On the Road Again: The Good, the Bad and the Empty Airport
THURSDAY, JANUARY 21, 2021 -- How are hard-core road warriors coping with Covid-19? Staying home, Zooming or traveling?

I asked three Joe Sent Me members and found different strategies and solutions. Some victories and many disappointments. And lots of unique takes on this unique time.

"I had to do some business travel recently against my better judgment," says public school consultant Joseph White. A Connecticut resident, he flew from New York/LGA to Houston/Intercontinental on United Airlines because he's loyal. He was once a Continental Airlines Million Miler.

The United Club in the still-under-renovation LaGuardia Airport was closed. Worse, the aircraft was downsized, too.

"We now get an Embraer 175, which I guess isn't a regional jet but certainly feels like one," he says. "I got upgraded to first, which means you get one of the snack boxes for free." But the aircraft, "loaded with more baggage than anticipated, sits on the taxiway for 20 minutes."

At Intercontinental, United wanted to charge White $69 for an upgrade to first class on the 35-minute connection to Baton Rouge. Being a lifetime MileagePlus Gold bought him nothing and he passed.

Arriving in Baton Rouge at 6:20pm on a Sunday, White found both Hertz counters closed. "No one in sight so we took a Lyft to the hotel."

On the return trip, White needed a Covid test no earlier than 72 hours before departure to LaGuardia to avoid Connecticut's 10-day quarantine. The scary thing: It sometimes can take four days to get Covid test results.

"Different parts of the country take [Covid testing] less seriously, so read the fine print of the state's regulation to see entry and re-entry requirements," White advises. "It's more complicated than you think. Leave time to navigate the details and difficulties."

Real estate developer Larry Traub had found the Delta Air Lines Shuttle between Washington/Reagan and LaGuardia practically a private jet in the fall. "I had both airports almost to myself," he says.

Back in October, he recalls, "there were fewer than 20 people on my flight and I'd been bumped up to first class. The flight time was just 40 minutes with a roll right up to the gate." Traub says there were six passengers on one LGA-DCA segment. Airport staffing, he notes, was scant, usually one person in each store, one at every gate, one customer sitting in a bar.

"Being practically the only person on a plane and feeling like a Hollywood star" didn't last long, however, Traub adds. "As Covid was getting worse, a group of friends, a few current and retired airline pilots, got together and bought an Aerostar, a fast-twin engine plane."

The private plane flies into and out of small New Jersey airports such as Teterboro and Linden, both just a few miles from Manhattan, and Gaithersburg, Maryland, 40 minutes from Washington. The trick, he says, is getting enough people to fly the Aerostar to make it economically feasible.

"When we have six people flying to New York, the price per person is less than the shuttle fare, which could be $600 roundtrip," Traub explains. The Aerostar isn't a 100 percent business jet, either. "I might say, 'Do you want to go to Florida for Easter? Who wants to come?' "

A Dubai-based senior U.S. government officer who requests anonymity says he did the "unthinkable" for one of the end-of-year holidays. He took a combination personal/business trip from the United Arab Emirates to Fort Lauderdale and Washington.

"I left Dubai on Emirates in my first class pod, wrapped in their comfy pajamas," he says. "The crew was delightful, the bathroom was sanitized better than my home and the service was almost normal. The biggest disappointment was they swapped out my Airbus 380 for a showerless Boeing 777."

When he reached Fort Lauderdale, the "Sonesta hotel was operating at a 50% capacity, but I felt it was still a full-service hotel with the exception of reduced room service. They doubled up the towels and water and had massive soap dispensers. They enforced sanitizing, elevator distancing and masks."

His "biggest annoyance was with Avis," he says. "My car was filthy. It smelled like cigarettes. Food and drink were splashed about." The day before his drop-off, Avis called to say it would drive him to the terminal instead of using the shuttle bus.

On his Delta flights to get to Washington/Dulles via Atlanta, he was in Seat 1B with Seat 1A blocked by the airline. Staffers were "masked [and] handed out refugee rations. I had my vents on full and blowing backwards because I don't trust people. On each leg, the man behind me removed his mask. Because the flight attendants made infrequent walks [through the cabin], they weren't told to re-mask until more than halfway through the flight."

A "super efficient, clean and hygienic" Lyft driver delivered him to his "old standby" in Washington, the Le Meridien Hotel in Arlington, Virginia. It didn't go well.

"What a change from my previous visits," he says. "You must travel from the street entrance to the fourth-floor lobby with no porters and no carts. I travel heavy and was perturbed."

"It is so sad now," he says. "The room felt abandoned. None of what I requested was here." A one-ounce container of liquid soap was the bathroom's only cleaning supply. There was a single plastic cup. "The duvet was threadbare and my thermostat was stuck at 65 all night in winter."

On his return flight to Dubai from Dulles, Emirates gave him a $40 voucher to "compensate" for its lounge being closed. But almost everything else in the airport was closed, too, except for a Wendy's, a newsstand and a curio shop.