My son Jacob always reminds me that each of us has a different comfort level of risk for contracting the virus. As we face new mutations — Delta, Omicron, Whatever is Next — we need to take a pulse for our own willingness to travel by plane. Whether we are traveling within the U.S. to Mexico or to South Africa, some degree of discomfort is going to follow us.
Even with three vaccines behind me, I am an uneasy plane traveler and I take precautions. I realize, too, that I am not completely immune from contracting covid. I just arrived back in Oaxaca on Monday after a two-legged journey from Albuquerque to Houston to Oaxaca as Omicron is spreading. This was my second trip back and forth to Mexico in a month.
What Did I Do? What Did I Notice?
Planes are full. That means that two or three abreast is more common than not. It means airports are filled with people and it’s the holiday season so more are traveling. The flight from Houston to Oaxaca was packed with Oaxaquenos living in various parts of the USA returning to their homeland to be with family for Christmas and New Years.
While facemarks are mandatory in airports and on airplanes, they are of varying quality and fit. I saw lots of “slippage” with masks migrating below the nose. I saw masks worn as neckbands. I saw eaters and sippers who did not return their masks to faces afterward.
- I wore two face masks. First, an N95 covering my nose and mouth, then a handmade cloth facemask that includes a metal piece across the bridge to guarantee NO SLIPPAGE.
- I used hand-sanitizer liberally.
- I carry alcohol spray and wiped down seat armrests, tray tables and seat belt buckles.
- The two young Mexicans flanking me on the Houston to Oaxaca flight asked to borrow my pen to complete the entry forms for immigration and customs. I didn’t deny them. But, I alcohol-sprayed the pen after use. (Nutz? Maybe.)
With a six-hour layover in Houston and the end-of the year approaching, I used my annual United Club Pass that comes with the credit card to enter the lounge. After scanning the room, I picked a seat far away from others. All the staff were masked appropriately. All the food was pre-packaged and safe. I noticed some doing business calls with masks on and others who did not. There were no mask police. I wasn’t going to be one.
When you fly direct from the USA to Oaxaca on either United or American, this is your port-of-entry. The flight attendants will give you three forms to complete while in the air: an immigration form (different for foreign and Mexican citizens), a customs form, and a COVID questionnaire. No COVID vaccine card is required. This questionnaire is in minuscule type. Don’t forget to bring a pen and have it handy.
When we arrived in Oaxaca, another international flight had arrived just moments before. So the line to enter the airport and go through immigration and customs was VERY LONG. There were at least 200 people in line. Sidewalk signs indicated a 1.5 meter (5 feet) social distancing rule. Airport personnel, however, wanted to make space on the sidewalk and asked us to get closer to each other.
I did not comply.
- Instead, I maintained distance between me and the person in front of me.
- I was still wearing two face masks.
- I extended the handle on my carry-on roller bag as far as it would go and stretched the suitcase out behind me, guaranteeing a distance of about four feet as we waited in line.
Inside the terminal building, after presenting the passport, immigration and customs forms, and covid questionnaire to the official, I entered the bag claim area where it was CHAOS. It was not possible to maintain social distance. However, everyone was calm, respectful and wearing a mask properly.
One by one, we loaded luggage and handbags and backpacks onto a conveyer belt to go through an x-ray machine. Then, we hand the customs form to an agent. To the left is a kiosk where you are asked to push a button. Green light and you are free to exit. Red light and you are subject to luggage inspection. Completely random.
For those of you needing transportation from the airport to downtown, there is a kiosk to the right of the bag claim area after you exit. This is where you purchase the shuttle ticket. You tell the driver the address where you are going.
Protecting ourselves and traveling during covid is not easy. All of us want some degree of normalcy and I also think it is difficult to be vigilant 100% of the time. Travel during the holidays has always been stressful anyway. It’s even more so now. I just figured I would do the best I can.
Worth it? When I left Taos it was 3 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Days warmed up to high 30’s and low 40’s. Albuquerque was 17 degrees at night with day temps in low 50’s. Here, I’m enjoying chilly nights in the 40’s and daytime temps in the mid-70’s. Is it worth it? For me, yes.