No Holds Barred: What goes up must come down

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Space X crew's astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley returning to earth after two months in orbit.

Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away
Once I get you up there where the air is rarefied
We’ll just glide, starry-eyed
Once I get you up there, I’ll be holding you so near
You may hear Angels cheer cause we’re together …

Angels cheer?  Rarefied air? What’s that? The Air Traffic Association is now saying though flying is better than in April (biz was down 95%), actual recovery to pre-Covid levels won’t appear till 2022-2023. We all know that the reduced corporate travel and zero consumer confidence has trashed the hospitality business in general.

And last week the nail in the coffin happened when Dr. Fauci himself announced that he would not be “getting on a plane anytime soon — I’m in a risk category (he’s 79). Right now, I’m very sequestered.  I don’t fancy seeing myself getting infected, which is a risk when you’re getting on a plane – particularly with the amount of infection going on right now.”

What more do we need to hear? Fauci even questioned the effectiveness of pre-flight temperature checks (how about temperature checks anywhere). “I don’t think it is all it’s cracked up to be because there are a lot of false negatives and positives.”

So why fly even though the TSA keeps touting how great their masking and cleaning measures have been doing?  The middle seats are back, and the real joke is that the jet manufacturers and airlines insist that the air we breathe on any plane is safe!  Are they kidding?  Apparently, the “compressed air is fed into the cabin from a clean part of the engine and is freshly recycled through hospital grade filters: cabin air is renewed every two minutes – it is completely safe.”

Oh puh-lease!! Everyone knows being in a closed space with more than 7 people breathing is now popularly called a petri dish. “The industry is working on this.” I bet they are!  Boeing is installing “self-cleaning” bathrooms. It has to do with the use of UV lighting.  “We believe that using UV lighting is the key to making those surfaces cleaner.  We position the lights so that it floods the toilet seat, counter and even eliminates odor, while the door is closed and unoccupied.  The cleaning cycle takes 3 seconds.”  They are also working on hands-free faucets and soap dispensers, toilet lid and seat — all to reduce towel usage.

I wouldn’t count on any of this happening anytime soon.  I had a friend who flew from NYC to LA (5 hours) and wore a diaper as well as gloves, mask and goggles (she refused to use the bathroom).  She also didn’t consume any liquids which I think might be dangerous as dehydration is a big issue in flight after 90 minutes.  But she made it.

Model and famous germophobe Naomi Campbell with “Naomix” disinfectant.

It seems that model and famous germophobe Naomi Campbell has also nixed inflight bathroom visits.  She recently Instagrammed herself on a flight in a full hazmat suit, with her own blanket covering the seat, and holding her wipes labeled “Naomix — the fashionable disinfectant.”

Thank God she promoted that and not another phony “designer” mask that doesn’t protect. Fauci recently promoted goggles as the latest Covid accessory!  No more cataract wrap-around sunglasses.  They don’t protect enough!

And while commercial flights have dropped 60%, private jets are still happening at 80% capacity.  XO Jets, NetJets and Surf Air are reporting their business is still open wide to corporate big-wigs and deep pocketed travelers.  And while it may be true that private jets don’t have to deal with crowded terminals and gates, they still have a sanitization problem.  A private pilot told me that there are now more turnarounds between jobs and the pilots are responsible for sanitizing the plane.  I don’t expect that pilots would be meticulous bathroom cleaners.  That’s not their job.

He also told me the air circulation problem is the same in a private jet as in a jumbo jet.  In the end, it’s the amount of people in a small space that is the issue. Nothing else matters.  Even though NetJets President Patrick Gallagher insists “people flying private understand the ultimate luxury is peace of mind.” Well, not if the group who chartered the plane three hours before you was young fat-walleted guys returning from a “stealth” bachelor party in Miami.  Face it, viruses don’t care if you are a “fractional” jet owner or are a schlub who flies commercial waitlist. Planes are a problem.

As for cruise ships – I can’t believe I keep hearing people are booking for 2021.  I realize this year everyone had to cancel their beloved Alaskan Cruise and still want to go … but isn’t there another way?  The thought of ever getting on a ship seems insane.  But Royal Caribbean and Silver Sea have just dropped the word “cruises” in their new ad campaigns.  The company is now called Royal Caribbean Group.  What does that mean?  Is a “group” safer than a “cruise?”  What difference does it make — cruise obsessed vacationers are lined up and ready to set sail.

Cruising for credits!

Personally, I gave up on all travel two years ago when getting to and through the airport was bad enough; awful looking people, screaming kids and cancelled or overbooked flights became too much.  Not to mention the filth on most planes.  No trip was worth the hassle of being treated as badly as the airlines treated the public.  Forget the punchlines of flying “busses” or airline “cattle cars.”  No wonder more people were bringing on ponies and cockatoos as “support therapy” companions.  You need all the help you can get.

