I am Glad I Waited to be Vaccinated Before Flying

A Southwest Air 737-700 seen at BDL – Photo: JL Johnson

A few weeks ago I posted about how I was ready to fly. This is a follow-up to that story. You can start there (link opens in a new tab), or this story can also stand on its own.

I recently completed my first COVID-era trip. My AvGeek wife and I flew to Connecticut on Southwest with the following routing: MCI-MDW-BDL-BWI-MCI. Two years ago our trip wouldn’t have been noteworthy nor deserving of an AirlineReporter piece. But here we are. Everything is different in our new reality and frankly any chance to fly (even to cold places despite a brutal winter) is special.

Once the lockdowns began and the reality of the pandemic set in, I decided I needed to remain grounded until a vaccine became available and I had it in my arm. Not for risk to myself, but to protect others and not allow myself to be an unwitting vector for transmission. My decision came with a serious sense of FOMO (fear of missing out.) Airfares plummeted, airlines were flying planes nearly empty, terminals seemed abandoned, and hundreds of planes were put into storage. Heck some planes were parked on perfectly good runways for lack of space elsewhere. I say all of this to underscore a point. There were many reasons why I really wanted to get out there. But I resisted.

As I booked my first trip in over a year I wondered if upon getting back out there I would regret waiting to be fully vaccinated before flying. Perhaps all of the PR that airlines, airports, and their lobbying groups had pushed could be trusted? Maybe it was indeed safe to fly?

A credit to Southwest and all four airports, there was no absence of reminders.
A credit to Southwest and all four airports, there was no absence of reminders

I’m glad I waited to be vaccinated before flying.

It felt amazing to walk through the doors of my home airport for the first time in over a year. Shortly after I heard the voice of MCI welcoming me back. It feels corny to write this but it very much felt like reuniting with an old friend. We made it through TSA PreCheck in record time and were grateful to see that it was still in operation despite low passenger volumes. After gawking at the new terminal build progress we found a spot near our gate which would allow for some distancing. Everything was incredible. It was good to be home.

I was pleased with the signage and announcements providing the necessary nudges on mask compliance. I was particularly impressed with a screen on the Southwest app that required me to acknowledge COVID compliance requirements and agree to comply before being allowed to check in. On three of our four flights, the flight attendants gave passionate and stern compliance messages as part of their announcements. Problem is, enforcement in general was lax.

Then it happened. Someone walked past without a mask. She was awkwardly holding a coffee in-front of her as if to broadcast that by carrying a drink the mask mandate did not apply. As we waited for boarding we witnessed more non-compliance. The sole sales-bro in the area came around with his mask around his chin yelling into his phone insisting that he had indeed “sent that email.” There were more than a few my-drink-is-a-pass-ers spotted in the hour that we waited. Perhaps the most disappointing sight was an airline employee whose nose wanted to play a game of pandemic peek-a-boo. This occurred ironically while a gate agent announced the mandatory mask measures which apply on – and off – of the plane.

I don’t care about electrostatic disinfectants and HEPA filters.

Airlines and some flyers alike have made a big to-do about electrostatic disinfectants, increased cleaning, and HEPA filters. Notice the word filters is plural as to suggest multiple. How many HEPA filters does a typical 737 sport? American Airlines says two. Two HEPA filters near the middle of the cabin. Airlines are quick to note that most planes receive a full exchange of air every roughly three minutes. Is that enough assurance to protect you against the person next to you not wearing their mask?

Quick snack, or free pass to go mask-less?
Quick snack, or free pass to go mask-less?

On two of our four legs my wife or I had someone seated next to us who did not think the rules applied to them. On both of those flights our flight attendants let it slide. For our MCI-MDW flight I had the guy next to me milk his pretzel snack and few ounces of water for a solid 30 minutes. Impressive for such a short flight! What really surprised me is that not only did our flight attendants let it slide, they engaged with him and offered him refills.

No mask, no respect for others. Photo: - JL Johnson
No mask, no respect for others – Photo: – JL Johnson

I snapped the above photo above on our BWI-MCI leg. My wife and I scored the “LUV seat” on a 737-800, the exit row with two seats and an opening. She was in the aisle, as was the fellow who didn’t think it necessary to wear his mask. That’s right around two feet of separation. If my wife had not waited to be fully vaccinated before flying, that risk level would not have been acceptable.


When I decided to wait to be vaccinated before flying, I was worried I would miss out. I was concerned that I was overreacting and that upon my return, things wouldn’t be “as bad” as I thought they were. Being from Missouri (the “show me” state) I wanted to see first hand. I’m sorry to say that things are as bad – or worse – than you might imagine. If you are worried for your health, work in a public-facing job, or have concerns about aiding in the spread of the virus I’d suggest you hold off and wait on flying until vaccinated. By all means, book that flight now. But wait until you’ve had your shot(s) to have that extra layer of protection. And by golly, mask up. The sooner we all comply, the sooner we can put this whole pandemic thing behind us.

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