By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“The caged bird is finally free,” was my reaction after getting a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last Saturday.
For more than 15 months, I felt like a bird trapped at home. My husband and I laid low in the Seattle area, even though I consider myself an adventurous soul. (We used to travel three to five times during the year.) We have complied with all the health regulations to do our part to contain the coronavirus.
Now, I want a vacation to renew myself. But traveling during a pandemic isn’t that simple. Not everyone is able to get the vaccine yet. And not every country has vaccinated most of its citizens, except Israel. The coronavirus is a deadly, contagious disease. Although I would love to go to Israel, it is unwise to travel that far away.
Several foreign countries have health guidelines for tourists, including a two-week quarantine. Italy is in a lockdown. And many European countries are struggling with partial shutdowns. Traveling outside the U.S. can be a hassle. I can’t afford to waste two weeks in isolation.
Now that many states have opened up, traveling inside the U.S. is the right choice. It would be wonderful to see states I have not visited before. There are 20 of them. I have dreamed about going to Nashville, seeing Elvis’ home, Graceland. Mount Rushmore and national parks would be fun to explore. The other option is to revisit some of the U.S. cities. I wouldn’t mind visiting New Orleans or Atlanta again.
The pandemic has changed the dynamics in most U.S. cities. You can’t just take off like you could two years ago. You have to research and prepare. What type of transportation would you like to take? Should you drive or fly? My Chinese Post editor, Nancy, who is planning a trip in May, reminded me, “What about taking the train?” Thanks Nancy. Although I have never traveled on the train, there are merits in going by Amtrak. I will share her research on taking an Amtrak later.
Flexibility is the key if you drive and have the time to do so. And if you have your own camper or trailer, you don’t even need to stay in hotels.
It saves a lot of money and planning time. You travel at your own pace. You can even cook your own meals inside your trailer. And you can even bring your pets along. It does have many advantages. You don’t have to worry about crowds if you have your own transportation and lodging. You can change your itinerary anytime. You save time by not having to go or check in at the airports.
Unfortunately, both my husband and I don’t have the energy to drive long distances. My maximum driving time is a little more than an hour a day. And I like to have breaks during my driving. It would take us days to drive from Seattle just to Arizona, for instance. By the time we arrive, we may be too exhausted to enjoy the Grand Canyon.
The air during flying
Our obvious choice is flying. But is it safe? I have friends and relatives who flew last year and recently, all assured me it was fine. None of them had gotten sick.
My biggest fear is the lack of air circulation on the plane. What have airlines done to improve the air circulation since the pandemic?
Alaska Airlines Public Relations Daniel Chun told me, “Most people tend to think of an airplane as a closed environment with recirculated air—and that’s not true!
“In fact, the air that you breathe on our flights is probably cleaner than the air you’re breathing right now. Our aircraft recirculates fresh air from the outside and through hospital-grade HEPA filters every 2 to 3 minutes. The filters also remove 99.9% of airborne contaminants.
Harvard researchers recently showed the average age of clean air onboard is 1.8 minutes. In comparison, the average age of the air in a hospital room is 16 minutes, and in your home—it’s 240 minutes.
Also, because air flows top down in an airplane, rather than traveling the length of the plane, the air you breathe only comes in contact with your immediate surroundings, keeping you in your very own travel bubble. This constant flow of air is a big part of why those same Harvard researchers concluded that flying can be safer than common activities like eating at a restaurant or shopping in a grocery store. Several recent scientific studies have also shown that flyers who wear masks have a near-zero risk (0.003%) of being exposed to the virus because of onboard air circulation and HEPA-filtration, even when every seat is occupied on an aircraft.”
That’s reassuring. But how safe is it on the plane?
“All airlines have made many changes throughout the pandemic and you can feel confident in the industry’s collective efforts to keep you safe whenever you’re ready to fly again,” Chun wrote in an email.
He added that Alaska has “implemented more than 100 safety measures as part of our commitment to Next-Level Care.”
It “starts with the now Federal requirement that all employees and guests wear a face mask or covering throughout the airport and on board…that’s probably one of the most important actions we can take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, so our airport and flight crews are very good at ensuring that everyone is masked up and ready to go.”
Cleaning the plane
“Cleaning the aircraft between flights” is essential, Chun said. Once “you step onboard, you’ll really notice how clean the cabin feels with the enhanced aircraft cleaning procedures we’ve developed with our University of Washington medical directors, who specialize in infectious diseases.”
The cleaning process “includes electrostatic spraying and fogging procedures, and …working around the clock to sanitize kiosks, gate areas, cabins, and key touchpoints—including tray tables, armrests, seatbelts, lavatories, you name it—with EPA-approved disinfectants.”
Guests have to enter into a health agreement at check-in to confirm that they are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and will adhere to the mask policy,” Chun continued.
To limit interaction between our flight crews and guests, Alaska has temporarily reduced inflight food and beverage service, so feel free to bring your own snacks onboard. “We encourage you to bring your own refillable water bottle, which also supports our #FillBeforeYouFly sustainability campaign, as we work to reduce the amount of single-use plastic we have onboard,” Chun said.
Go by Amtrak
If you don’t want to drive or fly, Amtrak is a great alternative in the U.S. mainland. Nancy and her husband are planning to take Amtrak from Seattle to Chicago to the East Coast, and then on the West Coast.
“You can have your own private room on the train,” she said. “Think of all the beautiful scenery you can see on the way. And you don’t need to cook.” Oh yes, the train can serve all your meals. It’s just like your mobile home. You can even bring your own food, and you have your own toilet and shower in your room. The train also provides fresh towels and sheets. What a service!
Nancy told me that she plans to do some work on the train. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied. “The train has internet.” There are special lounges for travelers who don’t want to be confined in their own quarters. Nancy was excited to share that if you make reservations 14 days before your departure date, you can get as much as a 20% discount, and also 10% discount for seniors.
Train travelers can bring along any family members they want, including elderly and even pets.
Amtrak operates more than 300 trains, stopping in 46 states, including 500 destinations and British Columbia.
If you are already vaccinated, you can plan your trip now. It’s energizing to have a trip to look forward to. We just tried booking a national park visit. It’s all booked up from now until summer. So book early. Bon voyage!
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.