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Michelle Phillips

Against my better judgement I flew to Denver from Madison last week. Normally I would not have considered taking flight during a global pandemic, but duty called and I had to head to Colorado to help my husband get our house ready to rent. 

We had initially planned to Air BnB the property because it sits near the Royal Gorge, which is a tourist spot near Cañon City. We had just finished getting it ready back in March, and I flew out on March 11 and came back on March 18. I wrote about that experience in a previous column, and how on my return flight (after the lockdown began) Denver International Airport (DIA) was deserted. At that time I was one of just two passengers wearing a mask. 

Once the lockdown started, we decided it was a bad idea to put the house on Air BnB, and it continued to sit empty. As fate, luck or something else, would have it, the rancher whose cows roam our land asked if we wanted to lease it to his daughters. We said we would, and my husband and were then tasked with packing up all of the things we had just purchased to equip it for Air BnB guests. He drove out ahead of me, which is why I ended up on a one-way trip to Denver. 

When I got to the airport the loudspeaker was reminding everyone to social distance, which I found kind of ironic since we were about to be crammed into an airplane. The guy at the counter told me my N-95 mask was not allowed because it had a respirator valve, and offered me a mask. Well, I was a Girl Scout and subsequently ready for any occasion so I was also toting cloth and surgical masks in my suitcase.

As I waited to board I watched people coughing and sneezing. “I hope they aren’t on my flight,” I thought. And over and over the loudspeaker reminded everyone not to remove their masks.

Once boarding began, they did it the old school way, by rows, back to front. None of this groups nonsense that has everyone boarding all helter-skelter throughout the plane.

I was toward the front, and horrified to see that the plane was completely full, no reduced capacity for United, apparently.

A flight attendant gave an abbreviated safety spiel, which did not include instruction on how to use the oxygen mask. She did, however, remind everyone that you could find directions for mask use on the safety card. “Weird,” I thought. Then of course there was a reminder not to take off your mask, followed by an announcement that there would be no food or beverage service, and once again, a reminder to keep your mask on. 

Okay, I felt safer knowing that there would be no food or beverages and everyone was required to keep their mask on. Minutes later I watched as another flight attendant made her way through the cabin with the beverage cart, asking passengers I they wanted a “snack bag.”

“What’s this? A snack bag?” I questioned in my mind. 

It was a bag with snacks and water. Hmmmmm, what happened to no food or beverage service. Then I watched, completely mortified, as everyone, in unison, began removing or pushing their masks to the side to eat or drink.

Now if I had been wearing pearls, I would have clutched them until they broke and scattered across the floor of the airplane. It was a terrifying site. Dozens of people eating and drinking on an airplane. What happened to leave your mask on? And why was my respirator mask not allowed, but a plane full of people could take their masks off to eat and drink?

I could not partake in this sheer and utter foolishness, and could only think about how I was in a giant petri dish of infectious disease. Lacking pearls, I nervously twisted my charm bracelet for the bulk of the two hour flight, which arrived half an hour early. 

I was ecstatic that we had landed early it meant I could get off the plane sooner. I was so wrong. Instead we sat on the tarmac for 30 minutes because the gate was occupied.

When I got inside DIA, I was disheartened that it was chock full of travelers with lines everywhere and people inches apart, just as if it were business as usual. Many people were going on vacation, which I could not wrap my head around. I was flying out of necessity and these people were opting to fly for vacation? It boggled my mind.

I am so thankful that it was a one way flight, and I will be driving back with Mat, rather than risking my life flying back to Madison. Certainly I cannot see myself opting for air travel again any time soon.

If you must fly, be as safe as possible, and if you can avoid flying, please do so. Safety first.

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