We’ve seen many times over the past few months in the DVC Facebook Group the question of whether flying is a safe way to travel in this new era. While you and your family should evaluate this on a personal level, I thought providing a first-person account of our recent trip may help many with this challenging decision.
Choosing An Airline
Just as each business is choosing how to handle sanitizing and social distancing differently, the same can be said with airlines. Like you, we’ve heard stories both good and bad for almost all of the companies out there. For our recent trip, Amy and I selected Southwest due to both its convenience in offering a nonstop option to Orlando, Florida, as well as its current social distancing and cleaning policies. Southwest has a detailed cleaning policy outlined on its website as a result of the current pandemic and is promising middle seats open through at least October 31st to promote social distancing onboard.
I would strongly suggest that you take the time to review your airline’s current safety procedures, as well as see how successful their policies are being implemented before making a final decision.
Arriving at the Airport
To best maximize our time at Walt Disney World, we usually choose the earliest flight possible out of our home airport of Pittsburgh International. For this trip, that meant a 7:30 am flight with plans to arrive around 6:15-6:30 am.
One of the first noticeable differences for us was parking. Due to the limited number of flights operating, a large portion of the regular parking area was closed, and we found no trouble finding a place just a short walk from the terminal.
Within the terminal, it became quickly apparent how few people are currently flying. We were surprised to find ourselves the only people checking in with our bags when we did.
Many have raised concerns over mask compliance, but we noticed no real issues. Were there some people that needed to go back to school to learn how to wear one properly? Of course, but that was minimal, and throughout our time at the airport, we felt safe and able to socially distance as much as needed.
Fewer people flying means less time in line for security as well! Amy and I are TSA-PreCheck; however, we noticed the wait for the regular line was next to nothing with social distancing markers on the ground to space out travelers properly. Regardless of this, we still say TSA-Pre is some of the best travel money ever spent and worth every penny!
As is typical, I was a problem child in security with my belt causing some problems, but otherwise, we breezed through.
Also worth noting is that TSA is allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container, up to 12 ounces per passenger. We each had a large sanitizer in our bag and went through without issue.
Amy and I also opted to purchase “EarlyBird Check-In” for our flight, which gave us a priority boarding position of A19 and A20. Surprisingly we ended up being the first on the plane and took advantage of the situation by snagging the front row with lots of legroom.
Now I know Southwest is blocking middle seats, but this flight was exceptionally dead! I would be surprised if there were fifty people on the airplane (per a later announcement, there were forty-four). Passengers were well spaced out, and as I watched everyone walk back the aisle, I saw full compliance with mask-wearing.
Beverage and snack service, while in-flight, has been modified with passengers only being offered a small bag of pretzels and a cup of ice water. We took the pretzels and saved them for later, but were a little leery about the water. A small bottle would’ve felt a bit safer. Flight attendants did inform passengers that they were only allowed to remove their mask while eating or drinking.
Arriving in Orlando
You can’t really compare Orlando International Airport to Pittsburgh. It is a much bigger airport and thus was quite a bit busier. Noticeable was the fact that the majority of guests were wearing their masks appropriately. Social distancing here is a bit harder, but I felt as though everyone was doing their part in these difficult times.
In the baggage claim area, most travelers were well spaced around the belt awaiting their luggage. I did get the feeling here that some did not understand or forgot that we were in a pandemic when they excitedly plowed through the crowd of people to get the bag they just spotted. This area is noticeably lacking social distancing indicators on the ground, which I believe could help.
Rental Car Pick-Up
In most cases, I would not have felt the need to make this a separate section; however, given our experience, I think it is worth noting. Amy and I elected to rent a car this trip instead of utilizing the Magical Express and Walt Disney World Transportation. This was a personal decision, and we felt let us have more control over our travel and be a little safer. If you are questioning this yourself, head over and check out our recent article outlining the current policies and procedures for Disney transportation.
Upon arrival, we were greeted with what I can only describe as a mob of people waiting to pick-up their car. Since Enterprise owns National, Alamo, and probably many other small rental car agencies, everyone was asked to go into a tiny Enterprise line. While the upper part of the line had social distancing markers in place, the “mob” area was truly chaotic. This situation, coupled with many tired travelers, does not make for the best social distancing environment. Guests also have the option to check-in their rental via digital kiosk; however, only one out or four were operational at this time and it did not work well as most people were still given a messaging saying they needed to use the desk. After getting through that line, the rest of the rental process was a breeze and we even got to pick what we wanted from a line of standard SUVs.
I did notice two MCO representatives walk by at one point and took notes and commented on the line and kiosks. My hope is that this situation gets re-evaluated and corrected to run a little smoother and safer.
Overall, I cannot emphasize enough how traveling right now should be an individual consideration for each and every member of your family. Depending on your health, age, risk, and many other factors, airline travel may not be appropriate. I think I speak for both Amy and myself when I say that we were pleasantly surprised by the overall experience. Maybe we caught the airports on a good day and a good time.
If you’ve traveled through an airport to head to Walt Disney World recently, I’d love to hear your experience! Also, if you have any questions about our travel experience, feel free to ask!