I flew on one of the few remaining flights during the coronavirus pandemic, and it was unlike anything I'd ever seen

An empty jet bridge at MSP Airport Friday, April 3, 2020.

Benjamin Goggin

An empty jet bridge at MSP Airport Friday, April 3, 2020.

  • Domestic air travel has come to a near standstill amid the coronavirus outbreak sweeping across the United States.
  • But there are still a handful of of flights available for passengers with necessary travel.
  • I took one of them to Minnesota on April 3 to help support my family during the crisis, and the experience shocked me.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Air travel has come to a near-complete halt in the United States as the coronavirus pandemic crests on each coast, ripping through cities like New York City and Seattle and surging inward.

Delta, one of the world's largest airlines in 2019, said in a memo Friday that it's seen a 95% reduction in demand, resulting in nearly 80% of its flights being canceled, following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention against domestic travel from certain states. Advertisement

Despite the cancellations, a handful of flights are still shepherding passengers across the country for necessary travel.

After quarantining in my apartment for over two weeks, I flew home on April 3 to help support my family during the crisis. Before greeting them, I'll be self-quarantining away from them for an additional two weeks.

The travel experience was unlike anything I'd ever seen.
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As per the CDC's guidelines, people should stay put if they can. But if you do need to fly somewhere, there are a number of precautions you can and should take.

As per the CDC's guidelines, people should stay put if they can. But if you do need to fly somewhere, there are a number of precautions you can and should take.

Traveling by air isn't recommended for personal and public health reasons, but if you need to fly, take precautions like wearing a mask, frequently washing and sanitizing your hands and surrounding surfaces, taking a window seat, and staying as far away from other passengers as you can.

I purchased my ticket less than a week before traveling, and it was around $200 cheaper than the average pre-pandemic price.

I purchased my ticket less than a week before traveling, and it was around $200 cheaper than the average pre-pandemic price.

In November, a similar ticket cost me around $500. This time, just a week before flying, the ticket came out to cost around $300.

I was able to choose from just a handful of flights, and the Delta app experienced numerous errors when I was attempting to purchase. I could only presume there errors were due to high usage volume thanks to cancellations and help requests.

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I tried to avoid public transportation by taking an Uber, but that comes with its own risks. Both the driver and I took an abundance of caution.

I tried to avoid public transportation by taking an Uber, but that comes with its own risks. Both the driver and I took an abundance of caution.

New York City officials have discouraged residents from taking public transportation, due to the potential for spreading coronavirus.

Carpooling options on rideshare apps have been suspended for similar reasons, but even riding alone in an Uber can be risky for the passenger and the driver, given the number of passengers who ride per day.

Both my Uber driver and I took precautions to protect ourselves. We each wore masks, and the driver had installed a tarp between the front and passenger seats. It looked like a scene out of a movie.

Ubering for the first time in weeks... and this is what it looks like. pic.twitter.com/6NRi7CUTcA

— Ben Goggin (@BenjaminGoggin) April 3, 2020

I instructed my driver to go to LaGuardia's Terminal D based on my ticket information, but when we arrived, it was completely blocked off and shut down.

I instructed my driver to go to LaGuardia's Terminal D based on my ticket information, but when we arrived, it was completely blocked off and shut down.

A worker told me all departing passengers had to go through security at a different terminal, since there were so few passengers, and then walk to the correct gate in a separate part of the airport.

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When I arrived at the correct terminal, it was a ghost town. There were literally zero passengers in ticket lines or the security line.

When I arrived at the correct terminal, it was a ghost town. There were literally zero passengers in ticket lines or the security line.

I walked through the entrance to the terminal and was in shock.

I traveled on a Friday during what would normally be rush hour, but things clearly weren't normal.

There wasn't anyone there besides employees, most of whom were wearing masks. I was the only person in line for security, and they quickly ushered me in.

As I walked through security, it was disorienting to be the only person there. I had trouble finding the baskets to place my things in, and struggled to identify the security lanes that were open, since the normal queues of people marking the open lanes weren't there.

It was nice to be able to take my time at security, though, with no one rushing me. I still had to remove my shoes and everything from my pockets.

It was nice to be able to take my time at security, though, with no one rushing me. I still had to remove my shoes and everything from my pockets.

The TSA officers were taking extra precautions, cleaning the space after every passenger, and inspecting the insides of people's masks, but they were not using the more invasive visual body scanner and were instead using a normal metal detector.

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The inside of the terminal was deserted. Most of the gates I saw that would usually be filled with travelers were empty.

The inside of the terminal was deserted. Most of the gates I saw that would usually be filled with travelers were empty.

It was bizarre walking into a completely empty airport. Pre-pandemic, even during the quietest times, you could usually always find one or two people walking around whatever section of the airport you happened to be in.

