Coronavirus Diaries is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives. For the latest public health information, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. For Slate’s coronavirus coverage, click here.
This as-told-to essay, from a flight attendant working for one of the “Big Three” airlines—American, Delta, United—has been transcribed and edited for clarity by Molly Olmstead.
We all started hearing about it over the winter, as it developed in Wuhan. At that time, I wasn’t flying any routes to China, so it didn’t feel extremely relevant to me. But little by little, those flights became a greater concern. The company started giving flight attendants who didn’t feel comfortable traveling to China the opportunity to decline those trips. Everything seemed fairly normal to us until recently, when almost all of our international flights got cut suddenly.
Two weeks ago, people were still flying. They weren’t at full capacity, but people were still fairly comfortable. But in the last week, the number of passengers has decreased a lot. I had a flight the other day that was at 8 percent capacity. Flights between larger cities and big connections are still fairly full, but the decrease is still considerable. We’ve had a lot of flights going out at about 30 percent capacity.
Because flights are so open, most people do have a little bit more room to spread out and be apart from one another. But people definitely seem concerned. A lot more passengers have been bringing their own sanitary supplies, wiping down their seats, wearing face masks, wearing gloves. I’ve also noticed people declining drinks and snacks altogether, just not wanting to interact with us at all. In an ideal world, I don’t think any of us would be interacting or handing things off right now.