"Why did I think flying would be easy right now?" That was the question a frustrated McKay Coppins asked himself late last month when he took his first flight since the pandemic shut down the US. As he documents for the Atlantic, Coppins was initially excited at the thought of taking a short business trip after weeks of being holed up at home. "The prospect of packing a suitcase, putting on real pants, and boarding an airplane sounded like a thrilling indulgence,," he recalls. It was anything but, though, starting with a "stressful" and "surreal" experience at the airport—"paranoid travelers [roaming] the empty terminals in masks," shut-down bars and restaurants, "dystopian public-service announcements" from the CDC over the PA system—and a disgruntled fellow passenger who didn't want Coppins sitting in his assigned seat next to him.
It only got worse (and weirder) from there on his two-leg journey, he writes, noting everything from no beverage service on the flight, people in the restroom during his layover intensely washing their hands and "and shooting menacing looks at anyone who got too close," and a generally frazzled feeling all around. "At the food court, a shouting match broke out among several stressed-out strangers, and police had to intervene," he notes. All of this got Coppins to thinking about our desire to return to the old days—a return he's not sure is possible if people keep seeing other people as "viral threats," even once restrictions are lifted. "Flying has always been unpleasant, and rife with small indignities," he writes. "But ... my fraught travel experience highlighted an unwelcome truth: The glittering allure of 'normalcy' that waits on the other end of these stay-at-home orders is a mirage." (Read the full piece.)