Pandemic travel

New York’s system of tracking travelers from pandemic hotspots is clearly useless. It felt like it’s being done just for show.

Evgenia and I had to travel to New York to deal with some bureaucracy. 

We were a bit freaked out about having to run a cross-country infectious obstacle course: taxis, airports, marinating for hours in a contaminated box at 38,000 feet. But in the end it was surprisingly pleasant.

Out to JFK, the plane was more than half empty. And it was even emptier — like at one-third or quarter capacity — on our way back to LA. People were mostly good about wearing masks. The airports themselves were empty. No lines. No crowds. 

There are a lot of horror stories about airlines — like American — cramming their planes full of people. But we got lucky. For us travel during a pandemic was stress free and easy. The only thing was the nagging paranoia: that fear of getting sick that sticks with you for weeks. 

The weirdest part about the process was the total lack of basic health checks. Yeah, masks were required. But no one at the airport did the other important thing that everyone else in the world seems to do: check people’s temperature.

I remember reading a few months back that the TSA was preparing to take temperature readings as part of standard security screenings. But that didn’t happen. Nor did it happen at the gate before boarding. JetBlue couldn’t be bothered to do it, either. Guess they figure it’s not good for business. Which meant that we or anyone else could have been let on running a fever — free to spend five and a half hours super-spreading all over the cabin.

Infecting people at cruising altitude is the new Mile High Club. Welcome to neoliberal America!

The only “check” we encountered was a form we had to sign upon entering New York. Because we were flying in from California — a covid hotspot — the state’s health department wanted our contact info, and wanted us to promise that we would self-quarantine. Filling out this form was supposed to be mandatory. In reality it wasn’t. No one checked anything.

When we exited the secure gate sector, there was a rep standing in the baggage claim area asking people to drop their forms into a cardboard box But it was a joke. She had no way of telling who was coming in from where. We could have been from Los Angeles or one of the other flights that had arrived around the same time. So there was no enforcement at all. It was voluntary and depended on our honesty…

This is a short version of a longer piece only available to subscribers — read it here.

—Yasha Levine


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