I’m a Flight Attendant in the Age of the Coronavirus

As for when I’ll fly again, I have allergies, which means at some point I’m likely to experience some of the symptoms (a sore throat and cough) that comes with the virus, so I want to get some confirmation and advice from a healthcare professional. My temperature has been normal, and I’ll continue to monitor that as well.

Meanwhile, colleagues have started a Facebook support group, but as emotional as I’ve been, I don’t want to add to someone else’s level of anxiety. We are caregivers and first responders for our passengers, so it’s a little odd to be the one that needs the comfort. I’ve been relying on my husband and friends more than ever.

But if there’s one thing I take pride in, it’s how the airlines have responded to the pandemic. In addition to extensive cleaning, my airline has been providing hand sanitizer and wipes on the airplane for people, and I also hand out masks to people who request one.

On the planes, most of us are wearing gloves while we’re serving. One of my co-workers is even layering her hands with four sets of gloves. As soon as she’s served someone, she’ll peel that one off and then serve the next person. Then when she’s cleaning up, she’ll use another set of gloves. Maybe it sounds excessive, but we’ll do whatever it takes. Our company just wants to keep our passengers as healthy and safe as possible. That’s why when the coronavirus started spreading, the airline sent recommendations on how our service would change, and that’s continuing to evolve. I know another carrier has removed everything except single serve water bottles on their planes. Everything is changing day by day, hour by hour.

A few days ago, a couple of passengers reached out and hugged me when disembarking and told me to stay safe. I stiffened up and they remembered and said, “Oh sorry, I’m healthy.” Listen, I get it. People are very loving, and it’s hard to flip that switch so quickly. Then there are those who wear masks and gloves and want to be as wrapped up as possible. Take what precautions you need to.

Everyone keeps asking if I’m scared right now, but to be honest, I haven’t been that apprehensive. I’m more sad that I can’t fly. I’ve always been pretty vigilant when it comes to staying healthy, but perhaps now I’m scrubbing my hands as if I’m prepping for surgery. No wonder they feel like sandpaper!

On the flights, I’ve also noticed passengers trying to create more social distance between others. Our gate agents have to be aware of the weight and balance issues on each aircraft, but they’re doing what they can to accommodate social distancing.

Our cleaning crews have always been really wonderful, but I’ve never seen such a large formidable team come onto our airplanes and clean them so diligently. My mouth dropped open when I saw that the cleaning crew take up a third of the jet way. There’s probably a group of 10 to 15 people now that vacuum, clean every surface, wipe down every tablet ray, overhead bin, air vents, armrest, seatbelt, etc. You name it, every surface is being disinfected. That’s just how we have to operate during this crazy time.

I’ve heard people say planes have never been cleaner, and it’s probably true. Still, if you’re nervous to fly, take hand sanitizers and a face mask with you if that makes you feel more confident. And talk to the flight crew when you board. Tell them you’re nervous, and they can probably tell you all the different steps the airlines are taking to make you safe and keep things clean.

Last week my flights were still two-thirds or more full, but the flight I just missed was at around 50%, due to cancellations. Going forward, I think there’s a lot of uncertainty still on how that’s going to play out, but the only thing constant in our industry is change. And now, because of what’s going on as a result of the pandemic, there are going to be major changes. But eventually we will build back up. We always do.

I’ve been so proud of the work that my coworkers and our leadership and everybody’s been doing. We’re all in this together and we’re doing everything we can to make you feel safe. We’re delivering loved ones to see the people that they love, and that crosses my mind a lot these days. Even though the travel industry is a business, we’re going to do everything in our power to get through this together. 9/11 was a stunning time in history and I think we’re in another stunning time in history. You can let it overwhelm you, or you can focus on how these difficult times help build character and strength. I’m doing the latter.

Jessica Radloff is the West Coast editor at Glamour.

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