Is It Safe To Take A Train, Flight, Or Road Trip? What You Need To Know

Your European vacation is canceled and your shoe-box sized apartment is sitting at an unbearable temperature of 105°. If you’re one of the lucky ones who still has a job, Mondays are basically indistinguishable from the weekend and your vacation days feel pretty much useless. At least we’ve made it to summer, and halfway through this dreadful year.

The CDC still advises against travel, and the best way to avoid contracting and spreading COVID-19 is to stay home and limit your interactions with other people. However, being around people—particularly in enclosed spaces—is what spreads coronavirus, not the actual act of traveling. This means that there are still ways to take a vacation and plan ahead to ensure you stay as safe as possible this summer. As every company’s email newsletter informed us back in March, these are unprecedented times. So take precautions when allowing yourself to decompress, safely take a vacation, and try to dull the pain of 2020 with tequila sodas.

Travel, But Make It Local

Travel, both internationally and domestically, has obviously taken a serious hit due to the pandemic, with a low point on April 14th of only 87,000 fliers, according to the TSA. Since then we’ve seen a gradual increase in travel both in the air and on the ground as states rushed to open. Memorial Day weekend seemed to be the turning point when everyone just thought we could forget about the pandemic and get on with our lives, with a 48.5 percent increase in road travel compared to the previous weekend. Unfortunately, this jump and people’s general unwillingness to socially distance resulted in a huge spike in coronavirus cases. Anddd this is why we can’t have nice things.

The moral of the story: don’t be that guy! If you’re going to travel this summer, now is the time to keep your group exclusive and spend your money on fancy sh*t rather than just flocking to the hottest vacation spot (or literal COVID hot spot). Forgo the crowded Lake of the Ozarks pool party and show off your bikini body via Instagram from a private pool in an Airbnb instead. Skip the long flight and treat yourself to summer loungewear or dinner on a socially distant street-side patio. We’re always talking about how we want to be where the people aren’t, so let’s take advantage of this opportunity and built-in excuse for getting out of plans.

It also helps to limit your groups, wear a mask when social distancing isn’t possible, and avoid peak travel times. Before booking and going on a trip, be sure to monitor the number of cases in the area you are visiting, follow travel recommendations, and definitely don’t ignore some states’ 14-day quarantine mandates and get arrested.

“Help Me, I’m Poor,” -The Airline Industry, Probably

 

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While your pink Away luggage set collects dust, your preferred airline has gone into a tailspin and the remainder of 2020 is looking increasingly bleak for the industry. American Airlines may furlough 20,000 employees starting October 1st when the federal bailout expires. United said they could lose 36,000 jobs in the fall. That said, should you be rushing to give them your money? While before, you would probably book flights based on what was cheapest, now you might want to choose your airline carefully. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, airlines have claimed to be doing all they can to prevent the spread of coronavirus. However, as the economic pressures loom and lockdowns are lifted, there has been a gradual abandonment of precautions. Flights have become increasingly full, and airlines like American are booking back at full capacity. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) called his jam-packed connecting flight to Texas  “incredibly irresponsible” and “high-risk.” Meanwhile, airlines are not prioritizing cleaning, according to a recent Association of Flight Attendants survey where only 44 percent of flight attendants said their planes were thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between flights. A worker from American Airlines’ evening shift also stated that she and a few colleagues had only ten minutes to clean some incoming flights before they had to board more passengers. Considering I spend double that amount of time just on my nighttime skin care routine, I don’t think ten minutes is enough time to sanitize a whole plane’s armrests and tray tables.

As we know from collecting air miles (remember those?), not all airlines are created equally. Delta will continue to not sell middle seats through the summer, and United will allow you to switch to a different flight if the one you are booked on becomes too full. While most airlines have policies advising all passengers to wear masks during flights, some airlines (you can guess which one) are not enforcing them.

Not Feelin’ Fly Like A G6

Air travel is risky due to the increased time around large numbers of people in enclosed spaces, but if you must travel by plane, be sure to take the necessary precautions. Take the time to disinfect your seat, area, and hands, and opt for shorter flights without layovers to help reduce your exposure. Dr. Farley Cleghorn tells National Geographic, “Choose a window seat as far from the restroom as possible. Keep the overhead vent open and toward your face—continuous airflow creates a small, invisible ‘wall’ that restricts (at least slightly) the exhaled air from other passengers.”

If international travel is essential for you, be aware that some airlines are prioritizing business class seats, which currently can cost as much as some people’s annual salary. While on July 10th American Airlines told flight attendants that “for now, it’s OK for customers to move to different seats in the same cabin,” that policy isn’t always the case. For one couple trying to get home to Australia from the U.S., their only option might be a $24,000 USD business class ticket. Somewhere out there an out-of-touch, super-rich person (Ivanka, is that you?) who only flies private thinks that must be the normal cost of a seat in economy…must be nice.

Trains: Bad And Bougie, Or Just Bad?

