Sunday, August 02, 2020

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

It is Sunday morning, and I am sitting in the Board Room (Alaska Airline's lounge) in Los Angeles.

People have told me that the flying experience has drastically changed. It hasn't.

It is true that the usual crowds are gone. Understandably. That was apparent in the departure area in Manzanillo. I did not count passengers, but the airplane was less than half full.

That does concern me. Alaska cannot even break even on the Los Angeles-Manzanillo with that few passengers. If Alaska cancels the flight in the future, it will present problems for passengers flying up and down the Pacific coastline.

Other than the open seats, the flight was normal. Of course, there were a few changes. Crew and passengers were masked. The only exception was when drinks and snacks arrived. The usual hot meal has been replaced with a large basket of chip choices. (That was not a change for me. I always bring my own meal and dishes.)

For me, the only noticeable change was the absence of the in-flight magazine. Not that I am enthralled with puff pieces. You know the type. "10 Hot Night Spots in Puerto Vallarta Without Straights."

No in-flight magazine meant no crossword puzzle. The puzzles in these magazines are not very challenging. Over the years, I have set a challenge for myself. I must complete the puzzle before the airplane gets to rotate speed.

The bemasked flight attendant told me the magazines were removed in March because people touch them and return them to the seat pocket. That made sense. Until I noticed the two safety cards are still in the pockets, and we were invited to take them out and follow along with the safety briefing.

In reality, no one does. I suspect those cards have remained untouched with the exception of aviation enthusiasts who love soaking in any trivia associated with their flight.

But that was about it. Before checking in, the passengers were required to fill out a coronavirus form attesting they were healthy. To my surprise, the form was returned. Mine is now in a trash can at the Embassy Suites.

Oh, yes, our temperatures were taken by one of those thermometers that look exactly like the type of video camera your Uncle Mike owned during the 1990s. Almost everyone smiled. (And temperatures were being taken of arriving passengers before they could enter the Immigration hall.)

What was extremely different was Los Angeles International Airport. The entire flight was through Immigration before my Homeland Security meeting was completed. My luggage was waiting for me, and I was through Customs in two more minutes. It was like arriving at a regional airport in Iowa.

This morning, after checking in a bit early for my flight, I was the only person in the security line. Let that sink in. On a weekend day in the past, that line can often take up to an hour to traverse. Even though I have had dreams of short security lines, this one felt weird -- as if I were about to run into Rod Serling around the corner.

So, here I sit in the Alaska lounge as almost the only customer. That is just as well because the food on offer is restricted to items that could be purchased at any Seven-Eleven. If I get hungry, the concourse food vendors are still operating, but the food must be taken away to eat. Their seating areas are taped off. So, people get their meal and then go sit cheek by jowl in the boarding areas.

In just over an hour I will board another lightly-populated flight. This time to Redmond, Oregon where another adventure awaits me.

As for the travel changes, they are not too noticeable. But that may be because we have been living our lives as hobbits since March.

I must confess that the flight has been good for me. I almost feel like a dog that has spent far too much of his recent life on a leash. I am howling at the moon.

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