For Those Who Truly Must Travel, Flying Is A Special Gift Right Now

This is such a stressful time. Americans in most states are under some version of stay at home orders, and are being instructed to avoid non-essential travel. New York, at the front-end of the COVID-19 pandemic, is seeing its hospitals overrun by patients in need. We’re all afraid of getting the virus and passing it along to others. Most of us are – quite reasonably and responsibly – staying home.

Some people must travel, though, and air travel makes the most sense to cover long distances. Health care experts need to travel, politicians are expected to show up to vote (though perhaps they should hunker down and not return home), people still want to be near loved ones in their last moments or attend socially-distanced funerals.

There are few people at airports and on planes, and airlines have significantly stepped-up cleaning. Flight attendants are at heightened risk, though it may be less from the passenger cabin and more from having to be out and about, including visiting several cities on their trips.

Flights in and out of Washington National airport are among the more expensive in the nation, since though the number of passengers on each plane are low there are still business travelers who must get back and forth to D.C. The federal government still pays contracted fares (insane) while private businesses fly into the area to lobby for their share of money that’s being printed at breakneck speed.

So while I’ve written about $13 cross country fares, close-in travel from DC to Boston can still be relatively expensive – here’s travel tomorrow for $131 in basic economy:

One woman had to fly last minute from DC to Boston to see her mother who was close to dying. She was the only passenger on board her American flight. She filmed the flight attendant making her safety announcement, “My name is Jessica and I will be your flight attendant, and we have Sheryl as our passenger today, living it up in first class. Everybody shout out to Sheryl, the only passenger on the plane.”

What’s always been an exciting, and for some, once-in-a-lifetime experience of flying alone on a commercial flight takes on a somber tone in today’s times. The passenger traveling is only doing it because she wants to see her dying mother. She’s on board a mode of transportation that is itself about to go on government life support. There’s no ‘first class luxury’ there’s not even on board snacks, in order to promote social distancing.

And yet the experiences traveling today are some of the most human, as each person’s stories can no longer get lost in the millions of passenger hordes stampeding through airports the way they once did. And the cabin crew who continue to work through these trying times still can manage both a sense of humor and compassion, even as their own stress level is far greater than most.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. As a flight paramedic, I absolutely must fly, and flying in the past couple of weeks has been surreal. I’m looking forward to seeing airports bustling with people again and am likely to remember that while lines are a pain, they also represent the fact that people are traveling to work, vacation, and see loved ones. Hopefully that day is not far off.

  2. There are many Europeans here on visa waiver who have no flights home. The 90 day visa waiver is very strict and they will be barred from returning for 10 years. Big topic.

  3. I’m flying every week on essential travel and loving it.
    No lines, cheap prices, no traffic. No waiting anywhere, everyone is happy to see me spending money on hotels, cars, Uber, etc.

    It’s some of the best traveling I’ve ever done. I keep booking more and more trips and really really loving it.

  4. American is charging 490 for a one way flight from Fresno to Dallas. Three flights a day. They’ve lost their minds.

  5. Thank you for the good article, Gary. I wonder if airlines are still flying so many flights because when they put a plane in the air they can claim (i.e. “pocket”) already booked fare revenue. If a flight is cancelled then they are obligated, ultimately, to provide a refund. If they put the plane in the air, then travelers either absorb the loss by not being in the seat, or they receive a “coupon” for use on a later flight (many of which never get used). In either case, the airline still pockets the revenue. Thoughts on this theory?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *