I booked a round-trip flight on American Airlines from Charlotte, NC to Denver, CO just to get a feel for the current state of air travel. American upgraded the first two flights to first class. When the upgrade for this flight didn’t clear, it provided the opportunity to sample travel on a short flight in economy class.
Other posts from this trip:
Covid-19 Economy Class Flight Review – American Airlines A321 Miami, FL to Charlotte, NC
American Airlines Flight 553 Miami, FL (MIA) to Charlotte, NC (CLT)
Flight Date: April 1, 2021
Great Circle Distance: 650 mi (1046 km, 565 nm)
Scheduled Flight Time: 2 hours and 18 minutes
Class of Service: Domestic Economy Class
The flight departed from Gate D26, which is one terminal train stop from the Centurion Lounge where I grabbed a light breakfast after the flight from Denver. The corridors of Miami airport were still fairly deserted as boarding began at 07:30.
Group 1 Boarding had begun when I arrived. It took a little effort to get through the crowd to the boarding lane but social distancing left a few gaps to push through.
Even though I was among the first in economy to board, there was no space in the overhead bin above my seat in Row 10. Most passengers have forgotten or never realized that American’s newer or remodeled 737s and A320 family aircraft have larger overhead bins that accommodate bags that are placed on their sides. You can put more bags in the bins when bags are placed on their sides.
My seat was 10F, a window seat on the starboard (right) side by the exit. I chose this seat because there is no seat in front of it in the row ahead. American charges an additional fee to select seats with extra legroom or in popular locations. Elite status in the AAdvantage program eliminates or reduces the cost of selecting these seats.
Standard economy seats on American’s A321s have 31 inches between rows and are just under 18 inches wide. Most Main Cabin Extra (American’s name for its extra legroom coach product) seats have 34 inches between rows. Seat 10F and seats in the exit row have even more legroom than that.
This plane was one of the few A321s that has not undergone the Project Oasis process of adding more seats and removing seatback entertainment screens. The video screen for Seat 10F is stored in the armrest. Although that slightly reduces the width of the seat, being able to adjust the position of the screen is helpful sometimes. The primary drawback not having the screen on a seat back is having to stow it for takeoff and landing.
The flight was parked next to a 787-8. With little international travel, many widebody aircraft have been reassigned to domestic routes. Widebodies are generally more comfortable. Getting a widebody on a domestic route is a treat that is not as rare as it used to be.
The flight to Charlotte is only 650 miles. The heading from MIA is almost exactly due north — 357º to be exact.
On this flight, a broken layer of low cumulus obscured what is usually a great view of Florida’s coastline on flight between Charlotte and Miami.
There was absolutely no service in economy. A paid snack and beverage service has been provided on these flights pre Covid.
Unlike Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines, American never blocked middle seats in economy during the pandemic. Rubbing elbows with strangers in a full economy section was a little disconcerting.
Being vaccinated and wearing a N95 mask took the worry out of being close to other passengers. (Sounds like a deodorant add.) Even having been fully vaccinated, at this point I don’t think I’d be comfortable being so close to others if masks were removed to eat or drink.
The flight was pretty boring. Everyone just sat in their seats with masks on for the short duration of the flight. Views from 35,000 feet and perusing the inflight entertainment selections occupied my time. Arrival in Charlotte was about an hour and 30 minutes after takeoff.
Three domestic flights in first class and economy and visits to three American Express Centurion Lounges and an American Airlines Admirals Club provided a glimpse of the state of domestic air travel in the U.S. during Covid-19 and answered the question that was top of my mind: could flying be fun again or at least not the scary experience endured on the last flight I was on in March 2020?
This trip provided reassurance that airport lounges and flying, while missing many pre-pandemic frills, felt safe and was still an enjoyable experience. Requiring everyone to wear masks in the airport and onboard aircraft was the most important measure that inspired confidence and made these flights feel safe. You can’t see enhanced cleaning, HEPA air filters, or a person’s vaccination status. A mask requirement should remain in effect at least until herd immunity is achieved and the virus is no longer spreading.
It would be nice if service in domestic first class returned to normal sooner than that. Over the coming months, I expect airlines will make minor only improvements in onboard service. It may take years for service to return to pre-pandemic levels, if ever.
What remains personally untested is the effect of Covid on international air travel. There is enough separation between passengers in first class and business class on widebody jets with all-aisle-access seating that I think I’d feel comfortable if pre-Covid service levels resumed immediately in premium cabins on those aircraft.
Long-haul international flights in coach are more problematic. Airlines must serve food and drinks to everyone on transoceanic flights that last as long as 17 or 18 hours. Even though almost all international flights require negative Covid-19 tests within 72 hours of departure, I don’t think I’d feel very comfortable in coach with a couple of hundred others eating, drinking and talking without masks.
Maybe airlines could have certain areas in economy reserved for passengers who have been vaccinated. That would make some passengers feel more comfortable and serve as a small incentive to get as many people vaccinated as possible. A variety of such incentives in air travel and society in general may be needed to result in enough people getting vaccinated to reach herd immunity.
Have you taken or planned air travel during Covid? What was your experience like?