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Airports and covid

We will be flying for the first time since covid and are seeking advice from those of you who have flown since that time. We are fully vaccinated and boosted, have N95 masks, hand sanitizer and are fully aware of proper mask handling/use. We will have a long layover in Houston en route to Costa Rica. I am concerned about how to navigate that situation and not get sick. How do you handle eating, etc.? What is your strategy? Thanks for your help.

Posted by
7050 posts

You can more or less easily sit far apart from other people while killing hours during the layover, but the rest is a joke. People will crowd each other in any line (whether to purchase food or other items in any airport establishment) and certainly to board the plane. There is no respect for social distancing, and there is nothing you can do about it. You can ask someone not to hover over you, but another person will just take the first person's place. I've even had someone right on my heels waiting for the bathroom (on the plane and in the airport) even though there was adequate space to spread out. I remember reading so many threads here about how safe airports are and how safe they felt, and none of that turned out to be my experience when I first flew. Human nature took over and no one "polices" any 6-foot or other distances. I've seen better policing at the IKEA purchase returns line (by a dedicated staff, no less).

Posted by
8647 posts

You have correctly identified the airport as a higher risk location. You will see just about every wrong way to wear a mask or people not wearing masks. You will also see plenty of people doing their best to follow protocols. I find a great many people take off their masks in the gate area to eat. This is because food really isn’t served on most planes right now. My approach has been to wait away from the gate area in a less crowded space until time for boarding. You can also try to strategically pick seating a bit removed from others at the gate.

I wear a good mask, wash my hands frequently and remind myself that there are regional differences in mask protocols. What would be the height of rudeness and extremely poor mask behavior where I live, may be the norm where.someone else is from. It does no good to stress out or be upset about the behavior of others.

Posted by
2765 posts

IMHO it's the airport and plane are less risky than my local grocery. I have flown to the Caribbean, Mexico and domestically without any problem

  1. Check your luggage (you will see why) While in line to check you can use your luggage to make your "space" You stand a few feet behind the person in front of you and your luggage forms a barrier behind you.
  2. At the airport just find a place that's fairly isolated to hang out. You can get food and eat it there if you want, it's always possible.
  3. There's never been a prize for being first on the plane, since you checked your bags just hang out in the gate area away from the boarding door until the LAST group. I am often the LAST person on the plane. No need to crowd up front to race on, you don't need overhead space.
  4. On the flights I have been on (Delta) the airline has been serious about masking. As a matter of fact on my flight to the Dominican Republic last year, we left the gate and immediately went back. Mr "No Mask" had been warned several times during boarding to keep his mask on, apparently as soon as we left the gate area Mr "No Mask" ripped his off, Flight Attendant called the pilot, we pulled back in. At the gate a Delta supervisor who plays linebacker for the NFL team got on the plane to help Mr "No Mask" collect his luggage and get off the plane. When Mr. "No Mask" tried to object he was told the police were on the way to help. As he got off he LOUDLY told us all how much money he "used" to spend on Delta and he was never flying them again. The agent said "that's OK, we are refunding all your flights you are now on our Do Not Fly list" (The other passengers applauded at that LOL!)
Posted by
288 posts

Agree. Get your food. Find an open waiting area and hang out there to eat. Go to your gate shortly before boarding. Airports i have been through have been busy as ever. Food areas seem more crowded with lines as it seems fewer places arw open. In Miami every breakfast spot had a 20 to 30 person line on our layover there.

Posted by
2505 posts

Thanks, everyone. Would going to the United Club lounge be a better alternative than the main terminal? Less crowded, better spacing?

Posted by
4637 posts

My experience with the IAH regional jet terminals is that they are crowded and food is sold with no place to sit except at the gates which are not so near the food vendors. IAH has cordoned off large disabled-only waiting areas in the gate areas which sit mostly unused and exacerbate the crowding. It's noisy and chaotic and elbow to elbow.

But you will have a regular jet going on to Costa Rica so leave terminal A or B where your regional jet lands from Reno and head to C, D or E where there is a bit more space. The central areas over the roadway where buildings connect C and D and E and where there are no gates may have seating but I don't know if food is sold here.

Posted by
2505 posts

Hi Tom,

Thanks for that info. I sent you a PM regarding the United Club lounge is Terminal E. Perhaps that is a better option?

Posted by
15703 posts

I utilize lounges when possible. Every lounge is different in regards to crowding and food service. Some still have buffet but others have gone to ordering at your seat.

Earlier this week, a Miami- London AA flight turned around about an hour out when a passenger refused to wear a mask. It returned to Miami, the passenger was escorted off and put on the airline's no fly list. Unfortunately, the flight was canceled but all passengers were put on flights later that day.

Posted by
7050 posts

There was a recent story in the Washington Post about the decline in quality of airline lounges (food options, etc) paired with increased crowding and non-mask usage (obviously it depends which lounge you're using and which airport, but I think the generalities still hold true). See if you can access the story: https://www.washingtonpost.com/travel/2022/01/19/airport-lounge-memberships/

Airline staff are good at enforcing the mask mandate on most flights but you still see people with masks dangling on their chins. Staff can't be everywhere all the time. The most "safe" I felt was on the plane, oddly enough. Certainly not anywhere in the airport, unless there were underutilized seating areas where you can get far away from other people (which was great, but didn't last too long).