Trains can conjure two types of imagery: relaxing on a humming passenger train in comfortable seats like you’re on your way to Hogwarts, or being shoulder-to-shoulder on the subway with a guy who smells as you try to drown out someone’s argument with a podcast on your daily commute. 

Doesn’t the first option of train travel just feel so European? While you may just be chugging upstate, it feels like you could be making your way through the Italian countryside. Even though European travel is off the table this summer, trains remain a safer option during coronavirus. Amtrak offers flexible bookings, limited seats for sale, and even private rooms. If your train travel is a little less “martinis in the lounge carriage” and more “essential commute on the L in Chicago at 6am”, you definitely deserve a vacation. Even though cities like New York have gone to great lengths to clean and sanitize their subway systems, transit employees have been heavily impacted by coronavirus with many deaths in the early stages of lockdown. Regardless of the type of train you’re taking, be sure to stay six feet apart when possible and wear a mask.

Roadtrip > Eurotrip

 

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Ok, fine, an Aperol Spritz in Positano is probably better than Bud Lights from a cooler by a murky lake, but traveling by car is likely the safest way to vacation this summer. It allows the least contact with other people and the most control of your surroundings, plus gas is at record low prices. If you’ve ever dreamed of being Britney Spears in Crossroads and driving down the highway in a convertible with your besties, now is the time!

“Traveling by airplane is much higher risk than traveling by car with your family,” Carl Fichtenbaum, an epidemiologist with the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Infectious Diseases, tells CNBC. If you don’t own a car, renting one is fairly easy, or upgrade to a camper van and convince your boyfriend that you are the next Caelynn and Dean, without having to meet on Bachelor in Paradise. Once you rent the vehicle, clean and sanitize it, then download Britney’s full discography for when there’s no cell service. (That last part is just a personal recommendation, not the CDC’s.)

Before you leave, pack a COVID tool kit with hand sanitizer, masks, and wipes. While on your journey, try to limit interacting with others as much as possible: bring your own snacks to avoid going into convenience stores, pay at the pump rather than inside, and limit your number of stops—particularly in public bathrooms, as they can be cramped, and flushing a toilet can stir up aerosol particles. (If we weren’t germaphobes before this pandemic, I’m pretty sure we are now.) Once you’ve completed your road trip checklist, you’re ready to hit the open road like a suburban family in a minivan.

Drinks Well Alone

2020 is certainly a wild ride, and America continues to be the world’s Florida. We won’t be getting drunk in the airport lounge this summer, and Maine is the new Greek Islands, but at least the panhandle state stays consistently wild. Plus, on the bright side, you can delay buying another millennial pink bridesmaid dress for your cousin’s destination wedding for at least a year.

With things looking so depressing, it’s definitely time to salvage what’s left of summer 2020 and book a vacation or even a long-term stay to take advantage of working remotely. Being safe doesn’t mean you have to stay in your apartment alone, but it does mean you have to take precautions and limit your interactions with groups of people. And remember, drinking alcohol doesn’t act as an internal sanitizer, but multiple White Claws can help you forget the terrible Zoom dates you went on in April and make summer feel a bit more normal.  

Images: Anna Shvets / Pexels

United Airlines’ Leggings Ban Isn’t Even The Worst Thing They’ve Done Recently

As anyone with even a casual attachment to Twitter already knows, United Airlines got into deep shit this weekend after forcing two young girls, one of whom was only 10 years old, to change out of leggings before boarding the flight. The girls, who were flying on free employee passes, were deemed too slutty to board, as per United’s dress code for pass riders. Predictably, feminist Twitter flipped the fuck out, as women everywhere were triggered into remembering the first of many times they were forced to change by school officials who decided their arms/legs/shoulders/clavicles/whatever were far too tempting for the impressionable men around them to concentrate on their important man-tasks. United’s response was basically to throw two fingers in the air and tell the world that if 10-year-olds wanna ride fo’ free, then those 10-year-olds need to step up their fashion game. A bold stance.

 

The passengers this morning were United pass riders who were not in compliance with our dress code policy for company benefit travel.

— United (@united) March 26, 2017

Now there is a debate here over whether or not the parents should have been more attentive to the dress code, and what United should or should not have done. A lot of frequent pass riders are saying this dress code is well known, and the girls should have known that such sinful, form-fitting attire would not be permitted. Others are appalled, not just at the fact that two children were slut shamed in front of an entire airplane, but also at the suggestion that anyone would wear anything other than leggings during air travel. You want me wearing pants? Like with a button and a zipper and shit? On a plane? Hard pass.

But like I said, that conversation is already happening all over Twitter. If you want to read about it, just check United’s mentions and go to fucking town. It’s all there. I’m not here to talk about that, and I’m certainly not here to get into the extremely divisive “are leggings pants?” debate. I don’t need the death threats. What I am here to say is this:

United fucking sucks as an airline. And I know from experience. 

