I wasn’t going to write this article, but my brain won’t stop writing it in my head whenever I stop moving for a second. So. I’m going to write it, so my brain can do something cooler.
Why The Airport Can Give You Covid
Alright, let’s start with the basics. There are a lot of airports out there. And, some of those airports do a better job with trying to reduce the spread of Covid than others. The smaller and less used an airport is, the better. That being said, they all have very similar problems that make it likely you are going to get Covid if someone there has Covid.
All of the following is doubly true if you fly during a higher demand time like holidays, weekends, and Monday mornings and Friday afternoon/evenings.
More People = More Covid
Math is never wrong. More is more.
You don’t have to be an expert in epidemiology, or understand statistics, to know that the more people there are, the more likely at least one of them has Covid.
Here in Colorado our restaurants are operating at 50% capacity with six-feet between parties. That is actually pretty safe, especially if people are wearing masks when they are up walking around. Six feet turns into zero feet if someone has to walk by your table on the way to the bathroom.
But, it isn’t just the six feet that makes restaurants safer during Covid. Lower capacity means less people. Our local Mexican food joint holds maybe 30 people at 50% capacity. If there is only 30 people, then the odds that one of them has Covid is pretty low, especially when compared to something like 300 people.
If there is no one with Covid, you can’t get Covid, no matter how close people stand to you.
Airports Have Lots of People
Airports have way more than 30 people in them. Sure there is more space, but the odds are still much greater that someone in there has Covid. The only way you can get Covid is if someone has Covid, and it is almost a mathematical certainty that in any airport, there is at least one person somewhere with Covid. – Do you feel lucky? Well do ya?
Does your local airport have just 30 people?
Nope. There are more. Lots more. Even at the smallest airports there are more than 30 people before you even count the passengers.
And that six feet thing?
Airports Are More Crowded
It’s cute that they blocked off some of the seats. Although one airport seat isn’t really six feet across in most cases. It takes three or four airport seats for me to lay across. I’m a couple inches over six feet tall. You do the math.
But it doesn’t matter.
Because, when you go through security you’re going to get close. Really close.
Even if people somehow remember to stay six feet away from you in the security line (they don’t), they won’t think twice about getting right up next to you as you load your carryon bags onto the scanning conveyor belt. And, they’ll stand right behind you as you wait your turn to go into the X-ray, lest someone cut the line.
Oh, and remember one of the X-ray machines is a semi-enclosed tube, that you will walk into seconds after someone else stood in there exhaling. (Probably exhaling more than usual, because people get stressed going through airport security. Oh, and you are probably breathing harder than usual for the same reason, which means inhaling more than usual. You get the point.)
It gets worse. Spacing on escalators and people movers? Nope. People have to wait to get onto those things. When people have to wait, they take their turn as soon as possible. And when they take their turn, they get on right behind others, lest someone else cut them off. Even if you space, the guy behind you won’t.
How about lines for the restaurants? Coming out of the relatively quiet San Diego airport, the line for Einstein Bagels was chest-to-back and 20 people deep. Don’t even look at the small area customers have to stand in to wait for their food. To get everyone six feet apart, you would be too far away to hear your name called when your food was ready.
Boarding Lines Are Never Six Feet Spacing
And when people line up to finally get on the plane, they’ve been waiting for a long time. Expect that line to be front to back, with people trying to cut in as well.
Ever see the lines used to board for a Southwest plane?
They have these pillars where you line up by number. Numbers 11-15 between two poles that are maybe 10 feet apart. That’s 5 people in 10 feet, or two-feet of space per person.
Oh, but it’s worse than that. There are also five people lining up on the other side of those poles as well. That’s another five people in less than 10 feet of space, going sideways. That’s 20 people in a 10×10 area. Good luck getting six-feet each.
It’s not just Southwest. The other airlines don’t officially mark it, but their boarding lines are just as close together once they call everyone seated in Group 2, or whatever. Often it’s worse because it is first come first serve, and you have to stay close together so no one cuts in.
Then, there is the jetway. Spacing? Nope. That would require another employee to stand in the jetway ensuring passenger spacing, and that costs too much money, and takes too many people.
DIA Is Covid Spreading Dream
Some airports are even worse than others.
Does your airport have a train?
A closed-in train?
A train with standard, not-that-great, ventilation? (Know how you can tell? If you can smell someone’s body odor, you can inhale their breath too.)
At Denver’s airport, DIA, you MUST get on that train to get to the concourse. There is no way to walk and avoid the train.
There is a comical sign in the train waiting lobby (which is often filled with people) that says to space out by moving to the middle of the platform, which works great during very limited “off-hours”. Otherwise, there are likely enough people to fill the beginning, middle, and end of the hall by the time a train arrives.
And, that train you are waiting for is going to have a bunch of other people on it with you, because there is no reasonable way to wait for an empty train.