Posted by
2505 posts

Thanks, Agnes. I couldn’t open the article as it is behind a paywall but I get the gist from the title.

Posted by
4637 posts

My October experience at United lounge B @ IAH is that is was nearly full, there was a buffet of premade sandwiches, ramen cups with hot water, and warm burritos I think still in the plastic wrapper. Also wrapped candy and bars, things like that. Free house wine and ordinary beer like Coors light. Masking was no more than 50% there, and no enforcement.

Terminal B in the northern circular pod gate areas was just jammed with people and the announcements unintelligible and overlapping, so people running up to counters asking what was said and if it related to their flight.

The United Explorer credit card comes with 2 free club passes.

Posted by
7050 posts

The article basically covers the different experience and expectations using lounges "after" covid precautions started (compared with "before") - including more contactless options, pre-packaged food, some obvious safety-related things like sanitizing stations. It also questioned the cost-benefit of using them now because it's such a different (and "somewhat" to "very" degraded, depending on one's expectations) experience. More relevant to your question, it was anecdotally noted that some people use the lounges to escape the airport's mask requirements and talk on their cell phones (and eat) with masks off. Since a lounge is an enclosed fixed space, it's something to think about, especially if you can spread out elsewhere without a group of people nearby.

Posted by
2505 posts

I read one good review of the lounge in Terminal E but wonder if that reviewer got in for free. LOL! OK. I am scrapping the lounge idea and going with Tom’s suggestion to find a quiet empty area to hang out and get some sandwiches or such to eat. I would dearly love to have a hot meal at a sit down restaurant but that seems too risky at the moment. We will bring snacks with us, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, extra N95 masks and distance to the best of our ability. Unless we are safely distanced from others, we will lift our masks up and eat and drink that way. We are checking our luggage but also will have small carryons as well as the tour company suggests bringing a change of clothes in case we get separated from our luggage. And my husband is an avid photographer so he will have that stuff to carry. I figure the international terminal might be the least risky place as most international destinations are requiring testing and vaccination (except our destination of Costa Rica) but we will look at other terminals if there is empty space. I hope we don’t have any mask incidents on our flight to CR as we are not scheduled to arrive until sometime around midnight. It is going to be an horrendously long day as we have to get to the Sacramento airport at 3:30 am for our 7:30 am flight to IAH.

Posted by
4637 posts
Posted by
7050 posts

Have a good and safe trip, Mary! I hope you post about your vacation afterwards, I would love to hear about it.

Posted by
2505 posts

Thanks again to everybody. You guys are great! Agnes, those lounges sound less than desirable to say the least. I will post a review of our trip. We are traveling with Odysseys Unlimited. We booked this trip last fall preomicron. There will only be 8 of us on the tour. All are required to be fully vaccinated and boosted including the guide and the bus driver and masked at almost all times unless we are outdoors and safely away from others. They are also asking us to bring covid test kits in case we need to test before our final test before heading home. Odysseys is arranging the final preflight test. We will be mainly outdoors on this trip so that feels safe except for possible bitey critters and the airport and flights.

Posted by
2505 posts

Hi Aimee,

Good to know. I guess it might depend on which state you are traveling in for mask compliance. It’s pretty good here in Reno although you do see more and more lately sans mask. My only experience is a two or three times weekly venture into a retail store.

Posted by
186 posts

FWIW--Someone we know was turned away this week at the airport check in counter of a U.S. carrier for their flight with a connection with final destination of Costa Rica. This couple had not purchased the specific travel insurance from a specific company for a specific amount of coverage required for entry into Costa Rica. This is an internationally well-traveled couple. Please note, they had purchased travel insurance but not from the required company. Please check into this requirement if you are planning travel to Costa Rica. My understanding is this is a new requirement. I would hate to read about this happening to someone on this forum. Well, actually anyone.

Happy planning, happy travels everyone!

Posted by
2505 posts

Thanks, travelergirl.

Per the Costa Rica travel site -
Tourists who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and individuals aged 18 and younger (even if unvaccinated) can enter the country without a travel policy. The last dose of the vaccine must have been applied at least 14 days prior to arrival in Costa Rica.

There is a detailed description of the insurance requirements There is no set insurance policy that you are required to buy but it must comply with the requirements set forth by the Costa Rican government in terms of amount of coverage, etc. which is on the CDC and visit Costa Rica website.

I bet these people that you know were not vaccinated against covid. It’s always good to do your due diligence before you travel especially now with covid and entry requirements changing daily. We ourselves do not need any special insurance as we are fully vaccinated and boosted. We do have travel insurance and, as we are older, never travel without it.

Posted by
10359 posts

As my cousin's oncologist told her when she had to fly somewhere between treatments, don't eat or drink or lower your mask.

Posted by
2505 posts

Thanks, Bets. That is our plan. If we need to eat or drink at the airport, we will find hopefully someplace away from people and just lift our mask enough to do that. We have no plans to eat or drink on the planes. Those trips are a little over 3 1/2 hours each.

