My wife and I just returned from our first airplane trip in a year and a half. The last one we took in December 2019 was well before our COVID-19 lockdown began. Having been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine this past February, I had a high degree of confidence that I would be protected from the coronavirus. I proudly carried my vaccination card in my wallet, almost as if it was a psychological shield. Still, as a 70-plus Boomer, a bit of apprehension lurked in the back of my brain.
I was reassured by the strict rules imposed at the airports we utilized and on each flight we took. Masks were mandatory throughout the air travel experience. From the moment we stepped into the airport, on and off planes, to the moment we stepped out of the airport, we were in a sea of totally masked people. The only time I had to lower my mask was so the TSA agent could match my face to the photo on my license. Flight attendants greeted us with hand sanitizer packets. The safety briefings given by the flight attendants reinforced the mask requirement. All of the flights were nearly full, so we did have to sit next to strangers -- but I thought masked strangers were better than unmasked strangers. I didn't hear any grumbling from people around me about wearing masks, either at the airports or on the flights. Admittedly, being in close proximity to so many people was a bit disconcerting, but I put my faith not just in masks but in the vaccine.
We were traveling from North Carolina, which has basically done away with mask requirements, to Oregon, which continued to enforce mask wearing because of lingering high infection rates. It was interesting to be thrown back in time, visiting a city in a state that was just beginning to loosen its pandemic constraints. Restaurants were still largely doing takeout and outdoor dining only; very few restaurants had socially distanced indoor dining available. The signs posted on doors of restaurants and stores varied. Some read "Masks required," while others stated, "Masks required if you are not fully vaccinated." I saw only one sign that asked for "proof of vaccination" if you wanted to enter the establishment unmasked.
Seeing a masked world, and then realizing we were on the cusp of an unprecedented Pacific Northwest heatwave (it arrived about the time we were departing Oregon) contributed to an other-worldly travel experience. All in all, though, it was incredibly liberating to travel again. I imagine not everyone will feel comfortable going through a crowded airport or getting on an airplane right now. But as for me, I learned to stop worrying and love the freedom that comes from being released from a pandemic prison.