Coronavirus Column: Flying during a worldwide pandemic

Coronavirus has changed air travel but it reevaluated the way I will fly in the future.


Art by Michelle Rodriguez.

Natalia Ribeiro, Contributing Writer

This year my summer trip is different than in the past years. For one, I did not kick off my summer vacation with my annual dance recital due to the coronavirus. 


That also meant all the fun things I would do in Brazil would be halted for this year. The plane trip this year was about to be completely different than in the past.




I will not lie, my parents had many thoughts about whether or not to fly. I knew we would be allowed into the country since we have dual-citizenship, it was just a matter of what would be the best decision for us.


My original flight got canceled twice before we secured one that was confirmed. As Brazilian foreigners are not allowed into the United States per coronavirus restrictions, I knew all of the tourists that would be on my flight would not be flying anymore. With less passengers, there would be a decline in the number of flights available. 


In the weeks leading up to the flight, my parents bought hand sanitizers, wipes, and different masks for the flight. My mom made a little Ziploc bag with a small tissue packet, wipes, hand sanitizer spray, and an 8 ounce bottle of hand sanitizer along with our masks. Everything that we packed in suitcases was zipped up into Ziploc bags and taped shut. 


On the day of my flight, I stepped into the airport with a teal-colored face mask along with my mom and younger brother in their own colored masks. I had put my hair into braided pigtails to keep my hair out of my face, only to look like the Wendy’s girl.


Entering the airport, a worker from the airline company was donning a face mask, face shield, gloves, and a bottle of hand sanitizer which she would offer after check-in.  After baggage drop, I headed to TSA where I was quickly asked to pull down or remove half of my mask for facial recognition. 


After the removal of shoes, electronics, liquids, etc., I took all of our items out of the TSA bins and wiped down everything before we placed our items back inside of our backpacks. We applied another layer of hand sanitizer before heading to our gate location, in an airport that was practically empty with only about three flights in the international section. 


Although it took a bit longer to leave the TSA area, I found it to be a smooth process. That could change in the upcoming year as international flights resume.




In past years of flying internationally, I would always see passengers in line to depart for a flight even though their section number was not called yet. Now, no one is allowed in the departure line unless your section number is called upon. Airline commissioners were enforcing six-feet distancing throughout the process with airline staff asking what seating you are in when approaching airplane doors. Hand sanitizer was being offered before boarding, which by that time my hands were covered in layers of hand sanitizer. 


After seating, we wiped down our seatbelts, tray tables, the television, armrest, and anything surrounding our seats. At this moment, I along with my mom and younger brother changed from our colored face masks to an N95 mask for the flight. Looking around, not a single seat on the airplane was empty from my point of view as I was on a smaller airplane than normal. From takeoff to landing, flight attendants were constantly reminding passengers that face masks are required throughout the whole flight. 


In terms of food, I am not one to eat what the airplane provides. Never have and never will, as I prefer to eat before takeoff and bring snacks on the plane. With that being said, only one type of food was being served and the only beverage being offered was a bottle of water. 


Blankets and pillows were available on the plane if requested. I was comfy without a blanket, but I did miss having a pillow to lay my head on top. My peach-colored jacket was enough to keep me warm. At least blankets and pillows were not scattered around the plane like in my past flights to Brazil.




Once the plane landed, everyone was ordered to remain seated until each row was called upon. When called, I grabbed my items and headed toward passport control and baggage claim. The airport was empty as I had arrived in the early morning hours and the flight had been on a smaller airplane, so that meant fewer people were on board.


The process for passport and baggage claim was the same as in the past, the only difference is everywhere you looked there was an announcement either on walls or by speakers about coronavirus prevention. My mom and I found it funny that I did not have to pull down my mask when leaving the baggage claim area for recognition as the security people at the Brazilian airport thought I was still a child by my looks. 


After finding our transportation and arriving at our final destination, it was only then that I took my mask off. I grabbed a separate pair of clothes that I had separated in my carry-on bag and took a shower.  


While my flying experience was different than in the past, there are different aspects that will continue in the future. Many of them I hope will transition into the new normal as I feel that it made the flying experience more organized. I do not think I will be able to go on an airplane without a mask for the rest of my life. Will it be an extra level of caution when traveling? Yes, but I am willing to do it if it prevents me from getting sick.


Natalia Ribeiro is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].