Thoughts from a ‘first’ flight

Sherri Gardner HowellBlount, Farragut, Kitchen Table Talk, West Knox

I am finally in Seattle.


I was supposed to be here in March.

I was supposed to be here again in early August.

Obviously, those trips didn’t happen. We were blessed with a visit in Knoxville from the Seattle family this summer, and it was fabulous.

Still, I like to be able to find a cheap airfare, which isn’t too hard for me because I am not a fussy traveler, and GO.

With all that being said, I will admit to some anxiety over this first flight in a COVID climate.

I flew out of Nashville so I could get in some much-needed time with grandson King. Nothing brings any more joy than living in the world of a 5-year-old who thinks you are “old, but not too old” and “the best Gigi in the whole universe.”

Flying from Nashville also meant I could use my Alaska Air credit from one of the aforementioned cancelled trips. It was my first time on Alaska Air but won’t be my last. They were helpful, strict with the rules and cheerful. We need more cheerful.

The flight was also nonstop, which reduced my anxiety a bit. Two airports instead of three made me feel better. The main comfort, in more ways than one, was that Alaska is still not filling the middle seats unless you are filling it with family.

The problems I saw on this first flight had little to do with airline and airport regulations and everything to do with human nature. Everyone kept their masks on, but there were other parts of travel behavior that haven’t changed.

Mt. Rainier, from my airplane window as we approached Seattle.

My flight was at capacity, except for a few seats in first class and most middle seats. That worked fine on the plane, but not in the waiting area at the gate. Marked off chairs designed to give social distancing were occupied because there was nowhere else to sit for the hour-plus before boarding.

There was no social distancing in the security lines.

The plane was boarded from the back, which worked to load the plane without too much crowding in the aisles. After touchdown, however, it was the usual chaos, with everyone standing and moving to the aisle as soon as the seat belt sign clicked off.

Everyone was polite, but the unload looked no different than it did a year ago.

Overall, my husband and I were happy with our experiences. Neville said it reminded him of the days before airline deregulation and 9-11 security – less crowded and people not in as big of a hurry.

And we were thankful to the airlines for the flexibility they allowed when we did not feel safe flying and their efforts to restore our confidence.

As Mt. Rainier came into view above the clouds, I felt what I need most right now: a sense of hope that life will someday resemble what it did before.

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.

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