Flying Is Back to Just Being Annoying Again

William O’Connor
·4 min read
Scott Olson/Getty
Scott Olson/Getty

I have a confession to make.

I may be the editor of a travel section, but I’ve never been somebody who loves flying. It’s always just been the fastest way I could get far away from home. And given all the B.S. around it—airports far from cities, security, nickel-and-diming, excruciating boarding processes, etc.—it never held the magic for me as it does for some others. (One of the few times I’ve ever nodded along to something Glenn Beck has said was when he declared, “Private jet travel is the only material thing that can actually change your life.”) I just always found flying to be, well, annoying.

Of all the things I’ve missed during COVID, flying constantly has not been one of them. But the handful of times I’ve done it were often downright bizarre. If you’ve flown for the past several months, you know what I’m talking about when I say it could be a surreal experience. Ghost airports, space to stretch out (unless you flew American, which notoriously kept on packing their planes), quick boarding going from back to front, people giving you space.

Now, passenger numbers are ticking up, hitting one million in a day for the first time since March on Sunday. Part of this is undoubtedly because the science around whether it’s safe to fly is largely in favor, especially with masks, and airlines are now making news for being aggressive in their mask enforcement. And off the top of my head, I couldn’t find any superspreader events tied to a flight since masks have been required. (My favorite moment from a flight last week was when the airline attendant convinced the person across the aisle from me to cover their nose with their mask because “people take videos and photos and post them online.”)

Flying, (thankfully?) is mostly back to being just annoying.

I’ve flown a few times in the past month (including twice in the past week). Aaaaand there are still people in boarding gate areas playing TV shows or music out loud on their phone. Boarding is back to being excruciating, even if done back to front. Not everybody cares that there are people behind them as they go through every pocket in their suitcase before putting it overhead. And we’ve been trained like Pavlov’s dogs that there is something better about getting on a plane first or that we need to figure out a way to be standing in the aisle as soon as the plane parks. The paper towel dispensers are still often so overstuffed it’s impossible to get just one out, leaving you feeling like a jerk for soggily shredding them. Some terminals still don’t have electrical outlets?!

The TSA has not used this time to make things more efficient—and I find those “automated” bin lanes (wherein there is a conveyor belt delivering them underneath to you and everybody gets a little station) infuriating because if the person scanning bags isn’t whizzing through them, it’s a fight to get your bins a slot. My zippers on my pants still set off the body scanner.

Enter your pet peeve here and it’s likely still happening.

People are still weird.

Really weird.

I asked followers on Instagram who have flown recently if they had anything to say. One noted that people were still going barefoot. One guy told me a kid painted her nails mid-flight, and “after gassing out the aircraft with her polish, she managed to splatter the floor with her candy apple red finger paint.” One wrote, “I had a guy next to me unpack a three-course meal from Jack in the Box… honestly I was more bothered by the smell of mayonnaise seeping through my mask than the possible corona.”

Perhaps the best response was somebody sharing that “the man sitting next to me used his plastic fork to clean under his toenails.”

Don’t get me wrong, some things have changed for the better. The major airlines dropping change and cancel fees (which Southwest already had in place) is a big deal. And the extra space provided by limited capacity is very civilized. (Delta, JetBlue, and Southwest, all of which I’ve flown, have kept capacity down as advertised. Alaska, which I haven’t flown, is as well.) But if you’re planning to fly over the upcoming holidays, just be ready for it to be, well, kind of normal!

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