Sure, you could try and wait, and then, after all of the passengers in the waiting area with you get on the train you will be by yourself — for a moment or two. But, over the next three to five minutes that it takes for the next train to arrive, more passengers will arrive too.
You could wait there for hours and never have a chance to get on a train car with less than 10 or 20 people in it, unless you’re lucky enough to be flying very late at night, or maybe very early in the morning (but there are a lot of flights that go out starting at 6 am). Plus, it is the same train for all three concourses. So even if you get on an empty train out on Concourse C, it’s likely a dozen or more people will pour in at Concourse B (and then Concourse A…)
Masks? Oh sure. If they aren’t eating, drinking, talking on the phone… or just don’t feel like it because they’re tired (or jerks).
Your only saving grace is that the train ride only takes five minutes or less.
The Airplane Will Give You Covid Too
Airplanes love to cite that one study that says you should be safe from Covid on an airplane based on a model that assumes EVERYONE WEARS A MASK THROUGHOUT THE FLIGHT.
But, do you know what happens on every flight?
On all flights but the very shortest ones, at some point during the flight, the flight attendants will come down the aisle and ask if you want a drink and hand you a bag of in-flight snacks. And do you know what happens next?
THE ENTIRE AIRPLANE TAKES OFF ALL THEIR MASKS AT THE SAME TIME AND LEAVES THEM OFF FOR SEVERAL MINUTES SO THEY CAN DRINK AND EAT THEIR SNACK.
Remember, it is ok to remove your mask while you are eating or drinking. Some people nurse that Coke for 20 minutes, not wearing the mask the whole time. That would be fine if it was only that person, but it is almost everyone at the same time, including the guy in the middle seat right next to you. You better snarf down that snack and get your mask back up and hope for the best. Better yet, sit there with your mask on for 20 minutes until most of the planE has put their masks back on.
Southwest doesn’t keep middle seats free anymore like they used to. United, Delta, and the others never did. They just said screw it, we need the money, and they put someone in a seat less than one foot away from you.
I’ve been in four airports since the whole Covid thing started. These are my observations, and my opinions. I’m not a scientist, or a doctor. However, all you have to do is look around your airports and you’ll see the same things I saw. Don’t have a ticket? Just go into the airport and start looking around. Head for security. You don’t have to go through it to verify quite a bit of what I said.
Security While Preparing to scan carry on luggage?
How Do I Know?
How do I know all of this? Well… *deep inhale, blurt it all out in one breath*
Last year, Colorado’s Governor shut down the state. It worked. Covid numbers (we were still calling it coronavirus then) dropped like a rock. Hospital ICUs had plenty of space, the graph looked great. I heard stories from friends of mostly empty airports and planes that were less than a third full. I had been locked down longer than most people because I started my lockdown in January because of my stem cell transplant. I was dying to get out. To do SOMETHING. To go SOMEWHERE. Especially before I had to start maintenance mode chemo. I figured this might be my last chance to do something while still mostly healthy. So, I booked a trip to the Outer Banks. Then, just before we left, the numbers started getting worse. The day we got back, they started saying, “third wave.” When I got to the airport I got a pit in my stomach. The airport wasn’t mostly empty after all, and United sent me a text saying that my flight was going to be full too, but you can change it if you want. To when? All the other flights were also fairly full.
“Fairly full,” by the way meant all but a few middle seats were full.
I put my head down and hoped for the best.
Until we flew home.
Shortly thereafter we tested positive for Covid. We almost certainly got it when we flew home based on incubation period. We were by ourselves (beach house, empty beaches) before, during, and after, when we relocked down. That day we flew home was the only time we were out of our bubble that corresponded to symptoms. I can’t prove that is how we got it, but anyone can go to an airport and prove that the safety of spacing is nonexistent. If you can on a plane you can verify the rest of what I said is true as well.
The rest of the family, ironically, tested positive for Covid antibodies a few weeks later even though none of us got very sick. So, when we flew again this Spring, we did so with an ace behind each of our facemasks, antibodies. This time, I saw all the same Covid issues, but it was even more crowded. The trains were fuller, the sit-down restaurants were spaced, but all the carry away places had un-spaced lines, and those passengers took their food to the gate area where they took off their masks and ate it.
Vaccines for the Win
Do what you want, just know what the reality is.
The truth is that it’s over. The vaccines are here and millions already have them. Every vaccinated person is a person who “doesn’t count” when it comes to spacing or wearing a mask. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear one, just that if you take it down to drink your Diet Coke, no one will get Covid from you.
But, in another way, that makes the risk so much worse. How much would it suck to get Covid now that you are less than a few weeks away from a vaccine? How much worse is it for someone to die of Covid now when the numbers will be plummeting by summer?
Unless you’re vaccinated, or have antibodies, I’d stay away from air travel for another month or two. After that, you don’t have to worry about being one of those bummer stories about catching Covid right at the end.