OPINION: What it was like for me to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic

Darina Lubenov, Staff Reporter

While in the midst of a pandemic, one would assume to stay home, stay indoors and to absolutely not leave the state or country, just how government regulations are set in place in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I, however, over the span of 24 hours, travelled through four airports to get to my final destination: Eastern Europe.

If you watch or listen to the news, you’d think that airports and flights have been temporarily halted. That is not the case. 

While traveling, I passed through O’Hare International airport in Chicago, Illinois, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, London Heathrow International Airport in London, and finally, Sofia International Airport in Bulgaria. 

Now, all these airports I had significant differences that highlighted how their country or state have dealt with the pandemic. They obviously cannot keep travelers safe — that’s out of their hands in terms of the passenger’s choices — but keeping their employees safe and the airport clean is the most I believe they can do. 

O’Hare International Airport was where I had started my journey, and where I began to notice how many restaurants and shops were still open. A Starbucks here and there, a gift shop every few strolls, glances of a food court taken up by long swirling lines of people with very little social distancing. (I am positive that social distancing has never, and will never, exist in airports). Everything was in squalor, with no regulation to put on a mask or any other protective measures at that point, and people honestly did not cease to care.

Dallas-Fort Worth’s Airport was entirely the same. There were dining halls that had been reopened. I didn’t spot much use of protective gear, except for the occasional people in hazmat suits and plastic Ziploc bagged phones. Bookstores to buy your Texas-labeled “Dallas” hats and hoodies were open, and if you wanted a McFlurry, the McDonald’s line was ready for your order.

But as I got to Europe at London Heathrow International Airport, every store and restaurant was closed. Department stores including Gucci, Kate Spade and Burberry were closed for the time being. My layover was 10 hours, so I had lots of time to observe and explore what was really left of the airport. 

The only stores that were open were a bookstore, and a convenience store with skincare, a pharmacy and food and drinks. In both of these stores, they only let in a few people at a time. It was not necessary to wear a mask or gloves in the United States in these places. What was most lovely about London’s airport, however, was how friendly the people were. Even with the unbearable work hours they probably went through, and the annoying people pushing to get into stores, the workers still put on a smile.

And finally, after landing at Sofia’s airport in Bulgaria, I noticed how the tiniest airport out of all of my traveling through my about 16 years of life, proved to be the biggest in effectiveness of minimizing the spread of Covid-19. There were police on almost every corner your eye could lay on, and decals on the tile floor reminding you to keep 2 meters, or roughly 6 feet, apart from one another.

And after departing my final plane of the evening, there were personnel taking temperatures, regardless if people were staying in the country, or making their way to a different terminal to catch another flight. I truly am proud of my country for this, because Sofia International Airport was the most organized out of all of the airports I had passed through on my 24-hour agenda. 

There was even a reserved section for those who had a higher temperature and symptoms of COVID-19. And at the end of it all, was a line which led to a table of representatives that were there to ensure people had a place to stay for 14 days in quarantine, per the country’s travel regulations.

In general, I also noticed that cleaning staff went into the bathrooms regularly to keep everything clean and to sanitize surfaces as much as possible. They kept the soap cartridges filled and made sure surfaces were disinfected. 

On the planes themselves, there were way fewer people than what I was used to, and so the airlines can add an empty seat in-between passengers, like on my flights. So there would be one person by the window seat, an empty seat for distancing and then a person in the aisle seat. Now I didn’t have to be elbow-to-elbow a stranger, and I got a little more space for my feet and luggage.

Traveling during COVID-19 pandemic could have been worse for me. With everyone’s cooperation and efforts to keep the airports clean — mine included — I am currently in Bulgaria awaiting my 14-day quarantine to pass and to see my family and beautiful country.