Flying Southwest During the Pandemic

Since we’re all in this pandemic together, I wanted to share my experience flying on Southwest on flight 3598 from BWI to RDU on Sunday, January 3. My decision to fly was a last-minute decision, but I based it on a previously great flying experience that I had back in October. I flew on Delta and was really impressed by the safety measures they had taken; my flight was very spaced out and clean. I (mistakenly) thought that all airlines were still taking the pandemic seriously and following protocols. In addition to having had a good experience in the fall, Wake County offers free COVID testing and I had just had a negative one a few days earlier, so I also felt that I was not a safety risk to anyone else.

The day started out well. The flight out of Raleigh was a little more than half-filled. We socially distanced without issue during our layover. Our connecting flight to Long Island had like 37 people on it, which was awesome. We were able to sit like 10 rows away from everyone else and as such, I let the kids eat their snack when they offered cabin service. (The RDU/BWI flight did not offer cabin service.) We landed at 11 a.m. and I was turning around to fly back to Raleigh solo at 4:10 p.m. I expected the trip back home to be the same experience as my previous ones.

The flight home was when I realized that, of course, we had crossed back over into “profits over safety” territory (and yes, I get it; there are a lot of factors at play here, so don’t come at me). The first flight from ISP to BWI was my first indication that perhaps something was off. I went all the way to the back and sat by the window, hoping that I had another half-filled flight and wouldn’t have anyone else in my row again. There was someone in the aisle seat but I also came close to having someone sit in the middle seat. I noted that there were only a handful of people who needed the middle seats, so I dismissed it as maybe they were last-minute purchases or the flight attendants let someone traveling with a lap infant take up a seat and that threw off the count or something explainable like that.

NOPE.

Flight 3598 from BWI to RDU was completely full, middle seats and all. Southwest booked a completely full flight during a fucking pandemic. To make matters more stressful, once we boarded, we sat at the gate for another 45 minutes while they repaired something to do with the air conditioning. It was so warm on the plane that once the captain gave us an update, he said something along the lines of, “Whew, it’s hot in here! Let’s get that A/C going!” On top of all of that, they still did cabin service, which means people seated 6 inches apart would be taking their masks off to eat or drink on a packed plane that had limited airflow for 45 minutes. (Thankfully, the two other women in my row also declined cabin service.) As soon as I got home, I took my clothes off in the garage and put them straight into the laundry, and washed them on a hot water, heavily soiled cycle.

I waited two weeks before talking about this because I wanted to have two negative post-flight COVID tests, which I thankfully now have. I just thought I’d pass along my experience for anyone out there who was considering (or has to) flying right now. Southwest’s website touts physically-distanced practices, but as of Jan. 17, that only applies to boarding, not the actual flight itself. I never noticed that the language about not booking middle seats had disappeared. You’re not “physically-distanced” if you’re sitting 6 inches from the person next to you. I feel really lucky that after 14 days, I’ve tested negative but I don’t think I will be flying again anytime soon. Just another lesson not to assume and a reminder to do your due diligence. Good luck and stay safe and healthy!

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