Ghostly airports but easy security checks: Air travel in the time of the virus


APRIL 26, 2020

A video shown to travelers on a flight leaving Minneapolis, Minnesota on April 25, 2020, reminds them about anti-virus precautions. – Sébastien DUVAL

Ghostly airports, countless flight cancellations, shops and restaurants closed: the coronavirus has played havoc with air travel in the United States.

Following are some scenes witnessed by AFP journalists during the unusual experience of flying from South Dakota to Washington in the time of the pandemic.

Denver, canceled. Phoenix, likewise. A single plane is taking off this Saturday from the small airport in Rapid City, South Dakota, headed for Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In the Rapid City airport, every shop is closed. A gray-haired maintenance worker, not wearing a mask, carefully disinfects the handrail of an escalator in the near-empty terminal.

But there is one upside to the grim situation: For once, there is no line to get through the security check. “Can you take your mask off?” a security officer politely asks. She needs to compare a traveler’s face to his photo ID.

A maintenance worker disinfects an escalator handrail in the Rapid City, South Dakota airport on April 25, 2020. – Sébastien DUVAL

Signs posted all around the boarding gates ask “What is social distancing?” The reminder is not necessarily overkill in a state that is one of the very few not to have placed its residents under lockdown during the pandemic.

The few people traveling are polite and disciplined, maintaining appropriate distance between one another before boarding. Some even wear masks — a rarity in this part of the country.

Since Delta Air Lines had canceled two flights the previous day from Rapid City to Minneapolis rather than fly nearly empty planes, Saturday’s flight has about 20 travelers — seated by Delta in rather strange fashion.

A woman wearing a mask passes one of the many closed shops at the airport in Minneapolis, Minnesota on April 25, 2020. – Sébastien DUVAL

People not traveling together are seated next to each other, many of them toward the rear of the small plane, while several rows of seats toward the front remain empty.

– No on-board service –

“We do not offer service on board,” a flight attendant, wearing gloves but no mask, announces apologetically, as she passes out plastic bags containing snacks, bottles of water and disinfecting wipes.  

Two passengers took advantage of empty seats during a flight from Minneapolis to Baltimore. – Sébastien DUVAL

She moves up and down the aisle frequently with a trash bag to be sure no one leaves any waste in the seatback pouches.

The AFP team has a brief layover in Minneapolis, where most shops and restaurants are closed.

In this major regional hub, normally full of life, an  almost oppressive silence reigns, broken only by the regular pleas on the public-address system for people to take proper protective measures.

As the travelers prepare for takeoff on another Delta flight bound for Baltimore-Washington International airport, a video is shown for passengers with advice on anti-virus precautions — before the usual video explaining how to inflate a life jacket or find the exits in the event of a water landing.

An empty corridor in usually busy Baltimore-Washington International airport. – Sébastien DUVAL

In this plane, much larger than the first one, each person enjoys an entire row of three seats — almost like flying in first class, only without the Champagne.

Upon our arrival at BWI airport, people jump up from their seats, not really respecting any sort of social distance.

Bad habits, it seems, are not so easily forgotten.

Courtesy/Source: AFP