Posted by
186 posts

As a followup...the people we know were vaccinated and boosted. Perhaps the airline agent was misinformed. It's been known to happen. And if the agent says you're not going and the supervisor, etc. says you're not going, you will not get on the aircraft. All I can tell you is their experience. And I would hate for others to be as disappointed at the airport as this couple were.

Posted by
497 posts

We flew to Switzerland from LAX last year and the lounge in Bradley terminal was pretty good on compliance as far as distance, masks, and prepackaged items. One nice thing there is that lounge is atrium open so at least not super enclosed. Maybe take a peek at lounge and then decide, otherwise finding an empty area best if you want to eat.

On the plane turn up the air overhead and have it blow so there is good airflow. Watch for the idiot next row over from you who will lower his mask to eat one peanut at a time and one sip of water at a time so he appears to be actively eating and drinking for an extended period. All you can do at this point is keep your mask tight. Also agree don’t get on plane until the very end.

All this stuff being said trust your good behavior and your vaccines and boosters to help you. Twice in Europe last summer we were trapped in rail cars with sick people. Once I offered one an extra K95 mask of mine and they got the message. Both times we moved as far away as we could, kept our masks tight. And we ended up ok. Good luck.

Posted by
2505 posts

Hi travelergirl,

Well I’m sorry for your friends if they did everything right and still got turned away. That’s terrible. I guess that could happen. I have put the regs from the US Embassy in Costa Rica on my iPad in case there is any question. I will copy the one from CR as well. Belts and suspenders, so to speak. We can’t expect the gate agents to know all the rules for each country as they are all different these days. I haven’t done the health pass questionnaire yet for CR as it’s too early to do that. One would think if you get clearance from CR and the QR code that would suffice.

Posted by
2505 posts

Thanks, cchapin100.

Yes, I have heard of people eating one peanut at a time and one sip at a time to evade the flight mask rules. I have a neighbor who told me he had done that and laughed about how he got away with it afterwards. Grrr! We do not plan to eat or drink on the plane and will turn up the air as well. I just upgraded to premium economy so hopefully that will add a bit more of a buffer. And what kind of irresponsible people get on a train or any enclosed space when they are sick. Good manners and consideration for others has gone out the window these days.

Posted by
2505 posts

Thanks, Aimee. Yes, I think they have temperature checks on arrival in CR which may or may not be random. That’s fine and a good idea. Our flights are short so we will keep our masks on. I hope you have a wonderful trip. Stay safe.

Posted by
9888 posts

Oh Aimee that’s horrible. Same as my experience — traveling to Europe and being in Europe, the very most dangerous part are your internal American flight legs. Where anyone can fly, not vaccinated, not tested, and they can be almost as lax about mask-wearing as they want.

I hope you will stay uninfected. I am guessing you were wearing an N95, which is supposed to make a big difference. Fingers crossed for you.

Posted by
1599 posts

"I would dearly love to have a hot meal at a sit down restaurant but that seems too risky at the moment."

Is everyone here overly cautious? My wife and I have eaten in sit down restaurants 4 or 5 times a week since it was allowed (all but about 2 months since the start of Covid). We are in our 70s and 80s, fully vaccinated, and have had no problems. In our state there are currently no masks rules except for medical facilities.

Posted by
1599 posts

Aimee,
I agree, any of factors you listed are quite possible.

Posted by
18827 posts

. We will have a long layover in Houston en route to Costa Rica. I am concerned about how to navigate that situation and not get sick.

If I were concerned enough to ask the question, I would stay home. I say that with respect.

Posted by
2252 posts

Bob--Yes, we are very cautious. Here in western WA that is the norm. I have not sat inside a restaurant since our trip to Iceland this summer. We are headed back next week and I do have a list of restaurants that do take out or deliver, just in case. Our state still has the mask mandate and around here at least, almost everyone abides by it. WA has taken this very seriously since the get go when the first case was found here.

With our flight next week, we plan to use our lounge access before we board. On trips in August and September, we went to two different lounges at SEA. One was awful overall, and the other was decent. My preference is the Delta lounge, but we are not flying with them this time, so we are using our AMEX privileges. We tend to find a corner as far as possible from others and sit there.

Posted by
2505 posts

Hi all,

We are now in Costa Rica and so far so good. It was possible to distance from others in the airport. There were areas where we could stay away from others. We ate in a restaurant at the airport since all diners were really well distanced. Mask compliance was good. They are taking covid seriously here in Costa Rica. Masks are required and nearly all are compliant. There are a lot of hand sanitizer stations and people use them. If you don’t have a mask on, you are told to put one on. We are a small group of six on the tour plus our guide. All seven of us are pretty much isolated/distanced from others on this tour. We have our own transport both on land and on the water. We feel safe taking our masks off when we are with our small group one of whom is a doctor. We are all being careful and all have been since the beginning of covid. Edited to add - pre omicron, there were 14 scheduled to take this tour. Last week, it was 8. Then another couple backed out a few days before the tour was to start so now we are 6.