The airline industry went too far with their rudeness and contempt by over-charging for luggage, cancellation and penalty fees. And who ever believed the frequent flyer programs were a “bargain” money saver?  Everybody hated the airlines and now the downward spiral becomes a form of universal payback.  Karma is a bitch in the friendly skies!

Friends of mine who lived “Up in the Air” for business now admit they are somewhat happier being grounded, even though travel became an addiction for some who would rather be anywhere but home.  Now home is ALL they have and need!  Middle-age people who used travel to fill their retired time and “see the world” were running out of places.

Single people who used travel to “eat, pray, love” have hooked up enough and are using Tinder to meet someone for Thai food in a local outdoor parking lot café.

I knew it was over for me when I had to take Ativan before every trip and especially on the planes.  It really wasn’t the “fear of flying,” it was being overwhelmed by the whole ordeal. My luggage even had to be shipped ahead, and the majority of it wasn’t clothes, but medication and “home comforts” to get through the trip.  I was even (accidentally) assaulted in the face by a traveler going down the aisle and putting his 100-pound backpack up in the overhead bin.  That was the finale!

Thankfully my traveling days are over, and I am Ativan free.  My big trip of late is going to my Walgreens — no lines, no temperature checks and all the meds and supplies I need.

Last week two friends of mine decided to leave their “shelter in place” and “get outta Dodge.”  Both are professional travelers.  One friend is a germaphobe and explained her particular economy class flight routine.  She flies wearing two masks, gloves, goggles and a shield with plenty of disinfecting wipes handy.  Once she gets to the hotel, she bags up her traveling clothes.  She refuses all maid service and gets extra towels to place on the floor, couch and chairs.  She brings her own slippers and pillows.  She removes all bedspreads and brings plastic bags to cover the TV remote and, in some cases, the faucets. She uses toothpicks for all elevator push buttons.

A TV remote in a plastic baggie.

This sounds excessive, but she reminded me of a TV news show doing a black light investigation on both economy and luxury hotel rooms and found the bedspreads and remote to be the major culprits of high-count pathogens. And that was 10 years ago!  At the same time, I remember a report was published stating that the Barneys front door handle had the highest count of E.coli germs of any place in all of NYC.  And those were the days of just bacterial, not viral spread.

A sign of things to come?! Barneys wiped the murder scene clean soon after this 2019 window installation.

But you can forget flying. Lately, road trips have become the most popular pandemic vacation. My other dear friend, who was is a terrific travel writer, decided to do THE road trip of our time. He lives part-time in Los Angeles and had to return to his second home in the Hamptons after a seven-month delay.

He planned the trip with the skill of General Patton in WWII — and it paid off.  For three weeks, he studied the national weather patterns and Covid hotspots, and checked in with Rand McNally trip maker.  He booked all Hampton Inns hotels because of their digital key and room access.  He recommends staying on the top floor at the end of the hallway near the stairs for easy access.  No elevators.  No walking hallways (less time in lobbies). Less people! He planned five days/four nights driving through eight states — staying in lower Covid count regions (Utah, Nebraska, Illinois and Pennsylvania were the overnights).

Pandemic road trip route — Interstate 80 in Nebraska.

He was looking for the shortest route with the least viral load.  He drove 650 miles a day for eight hours a day.  His doctor insisted he eat only at drive-thru locations, and he found Taco Bell to be the best. “This wasn’t a foodie trip, the staff were masked, and they provided contactless service with credit cards and tray service — no hand to hand. McDonald’s did not.”

He has driven cross-country six times, and this was the easiest drive as there were far fewer trucks (sign of a sagging economy?)  and less traffic in general which made for less stressful driving AND the weather was clear.  Every state had a different personality and the rules were different in each.

“Colorado was the best about masks and Covid consciousness. Some of the front desk people were masked, many were not. So many of the drive-thru teenagers were mask-less.  Pumping gas was surprising as most pumps were crowded, and no one wore a mask.”

When you gotta go, you gotta go!

He ate and drank very little, but the all-important pee break was preferred at rest areas on the highway, where the doors were open and well ventilated. Fast food and gas stations were second and third best. Men have it made with bathrooms whereas most of my women friends now carry Tupperware containers for urinals rather than stop anywhere.

He brought his own pillows and pillowcases, Clorox wiped all surfaces and remotes, and chose to turn off the AC and open the windows (if they weren’t already sealed). He felt safe in all the rooms and remarked how they now have “sanitation seals” up for you to “break and enter” in safety.  He arrived on Friday in time for NYC traffic to the island.

In the end, the toughest parts of a pandemic trip are the pre-trip anxiety and packing all the sanitization supplies; gloves, masks, wipes, and hefty bags.  Otherwise put your car in cruise control and go!  Now he is settling in for a 14-day quarantine, which is a great way to relax after a pedal to the metal cross-country driving marathon.

And speaking of stellar quarantine — the Space X crew finally landed. Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley splashed down after two months in orbit.  I wonder if and when THEY will ever get on a commercial flight!

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