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Traveling During a Pandemic – Part III

In the final installment, our Business Traveler explorer stops off in Denver, then heads home

Ed. Note: Everybody is curious about what it’s like to be traveling in the midst of the pandemic. Jerry Ruud is the Managing Director of Business Traveler and no stranger to life on the road. In this, the first of a three part story, Jerry shares his first-hand observations of recent trip he and his family took.

When last we left our story, I was wrapping up a family vacation in Los Angeles. From there I headed to Denver for a business meeting before heading home. The rest of the Ruud Family passenger manifest – my wife and one of my daughters – had already returned to New Jersey.

August 11 Los Angeles to Denver – UA 550 9:30 – 12:37

For this leg, I had already received an upgrade from United a few weeks prior to flying. Upgrades have been much easier to reclaim this trip. Before to the pandemic, upgrades would expire before I could use them as the demand was greater than the supply.

I boarded the shuttle bus at the LAX Renaissance Hotel; seating was not limited but still the bus was less than half-full due to the current lack of guests. When I arrived at LAX, United did have the Premier 1K area open so I went there to check in my bag and golf clubs.

This was very similar to previous experiences with the exception of having a United employee ask me some pre-screening questions: Have I been exposed to anyone with COVID-19 within the past 14 days? Have I been sick within the past 14 days? Have I been denied access to another airline due to Covid-19 in the past 14 days? Have I tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 21 days?.

While we are “self-evaluating,” it is nice to know that these questions are being asked and hopefully people will be respectful and avoid knowingly exposing others during this time.

Traveling by myself this leg, I used my CLEAR credentials. This still saved me a minute or two but I was offered a CLEAR mask and some hand sanitizer during this process which was a nice touch. Going through the rest of the TSA screening was very quick since the airport still seemed to be running about 25 percent capacity in Terminal 7.

Unlike my outbound journey, this time I was able to check in to the United Club at LAX, which is one of my favorites in “my network” of regular travels. It was probably only about 10 percent full while I was there but everything seemed normal with the exception of the lack of any food offerings.

There were hand sanitizing stations throughout the club along with magazines in the racks to read while you wait. Signs throughout recommended social distancing and mask wearing. Again, most people were compliant with the requirement to wear masks unless they were drinking and sometimes talking on their phones, but no one was even close to being cramped or crowded.

For this flight, I did get a notice from United that it was pretty full and they gave me an option to book another flight if I felt uncomfortable. I choose to fly this leg as I had appointments booked when I landed but I did not feel uncomfortable at all (even though I did have someone in the seat next to me for my flight). We both wore a mask for the entire flight except for our snack. As for the snack, United offered a tapas box that was prepared and wrapped, but there was no “food service” as you would normally expect it for a first class seat.

National Car Rental – DEN

Interestingly the Denver airport was a different experience from LAX or EWR. The airport when I landed was also sparsely populated at only had about 25 percent capacity (this is not one of my regular stops but there were a lot of empty gates).

At the National Car Rental pickup, the bus did not have seats blocked off, still we were not overcrowded at all. And the selection in Denver was significantly greater than that at LAX. Beyond the difference in inventory, everything else seemed similar – very clean and lots of masks, gloves and the smell of cleaning products! 

Dining in Denver

Just a short aside, but if you are traveling, definitely make sure you check out what the local rules are from place to place. While in Orange County, CA, dining establishments were outdoors only. You wore a mask in and out, and if you left your table. At your table, you could take your masks off.

By contrast in Denver, you did the same but could eat indoors. Again, check your “local listings” to see what the rules and regs are wherever you might be traveling, and be prepared to adjust because things may change while you’re traveling. So stay nimble.

August 14 Denver to Newark – UA 264 8:00 – 1:37

This might sound like a broken record but again I got an upgrade from United. Even for someone who has a lot of upgrades (million miler and a 1K member), this was not a normal occurrence pre-COVID, but during this trip I was three for three.

Again I got a notice from United stating this flight was fairly full and if I wanted to, I could change plans without any fees, but I stayed the course. Who could pass up another upgrade after all!

Going through Denver at 6:30 AM, the airport was a little busier than the on the previous two legs this trip, but still far from busy. I did use my CLEAR subscription again and it did save me probably five minutes, so I was pleased to save some “time.”

At this location, the United club was closed on my side of the terminal (open on the other side) but I didn’t have the desire to make the walk and instead handled a few business calls from the main terminal. There was a lot of space to make the call and without all the background noise you normally get in an airport.

The experience on this flight was similar to the others. Limited food service in first class (a tapas box was the option once again) and bottled water. We landed about 20 minutes early and my bags arrived in short order.

While normally I would have taken a car service, at the end of this trip my bride – who had flown in a week earlier on a way more exciting United Flight – picked me up and we had a nice ride home, with no traffic on a Friday afternoon.

Overall, the experience was better than I expected. Do I like wearing a mask for the entire trip? Not really. However if that is the price to pay for me to get in front of clients or spend some down time with my family, it was a minor inconvenience and not an assault on my civil liberties!

I do feel – and have heard the same from some other CEOs who are flying again – that the airlines, airports, hotels and car services/rental cars we have used have never been cleaner. I expect to travel again in the not too distant future when the opportunity presents itself.

Zoom has been a great tool but nothing beats a face-to-face (or even mask-to-mask) meeting!