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Flying during COVID

BY GAYLE KIRSCHENBAUM | In April I canceled my flight scheduled to visit Mom in Florida in May for Mother’s Day. COVID was taking the life out of New York City, my beloved home. My primary doctor e-mailed, “Don’t go down there unless you must. You’ll be putting your mother at risk.”

As Mom was four months away from her 97th birthday, I heeded his advice.  Although, my mother and I had a horrific relationship for decades, driving me to leave home at 16 years old, by the time I hit my 50s we turned it around. She soon became my best friend and we began traveling the world together. We were Thelma and Louise not afraid to tackle anything.

Talk about leg room, her row was totally empty. (Photo by Gayle Kirschenbaum)

As the months passed, things improved in New York City and Florida became the new global epicenter for COVID.

Mom’s birthday was approaching and I was going to figure out a way to get there. While I was looking into renting a car to drive down, thinking I would have less exposure than on a plane, Mom alerted me that she was nauseous and had crippling stomach pains. Her doctor refused to see her, fearing she might have COVID-19. Mom was on her way to the emergency room. Alarmed, I knew I had to get to her right away and that meant flying.

So was most of the plane. (Photo by Gayle Kirschenbaum)

As it’s impossible to speak to an airline representative these days, due to reduced staff now working from home, Delta’s prerecorded message directed me to a live chat via their app. I was able to switch my flight with ease and without paying the $200 change fee.

I was prepared with all my virus-protection gear — a mask, a face shield, vinyl gloves and hand sanitizer. My flight was at 7:15 a.m. and I arrived at the J.F.K. Delta terminal by 5:45 a.m. The flight I was taking was the only nonstop to Fort Lauderdale that day. When I booked it, I asked for and received a window seat, remembering reading it was the safest seat during COVID times.

Passengers were given hand sanitizer when they boarded the plane. (Photo by Gayle Kirschenbaum)

After checking in my luggage, I headed to security, where there was no one else on the T.S.A. preferred line. I breezed right through. Using the several moving sidewalks, I found my way to my gate at the end of the long terminal. Every other seat in the waiting area was marked with a graphically pleasing sign on its back indicating not to sit there.

As we boarded the plane, the flight attendant greeted each of us with a sealed Purell sanitizer wipe. I found my window seat and prayed no one would be sitting in the aisle seat near me, knowing Delta currently is leaving all middle seats open as indicated on their Web site.

As I cleaned my table, seat, arms, headrest and monitor screen, before strapping in, I looked around. No one sat by the aisle near me or in my row or in the entire rows in front of and behind me. The plane was quite empty. Perhaps because it was an early flight or the destination was Florida, the new hotbed for COVID, and it was hurricane season on top of that.

I sat feeling quite safe wearing my mask, face shield and gloves with no one in sight. When it was time for snacks and drinks, I was handed a ziplocked bag. Inside was a small bottle of water, a granola bar, a Cheez-It package, a napkin and another Purell wipe.

And also got another hand sanitizer when they were served snacks. (Photo by Gayle Kirschenbaum)

The smooth flight was over before I had time to finish reading the end of my book. I exited and made one bathroom stop, and found my bag was already waiting for me on the luggage belt.

I lived in fear of flying during COVID. I felt safer on the plane than in most supermarkets. I’m grateful for Delta taking all the necessary precautions. They have even turned a plane around when two passengers refused to wear masks. As long as Delta is flying where I have to go, they will be my airline of choice, especially during coronavirus times.

Kirschenbaum is an Emmy-winning filmmaker, TV producer and writer. To see her 2017 TEDx talk “No More Drama With Mama,” click here.


  1. Kathleen Treat Kathleen Treat August 13, 2020

    Very grateful to Gayle for this important article. Would like to see the same for Amtrak.

  2. Anita Shafran Anita Shafran August 10, 2020

    Sooo glad you had a great experience! Sounds like Delta is doing things right. We need to get things back to normal sooner than later… hope your mom is ok! Happiest & Healthiest 97th to her!!

  3. Richard Marker Richard Marker August 10, 2020

    Thanks, We have not yet taken trains or planes. For the 20 years we lived in NYC, Delta was always our airline of choice. Now that we live in DC, sadly there is far too little Delta service to have been able to keep that choice. Glad they are setting a standard –which we hope they will maintain.

    • Gayle Kirschenbaum Gayle Kirschenbaum October 22, 2020

      Just saw this response. Sorry to hear the Delta doesn’t service the DC area like they do it in NY. I believe I heard good things about JetBlue.

  4. lilycarver lilycarver August 9, 2020

    I had a nearly identical experience yesterday flying from LGA to Chicago to visit my mother. Delta is doing a fantastic job (other than oddly instructiong me via email to go to the wrong terminal to check in). I would never fly American or United. Delta takes Covid very seriously, My flight was 40-50% full (there were some people sitting together but only if they were traveling together). Delta is doing a great job.

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