As I walk through the empty terminal of Austin Bergstrom Airport I have to remind myself of one thing: This is temporary.
You can hear a pin drop in the terminal. Aircraft engines are cold, jet bridges are empty, and wheels are chocked upon vacant tarmacs. Departure boards are red with cancelations, and social distancing is made easy in a terminal where few passengers stroll. The TSA announcement is not about abandoned luggage, it is about health and modern safety measures. Food vendors are covered with plastic, closed until further notice. Agents, crew and passengers wear face masks and some wear gloves.
This is April, 2020, the scene breaks my traveling heart.
Working for an airline during COVID-19 causes me to reflect upon three topics dear to my heart: people, planet and purpose, the tagline of a travel company I love Traverse Journeys .
In this challenging time, we are reminded how special people are in our lives. Life is fragile. We connect with loved ones and friends via old school phone calls, a foreign concept yet comforting all together. Social Media, emails and Zoom are additional means for communication. People connect virtually, no closer than 6 feet physically. Living alone, this brings a whole other level to independence.
As I approach the terminal walking to work, I cover my mouth with a face mask. It feels raw, the world empty as if unsafe to inhale in a horror film. How can we contain this invisible beast? What are we meant to learn from this surreal experience?
We’ve all watched it happen. Businesses that appeared solid as steel collapsed in a matter of weeks. The unemployment rate sky-rocket, students halting their studies. Graduations, weddings, bar mitzvah’s and date nights taken online.
And how the day-to-day mundane has changed. Toilet paper is the new lottery ticket. Hoarders raid grocery stores, salons closed their doors. Distilleries make hand sanitizer, and restaurants only serve take out.
There is fear and fake news, anxiety and end of world financials swirling about. Employees work remotely, Zoom has been hacked.
A wave of gratitude flows over my soul regarding our customary freedom to travel, and the simple luxury of having a job. Each gesture I share with our treasured passengers in this sleepy terminal is sincerely valued in both directions. Human compassion is necessary and extremely appreciated.
Despite closed borders, cut work hours, and waves of uncertainty, I have experienced humanity in a beautiful way. Videos from around the world surface cheering on incredible medical workers. People are giving to charities, donating uplifting talent via online performances, and shopping for the elderly. Virtual dance parties and meetup groups pop up daily.
You can travel virtually from your couch until we can do so physically with companies such as Traverse Journeys. I explored Dubrovnik virtually, how affordable! I didn’t feel any jet lag!
Daily walks help with mental and physical health during this uncomfortable time. I stopped to notice the flower captured above. Cars do not occupy four lanes outside my home. I enjoy watching squirrels, and take extra time to appreciate nature. Birds can be heard through open windows as I turn off the air. When I pass someone on a nature walk beyond 6 feet, it feels like a gift to simply smile and wave.
I hear birds singing outside the terminal instead of cooling turbines. Passengers are not being dropped off curbside. Clean skies above generally smoggy city skylines appear in the news. Life as we knew it paused; but the health of the planet benefits.
Perhaps more businesses will be managed from home in the future to decrease commuting pollution and overhead expenses. I hope and believe air travel will bounce back, all in time to where it was, late 2019. Perhaps a shift in the future will be to fly cleaner and more efficiently, along with a renewed gratitude for the luxury air travel really is.
As an airline employee, it is shocking to see 96% drop in air travel in the US. Yet I am proud to see how airlines are adapting. They’re transporting cargo filled with medical equipment and life-saving supplies. Repatriation flights have brought citizens abroad back home. Flexible policies have been offered to passengers unable to travel. We are all in this together.
People are resilient, we will bounce back and explore the ends of the earth again. We will connect face to face with loved ones and give them larger than life hugs. We will enjoy crowds and gatherings, celebrations and concerts. Moments of our future will be precious. COVID-19 will work itself out, and in the meantime gratitude flows as we are forced to pause and reflect upon the precious aspects of life and our hearts.
Keep those travel dreams alive and passports close by. Humans are made to connect, the earth is meant to be explored, and planes are meant to fly…
These empty terminals are just temporary…