It was jarring not encountering a soul at the gates outside of security.

The flight-status monitors were a stark reminder of the pandemic's overall effect on travel. Nearly every scheduled flight was canceled.

The flight-status monitors were a stark reminder of the pandemic's overall effect on travel. Nearly every scheduled flight was canceled.

Nearly every scheduled flight displayed at the time I was traveling was canceled. In total, only 80 Delta flights were scheduled to depart LaGuardia Airport on the day I flew, according to Flightstats.com.

A 2018 Delta press release said that on average, around 270 Delta flights departed LGA each day pre-pandemic.

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After gawking at all the canceled flights, I made the long walk from Terminal C (where security was) to my Terminal D flight. I stopped to try to get some hand sanitizer out of a dispenser.

After gawking at all the canceled flights, I made the long walk from Terminal C (where security was) to my Terminal D flight. I stopped to try to get some hand sanitizer out of a dispenser.

When I pressed the pump that was about halfway into the long empty hallway, it was empty. Luckily, I brought my own bottle.

When I arrived at Terminal D, some of the restaurants and bars appeared to be open...

When I arrived at Terminal D, some of the restaurants and bars appeared to be open...
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...but no one was inside.

...but no one was inside.

I saw fewer than five other passengers in the entire airport until I arrived at my gate, where about 10 to 20 people were waiting. Most others were wearing masks. Some had gloves on and kept their hand sanitizer within reach.

I saw fewer than five other passengers in the entire airport until I arrived at my gate, where about 10 to 20 people were waiting. Most others were wearing masks. Some had gloves on and kept their hand sanitizer within reach.

Most passengers appeared to be abiding by guidelines to stay six-feet apart from each other.

Many of the flight attendants walking through the airport were socializing with coworkers, perhaps enjoying more open flights and terminals.

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Flight attendants, workers, and passengers were taking extra precautions.

Flight attendants, workers, and passengers were taking extra precautions.

While boarding, the flight crew noted that they were only calling 10 passengers at a time to reduce crowding.

Onboard, the flight crew came off as extra friendly — they were probably trying to mitigate people's fear, given the circumstances.

In the captain's announcement, he described the extra precautions Delta was taking, including new rules distancing passengers from one another, increased use of disinfectants, air-filtration systems, and reduced in-flight services.

I had my entire row to myself, and the rows in front of me and behind me were also empty. In total, there were 35 people on-board according to a flight attendant. The plane seats 126 passengers, making my flight about 20% full.

In-flight services were reduced, but got the job done.

In-flight services were reduced, but got the job done.

Flight attendants only did one food and beverage pass, and passengers weren't given a choice in what to have.

Everyone got one plastic bag with Cheez-Its, cookies, a water bottle, and an alcohol sanitizing wipe. I was wary to remove my mask, but in the end decided to sanitize my hands and quickly eat my snacks before sanitizing my hands again. At the end of the flight the crew did one pass for trash.

In flight entertainment was still displayed through screens on the back of seats, and I chose to watch "Parasite" — a perfect flight movie.

I was careful with the touch screen, using only my knuckles and then sanitizing my hands after each touch.

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Overall, the in-flight experience was somewhat frightening but not as bad as I expected.

Overall, the in-flight experience was somewhat frightening but not as bad as I expected.

The flight was by no means typical, and all of the passengers appeared to be somewhat on edge, with most wearing masks, and many wearing gloves. I only heard one stray cough.

Despite the obvious anxiety level that was present, the flight itself wasn't bad considering that it was incredibly empty.

What it was all over, passengers practically jumped out of their seats to get off the plane.

When I got off the plane in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I was greeted by another empty airport.

When I got off the plane in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I was greeted by another empty airport.

There was no one in the terminal when I arrived in Minnesota besides a desk attendant at the gate. Despite our flight coming from New York, the US epicenter for COVID-19 cases, there was no one checking temperatures or advising quarantines like seen in other states.

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Stores and restaurants were also shut down in Minneapolis.

Stores and restaurants were also shut down in Minneapolis.

Like LaGuardia, everything was shut down in MSP. The few people I did see were mostly airport workers or members of flight crews.

Notably, other passengers that I did see didn't appear to be concerned about coronavirus, perhaps coming from other locations in the US where it is less of a concern.

There were no cars waiting outside the airport.

There were no cars waiting outside the airport.

Usually full of honking cars and traffic controllers trying to get people to move, the roads outside the airport were completely empty when I was there.

That made navigating the airport incredibly disorienting because I couldn't tell which road was for cabs and which was for other pick-ups.

But eventually I figured things out — now I just have to wait out two more weeks of quarantine.

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