So finally, since we entered into this COVID-pandemic world, I was able to venture away from home. Just a long-holiday-weekend domestic trip, but it was an interesting introduction into the new reality of travel. My hubby and I decided to take the chance during the Independence Day weekend to fly from San Diego up to Portland to visit his son’s little family and spend quality time with the grandkids.

Our travel day began with a quick check to make sure our flight was still on schedule. It was not. It was delayed about an hour. So then it was a call to our friend kind enough to give us an early morning ride to the airport, asking her to delay our pick up for about a 1/2-hour. Initially, when we purchased the tickets, our flight was scheduled to leave at 6:20 am, and she was one of the few people we knew crazy enough to get up that early to take us to the airport. Being she is regular dive buddy, she is used to those early-morning hours doing local shore diving with us. Later on she received a reprieve from driving us in the dark when our flight was pushed back to an 8:00 am departure about a week before our trip. Now normally I would request a Lyft or Uber, but you generally can’t find someone driving around that early. Plus, I wasn’t quite ready to deal with the social distancing issues in a stranger’s car just yet.

Eventually we arrived at the airport that morning, dutifully wearing our face masks, about 2 1/2 hours before the now delayed take-off. Even though we were just traveling with our carry-on, not know exactly what we would be facing at security, we decided it was best to give ourselves plenty of time. Well, it turned out there was no reason to stress. At 6:30 am the SAN terminal was relatively empty. With our Global Entry numbers, we generally get TSA pre-check, but looking at the lack of lines, there really was no need this time. Still, we entered our designated pre-check line and walked directly up to the security officer. There she took our passports and asked each of us, one at a time, to pull down our masks to reveal our faces. Then we were asked to scan our boarding passes ourselves before moving on to the baggage scanning area. No temperature checks. No health questions as expected. Maybe we might have experienced this at the airline counter had we checked any bags.

At scanning, there were no bins for your belongings. Instead, you put your phones, watches, keys, etc. in your bags and placed them on the conveyor belt. As I glanced around the security area, I observed all security and airport staff had face coverings and gloves per regulation. It took only a couple of minutes to pass and we were on our way to the gate. Amazing!

At the gate, seating was clearly marked for travelers to maintain safe spacing. My hubby and I set our luggage down, and I walked over to have a look to see what was happening on the tarmac. Not much. I noticed at the end of our gangway sat a plane that was half the size of the normal airplane we would have flown in during pre-pandemic days. As I looked out at the lack of movement around the airplanes awaiting departure, I came to the conclusion that the airlines must have decided to “reschedule” our early morning flight to combine it with this later flight in order to make sure they had a full plane. No social-distancing on this aircraft. The gate agents confirmed my suspicions when they announced that it was a full flight, and if you did not wish to sit next to someone you were not traveling with, to please see them at the desk to make arrangements for another flight. As it was, the agents were busy rearranging assigned seats to ensure families and travel companions were sitting next to each other.

A funny side note…one gate agent enlightened us as to why the flight had been delayed. Apparently we were lacking a pilot and they were trying to get one to take the flight asap. Hmmm…yes, a pilot is generally a good thing. Definitely something you might not mind a delay for.

As we continued to wait for the boarding call, I listened to other gate announcements in the area. It seemed that if you were on a flight of short duration, passengers were being encouraged to bring their own refreshments on board. However, for a flight like ours, over 2 hours in duration, we were treated to the choice of a mini bottle of water or a 6 oz can of Coke and a snack pack of nuts.

You may have heard that the airlines were now boarding planes from back to front these days, but I experienced no such thing. It seemed to be business as usual, with the call for those passengers requiring assistance or extra time first, then first class, frequent flyer members, and then finally us remaining lowly passengers (pretty much in a mass cattle call – for a small plane). The idea of social-distancing was a forgotten cause as we stood in line to show our boarding passes and to wait on the gangway to board the plane. Oh well, we all did have our masks on.

