seat was upgraded, but he says the extra legroom also meant less personal space, with passengers right next to him on both flights.

“The anxiety is heightened. Just because you don’t really know who is sitting next to you, you don’t know what their travels have been. It’s very difficult to control your environment like you can when you’re at home,” Meyn said.

After the long flight, Meyn said rows had to be called one at a time to get off the plane.

Reflecting on his trip, Meyn said he's not in a rush to do it again without more guidance.

In fact, his family had planned a trip to Oregon this summer, but after his experience, they’ve canceled.

“I still feel bad that I took a trip, you know, I still don’t know, was it appropriate or inappropriate? You want to be a good citizen, but I don’t want to be trapped in my house for the rest of my life. What’s the right point? Someone says, ‘Hey, it’s okay to travel.’ You know, you still don’t get that message anywhere.”

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