I Believe I Can Fly

By Megan Waldrep   |   June 18, 2020
Author Megan Waldrep puts on a brave face for her flight from SB to Seattle

What Flying During a Pandemic is Like from Santa Barbara Airport

During a pandemic, check-in is a breeze at Santa Barbara Airport

As you might expect, I had mixed feelings about flying during a pandemic. Thankfully, the Santa Barbara Airport eased pre-flight nerves before I entered the building. For example, there are separated entries for Alaska and American Airlines on the North end, United and Delta through the main entrance, and signs requiring face masks at every turn. Upon entry, the airport wasn’t empty, but it wasn’t busy either. Without lines at the check-in counters (as in, not one person), the vibe is… chill. Relaxed. Enjoyable? No one is in a rush to catch a plane, people are kind and socially distancing, and hand sanitizer stations are filled and located anywhere you may roam. The best surprise was taking my time through the TSA screening. (To private jetters and TSA pre-checkers, the following may sound foreign to you.) With my boarding pass and ID in hand, I strolled up to the TSA agent’s desk and passed my documents through a cut-out hole in the plexiglass barrier between us. What usually feels like a race to disrobe and unpack your perfectly packed belongings for the TSA scanners was the opposite – as opposed to limping out of the way wearing half a shoe, I had enough time to redress and pack up again like a civilized human. A first.

A rare TSA security check situation – no lines!

After a short wait at the gate, about twenty passengers boarded the Alaska Airlines flight to Seattle. With seats in front and behind remaining empty, we strapped into entire rows to ourselves. The flight attendants ensured the cabin had been appropriately sanitized and proceeded with the pre-flight safety demonstration in masks and gloves. Besides the mortality check of turbulence, and hoping my N95 mask does its job, it felt like a normal flight. So normal, in fact, “maskne” (acne from wearing a mask) was my greatest concern other than the virus itself. (A vain yet strange relief, I admit.) A twenty-minute flight brought us to our first stop in San Luis Obispo, where a cleaning crew would disinfect the plane before the next group of passengers came aboard. We were advised to either stay seated and direct the crew to clean around us or deplane with our belongings for a quick break. The cleaning crew turned out to be one cleaning guy, armed with a spray bottle of “high potency cleaning solution,” paper towels, and a vacuum which he used to trace each row of the cabin. The cleaning guy asked if he could further assist me in any way, and I asked to take his photo instead.

New plexiglass barriers for extra safety. The hole is where you pass a boarding pass and ID.

Here’s where the anxiety set in: enter twenty more passengers from SLO. A couple plopped down behind me, and one man scooted to the window seat in front. After the food service of bottled water and packaged snacks – instead of a variety of sodas and juice poured into ice-filled cups – the coughing and sniffling commenced, seeming to echo inside my brain. Each sneeze made me shutter, and I prayed the phlegmy hack from the woman behind me meant she was a smoker. The man in front of me let out a sneeze, and I felt terrible when I said, “Bless you,” when I meant, “F you.” Though the City of Santa Barbara Airport was the easiest part of the trip, and the airlines work hard to ensure the planes are clean and disinfected, you can’t control who will sit near you and trigger your silent vitriolic attacks on other passengers. The moral of the story? If the virus is your biggest concern, postpone your vacation or fly at your own risk.

A Message from City of Santa Barbara Airport:

The cleaning “crew” who disinfected the flight in SLO before additional passengers came aboard
An empty seat remained beside each solo-flying passenger for the trip to Seattle

Here is a breakdown of service by airline and destination according to Angi Daus, the Marketing Coordinator of the City of Santa Barbara Airport:

– Alaska’s current service is to Seattle (SEA). The current service pause via Alaska is to Portland (PDX) and will return based on demand.

– American Airlines’ current service is to Dallas (DFW) and Phoenix (PHX). No loss.

– Delta service to Salt Lake City (SLC) is paused. However, we don’t have set dates for the return, and, once again, it is dependent on demand.

– United is currently servicing SFO and DEN.

The lost number of flights going out changes daily, sometimes hour by hour. “We’ve seen some stability in scheduled flights not being canceled, but that isn’t guaranteed. Again, it’s based on demand and other needs of the airlines,” Daus said. “We at SBA are doing everything we can to keep as much service as possible for our community, but ultimately these decisions are made by the airlines.” SBA highly recommends all passengers check their flight status and services regularly and to contact the airline directly with any specific needs.

Currently, there is a live, daily flight schedule on the homepage of www.FlySBA.com. Daus reminds passengers that the online flight schedule is just a quick reference, but passengers should check directly with their airline to ensure they have the most up-to-date information.


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