Over the new year I flew from D.C. to Wisconsin to Chicago to Denver, then from Denver to Chicago to NYC, all on United. It was a risk, but the prices were good and the times were right so I said what could go wrong? Everything, apparently. 

Being that I, like every modern woman, have an anxiety disorder, I don’t like to check my bag. What if they lose all my shit? I need all my shit. My vibrator is in there. All my Christmas presents are in there. What kind of life would I lead without my vibrator and Christmas presents? I don’t want to know. That’s why my travel/baggage motto is always “Keep Calm and Carry On.” The “calm” brought to you by Xanax. Ty. 

xanax

From Wisconsin to Denver, I volunteered to gate check my bag because the gate attendant was asking for volunteers and I’m a literally incredible person who was overtaken by the Christmas spirit. This detail would later be used against me, so fuck trying to be a nice person. Never again.

Cut to my return flight from Chicago to NYC. The flight is delayed two hours, which makes sense because it’s snowing a lot. I’m not bothered. I’d eaten like, a large amount of edible chocolates plus the Xanax so as far as I was concerned Chicago’s O’Hare airport was as comfortable as my own damn bed. I’m very chill.

Someone who is distinctly not very chill is our gate attendant. He is continually making announcements about how the plane is “being held in the terminal for no reason” and how the pilot “has no idea what he’s doing.” Not something that you want to hear about the person who is going to be behind the wheel of your sky-car, but again, I am heavily sedated and it would take nothing short of a terrorist attack to get me to feel anything but warm and slightly sleepy. Little did I know, the gate attendant would soon reveal himself to be my personal Osama Bin Laden.

Is that too extreme? Maybe. But I stand by it.

Finally, we are boarding. Things are going fine. I go up to get on the plane and come face to face with Angry Gate Attendant. He takes one look at me and yells “WELL I GUESS I HAVE TO CHECK YOUR ENORMOUS BAG.”

I pause. Surely he’s not talking about me? Me who has carried my bag on 4 out of 5 flights? Me who gate checked just recently out of the kindness of my own heart? Me who is existing in a bubble of chill vibes? No way. No fucking way.

So I say something to the effect of, “Oh really? I carried this on all my other flights.”

Here’s where being a good person comes to bite me in the ass. He snatches up the ticket that’s still stuck to my bag from when I gate checked and says “Clearly you didn’t!” and grabs my bag from me. He stands in between me and my vibrator.

pretty woman

I tell him again that yes I did carry on my bag previously, but it’s fine, I’ll gate check it, and I turn to leave. Next thing I know this dude is running after me, screaming “MA’AM! MA’AM!” he grabs the bag from me and drags me out to the line. He then tells me that I “appear to think in the wrong” and that if I want to get on the plane, I have to stand in front of the line and admit that he is “right in his assessment of the size of my bag.”

Deadass. This dude wants me to declare him right and myself wrong, in public, before all of the people in boarding group 4, before I am allowed to board the plane. At this point, my Xanax and edibles combination is turning against me. I start crying immediately. Big, wet, “I’m fucked up on drugs” tears. Ya’ll know what I’m talking about.

So, I mean, I do it. I announce to the airport that I am wrong about the size of my bag. That my bag is actually very large. Far too large to ever be allowed on a plane. I must have dreamed that I carried the bag on my other flights. In fact, I didn’t dream it. I made it up. Purposely. To sabotage Chicago O’Hare airport and Angry Gate Attendant personally, because I’m jealous. I’m jealous of the airport. I’m jealous of Gate Hitler. I’m a jealous, messy bitch, and I’m deeply sorry.

As a result, my flight was less than ideal. We arrive in NYC at 2am and all I want to do is get my bag and GTFO. But my bag never comes.

For those of you who have never experienced the horror that is watching every single person on your flight pick up their bag until the carousel is empty and your life flashes before your eyes, you’re lucky. It’s like, getting your period when you weren’t expecting to x1000 and all your Christmas presents are gone. The now drunken Xanax-and-edible tears start back up again, and do not stop until I am safely in my bed, again, sans vibrator.

My bag and I were eventually reunited 48 hours later, when a random man delivered them to my apartment at 2am. I didn’t even get a free voucher or an apology or a separate bag with the gate attendant’s head in it or anything. And before you ask, of course I sent a thousand angry DMs to United’s customer service account. It’s 2017. Getting pissed off at companies on Twitter is like, a human right. Whoever runs their account apologized for the gate attendant’s behavior, but again, I’ve yet to receive an invitation to his funeral, so I am not satisfied. 

scream queens

All this is to say, leggings or no leggings, United fucking sucks. Their gate attendants are mean, and they clearly have issues with normalizing their policies across airports. My athleisured ass will be flying Southwest from here on out. Or maybe Jetblue. Or even—dare I say—Virgin. That’s right, I’d rather watch their truly insane in-flight safety video before every single one of my connecting flights than step foot on a United plane ever again. And that’s really saying something, because this shit is pretty fucking extra: