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Security and Public Health: Traveling Safely in 2020

On February 12—during what many of us have come to know as the “before times”—Umbrella Security Services published a blog post about air travel.

The focus was on packing for a business trip and following Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines. And while the content in this post remains valid, a lot has changed in the nearly four months our nation has been grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.

Flying in the Age of COVID-19

Just recently I flew from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. While I have the fortune—the privilege, really—of bouncing back and forth between the two places under normal circumstances, I stopped flying for a minute there during quarantine.

But I had business in LA, and the nation had begun to reopen, and so I booked a flight and braced myself for an entirely new kind of travel experience.

To be perfectly honest, I had mixed feelings on my way to the airport. Thoughts of passengers in coughing fits, leaving fingerprints on grubby surfaces, mouth-breathing in the confines of an aluminum tube, cast—let’s be real—a pretty dark shadow over the idea of getting on a plane.

Turns out there was no need to worry. Though I realize my experience won’t apply to everyone, it was clear that all parties involved in the process were working overtime to ensure a safe and healthy experience.

If you have plans to fly these next few months, I hope the following will give you peace of mind:

· While masks weren’t required at the Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) airport, all employees and most passengers wore cloth face coverings.

· Speaking of MSP, check-in and security lines were short and efficient. I arrived at the airport around 10 a.m. on a Saturday, and the space was peaceful and quiet.

· Both MSP and LAX had hand-sanitizing stations throughout the airport. Security checkpoints, individual gates, and all the terminals were well-stocked.

· Floor signage made social distancing easy. People stayed six feet apart, kept a good attitude, and seemed to be adhering to public health recommendations.

· Both the Pre-Check and the general security lines were quiet. And while TSA agents were cautious as ever, social distancing measures made the experience less chaotic. (People weren’t scrambling for bins, for instance, or fighting for their place in line.)

· I’ll repeat myself here: TSA agents still worked hard to keep everyone safe. I definitely saw them scrutinizing the empty bottle of water I’d shoved in my bag (which I refilled at a touchless faucet before boarding the plane).

And on the aircraft? Things went just as well. My flight was at roughly 30 percent capacity, from what I could see. There was only one other passenger in my six-person row, and passengers were required to adorn cloth face coverings for the duration of the trip.

Meanwhile, from the time we boarded to the time we disembarked the plane, flight attendants doled out disposable packets of hand sanitizer. And rather than taking drink orders, they distributed see-through bags of water bottles and snacks (along with—spoiler alert—more hand sanitizer).

Ultimately, the flight was low-stress. The pilot revealed the plane had been deep-cleaned and sanitized. Middle seats were intentionally left unoccupied. No one broke out into a coughing fit. The experience felt safe and smooth.

Driving Cross-Country in the Age of COVID-19

We’ve discussed safety, security, and the coronavirus where air travel is concerned.

Now let’s talk safety and security in the context of a multi-day driving trip.

Plenty of people here in the United States travel long distances regularly, be it for personal or professional reasons. I know several people who have gone on cross-country road trips this past month alone (which makes sense, as public spaces start to reopen).

That said, I can only speak to my own experience. And in late May, I drove to Minnesota from California, where I’d been quarantining for the duration of the pandemic. Things looked a little different than they did the last time I put 2,000 miles on my car, stretching through the lush farmlands of Iowa and Nebraska, the rugged Colorado landscape, and Utah’s red-tinged cliffs.

Overall, I felt safe on the road. While again I’ll say I can only speak for myself, here are some observations others might find valuable:

· Plenty, but not all, of gas stations had hand sanitizing pumps installed right by the fueling area. I felt at ease filling up, knowing I could kill any germs that might have hopped onto my hands just moments later.

· Maybe I’m jaded, but most of the gas station bathrooms I used seemed cleaner than usual. In the wake of the coronavirus, I appreciated that staff seemed to go the extra mile. Bring on the disinfectant!

· One more thing about gas stations (two more, actually): Hand sanitizer was for sale at the counter, with one bottle available for general use as well. And inside almost every facility, patrons wore masks and kept a safe distance from one another.

· There’s been talk of highway troopers pulling fewer people over due to the pandemic, and ignoring the odd slip like lapsed car registration. I did notice several patrollers stationed on the side of the highway, though, which I found reassuring.

· I didn’t get pulled over, so I can’t talk about the distancing or sanitizing measures at play in that situation. However, if any of you readers have been pulled over these past few months, I urge you to share your experiences in the comments!

· It’s worth noting that different states had different public health guidelines during my trip. Be sure to consider the regulations in each place you’ll be passing through.

· Dining? Not an issue. Again, the states I visited on my way home were at different stages of reopening during my trip, but all the employees I interacted with were masked. I scarfed down a bagel and lox at an outdoor café near Zion National Park, and I was kept at a safe distance from other guests at a diner in Clive, Iowa.

· The hotels I stayed at were clean and seemed to be working hard to limit the spread of COVID-19. Most only allowed one person per party in the lobby at a time, and the places that included breakfast had a to-go option to keep everyone safe.

Would I recommend traveling right now? Many experts believe it’s still important to stay home, and I don’t disagree. But some people have to travel. And I think it’s pretty vital that they know what to expect in getting from Point A to Point B.

Have You Traveled Recently?

I hope this article offered a clear and insightful take on travel—both air travel and car travel—in the age of the coronavirus. As the industry experiences its first increase since mid-March, I won’t tell you what to do.

I will tell you, though, to go about your business safely. And I want you to recognize that while there is a need to be cautious, there’s no inherent reason to be fearful.

While we’re on the subject of travel, what are your thoughts on the topic? Have you gone on any long-distance trips recently? Please feel free to share your own opinions and experiences in the comments below.


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