Going Direct: A Pandemic And An Uprising: How Our Flying Has Changed… And How It Hasn’t

With the twin developments, the latter for just over a week now, surprising news in the world of personal flying.

Photo by Urte Baranauskaite/Shutterstock
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These are certainly strange times we’re living in, with a pandemic that has staggered the economy and our health care system, and now an uprising over police brutality with protesters and cops filling the streets. Strangely enough, the effect of the latter on our GA flying has been very small. How will these protests affect our flying lives in the long run? In terms of light airplanes at small airports, my guess is that impact will be small in the long run, though more diversity among our ranks, if that comes to pass, would certainly be a good thing.

The pandemic is a totally different question, but there’s ample good news on that front, as well. COVID-19 has upended life in American and around the world, that’s no secret. Economically and in terms of health, safety and mobility, we’re a changed country, and it looks as though it’ll be a good long while before things are back to normal. The economic outlook for the airlines is sobering. By the end of September, it’s a very good bet that tens of thousands of pilots, flight attendants and other airline employees, and those at contractors, will lose their jobs, if they haven’t already or been pushed out through voluntary leave or early retirement.  The smart money is it taking years before things return to normal levels.

I think it could be sooner, but it all depends on a vaccine. I’d be back on an airliner tomorrow if I’d had a COVID-19 vaccine that has been proven safe and effective. I know that I’m not alone in that. Over the past few months I’ve cancelled four trips, one of which was a vacation, to which I would’ve traveled on the airlines, but cancelled. With a vaccine, I would’ve flown all of them. If, as some experts are predicting, we have a vaccine by early next year, by early 2022 things could be largely back to normal.

That is, admittedly, a big “if.” And there are many other things that could go wrong between now and then. But at this point we have at least a fighting chance of getting there.

There are even more promising signs as we learn more about the coronavirus.

The virus, while readily transmissible through the air, we’re learning, isn’t as easily shared via smooth shiny surfaces as we previously thought. We should still be careful, but we are dialing back the level of caution. It’s apparently a lot safer than the experts had feared. Wiping stuff down between flights still makes sense.

I leave the discussion of the use of masks, which have become a highly politicized issue, to you all. But if I were to fly in a small plane with someone who hadn’t been isolating, I’d insist on both of us wearing masks. My body, my choice. Your choice might be different, but not if you’re flying with me.

Regardless, the good news is, the country is reopening, and that means flight training is reopening, too. It’s not an easy thing for many to navigate. Students and instructors, especially older ones and ones with underlying health conditions, should be very careful. This thing kills. And even when it doesn’t, it’s a brutal disease for many who get it.

So as our epidemiologists and virologists work toward a vaccine and good treatments, we’re slowly reopening. It’s not ideal. It would sure be better to have a vaccine in place, and good treatment, too, but in the meantime we’re together taking our first cautious steps toward a return to a life in the air, something we all need and that the country and world need today more than ever.

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