Once on board, everyone continued to wear their masks as requested (except when eating or drinking). There seemed to be a varying degree of comfort with the cleanliness of the plane. A few did choose to wipe down their seats and tray-tables with antiseptic wipes, while others were quite content to trust the sanitation crew’s efforts. I myself was quite comfortable with what appeared to be a clean and relatively new plane. That was until my husband pointed out the little bit of food on the carpet at the base of the seats across the way. That’s when I decided to pull out my own wipes and give our area a quick once-over just to be on the safe side.

The flight was uneventful and soon we were disembarking in Portland. As we walked through the PDX terminal toward our rental car shuttle, I noticed traveler traffic was much the same as in San Diego – relatively light. It appeared that although people were venturing out for more than “essential travel”, it was no surprise the numbers were still so evidently low compared to days gone by. As we walked past the dining courts, I would say half the venues were closed (mainly those that had designated dining areas and bars). Most shops sere still open though, in case you needed a t-shirt, book, electronic gadget, or snacks for the plane. Even some of the restrooms were closed, but those that were open were not busy. It was simple to maintain your proper social distance – no worries – and the terminals appeared clean, although I didn’t see any cleaning crews attending to waiting areas in between flights.

Anyway, we proceeded onward to our rental shuttle and found ourselves the only passengers as we transferred to the rental lot. I struck up a conversation with the driver, asking him what his thoughts were on the past few months’ effects on travel. He said staff had been sharply down-sized, but that a few members may come back in the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately, it was no surprise business was deeply down and many people had lost their jobs. Seniority didn’t seem to be a big saving factor in selecting those that were laid off, which seemed a little surprising to me.

When we arrived at the rental agency, things seemed to go as usual, except for the now commonly masked staff and a big plexiglass plate between them and us. When the rental agent asked if we wished to upgrade, I thought we might hear the wonderful word, “complimentary”, but no such luck, so we passed. Paperwork complete, keys in the car, a quick once-over, and we were driving south toward Salem in a nearly new compact car.

We reached our hotel in the early afternoon. The parking lot appeared pretty empty – not really surprising for that time of day. We parked the car, grabbed our bags, and proceeded into the lobby. On the carpet were the customary “Maintain 6-ft Spacing” stickers and the huge plexiglass shield at the reception desk. Ahead of us was the complimentary breakfast lounge, now dark and devoid of furnishings except for one table and a few chairs. We checked in, received our keys, and were given instructions on how to order our brown bag breakfasts every morning if we wished. Our breakfast choices consisted of an apple, fruit cup, yogurt, muffin, granola bar, (2) hard-boiled eggs, and a juice box (everything individually packaged, of course). Not the most exciting options, but I guess it was better than nothing. The front desk clerk did let us know that the pool and spa were still open for use, but during shortened hours, before we moved on.

Our room was on the first floor. It appeared neat and tidy, with the usual toiletries, ice bucket, cups, coffee/tea fixings, microwave and fridge. Nothing stood out as different, except I noticed there no longer were the customary pen and pad, hotel amenity directory, tourism magazines or pamphlets, or TV channel listing card.

We left for a few hours to visit with the family and when we returned that evening I would say the hotel appeared to be about 2/3 full, with mostly ground floor windows lit up. Not too surprising. After all, it was a holiday weekend. Good for them!

Our short stay was for 4 nights (Thursday evening through Monday morning), during which time there was no housekeeping service. It was up to us to request a cleaning if we desired to have the trash removed, the toiletries and TP replenished, or the towels refreshed. We managed to survive just fine during our stay, although our small trash bins were quite full.

On Monday morning it was time to hop back in the car and head for Portland for our flight home. First we stopped for a quiet dine-in breakfast before getting back on the road. When we reached the car rental, the return was quick and easy with everything done electronically. This time, however, our shall airport shuttle was full, but not crowded.

Back inside the airport, we breezed through TSA and easily cruised through the terminal relatively devoid of travelers to our partially occupied gate. We had a full flight back home, but travel went well and remained stress-free. We were happy to put our feet on San Diego soil and have our friend there to give us a ride home. When we arrived home and opened the front door, our cats restrained their enthusiasm at our return as they each cracked open an eye to gaze upon us from their lounging spots on the couch. Isn’t it great to be back safe and sound, and greeted with such love?

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