If you would’ve told me one year ago that I’d be flying to Disney World (WDW) during a pandemic, I never would have believed you.
Well, here I am, someone who just recently returned from a trip to my most favorite place on earth—around the same time the United States reached over 5 million COVID-19 cases, as CNN reported on Aug. 9.
Not to mention, Florida continues to be a hotspot with over 530,000 total cases, according to an Aug. 10 report from the Orlando Sentinel.
Despite it all, I hopped on an airplane and flew to the most magical place on earth all the way from Pennsylvania.
This is by no means my way of saying everyone should travel now or encouraging you to get on an airplane. There were many different factors that played into my decision, including me not being high-risk.
The virus is something we all need to take very seriously. Obviously, staying home is the safest. I just want to tell you about my experience traveling right now, especially if you’re thinking about taking a trip to WDW.
It Was Definitely Nerve-Wracking
I spent a total of six days at the parks and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had a fun time.
I knew I would feel mostly safe (as safe as one can be during a pandemic) once I was inside the WDW bubble. The resort is enforcing the necessary health and safety protocols, including mask-wearing and social distancing.
However, I couldn’t initially say the same for air travel.
I was extremely nervous and unsure of what to expect once I arrived at the Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT).
Would I feel safe? Would it be crowded? Would people wear masks? And what about sitting in an airplane, an enclosed space for 2 hours and 20 minutes?
A lot of thoughts and questions ran through my head. There’s always a risk one takes when traveling, but even more so now. But I did it and my nerves didn’t really stop until I landed at the Orlando International Airport (MCO).
As high as my anxiety was, the flying and airport processes were far from as scary as I imagined. But my nerves remained intact, even when flying home, because you can never fully trust others, especially nowadays.
Overall, the airport crowds were thankfully minimal, many people wore masks, and certain physical distancing protocols were put in place in select areas, like luggage check-in and at security.
I Flew Southwest, Like I Always Do
Speaking of low capacity, the same can be said for my flights.
I flew Southwest both to and from MCO. It was strange to see only 50 passengers on board. Usually, flights to and from WDW are full, but not this time.
I always fly Southwest and continued my streak after much research. Not only are they currently leaving middle seats open through at least Oct. 31, but they only board 10 passengers at a time and typically enforce masks.
Regarding the latter, there were a few people on my flight home from WDW that I saw wearing masks incorrectly or took them off to talk while in flight. I’m not sure if the crew rectified the situation or not. But, overall, the majority of those on both of my flights complied with the rules.
Southwest also uses a hospital-grade disinfectant throughout the entire aircraft and has a specific cleaning process.
It’s also important to note that on Aug. 3 USA Today reported Southwest was reducing some of its COVID-19 cleaning procedures, according to a memo sent to employees obtained by the publication.
Starting Aug. 1, armrests and seat belts will no longer be wiped down between each flight, but will continue to be cleaned during the airline’s “enhanced” nightly cleaning process. From now on, the cleaning between flights will focus on main high-touch areas, like lavatories and tray tables.
USA Today reports that passengers can ask for sanitizing wipes. Southwest also confirmed to Travel + Leisure on Aug. 4 that the change comes after an increase in flights, which means less downtime between flights.
That might be concerning to some passengers, which I understand. I recommend requesting the complimentary sanitizing wipes or carry your own.
Even before the pandemic, I’ve always used disinfectant wipes on my seat, armrests, seat belt, tray table, and more.
Overall, I feel like Southwest is doing a good job, but I wish they would board aircrafts back to front and then deplane front to back, which I know might be hard since passengers aren’t assigned specific seats and it’s a first-come, first-serve process.
Furthermore, once the aircraft lands, they should make passengers take turns deplaning. Many are still in a hurry to get off quickly and crowd the aisles.
I made sure to let everyone else deplane first to avoid as much contact as possible.
I think it’s also important to remember that airlines and theme parks can implement health and safety measures, but it’s also up to guests to make sure they’re doing their part by following what’s being asked of them.
Those who don’t are just being disrespectful and putting others even more in harm’s way.
Did I Feel Safe?
I did feel safe, but you can only be so safe during a pandemic.
I just know I did everything in my power to make sure I followed the health and safety measures, including quarantining when I returned home.
I truly believe that if businesses enforce protocols (and everyone follows them) we can continue to do the things we love, like traveling, and hopefully help reduce cases in the process.
That said, I do plan on visiting WDW again in the future. I am an Annual Passholder and have not canceled my pass.
But, I will be mindful of when and how often I travel, all while doing my part to keep myself and others safe.
And A Few Tips
Here are some tips to help anyone who might be traveling to Disney World (or anywhere) in the near future.
- Avoid using an airport shuttle and park at the airport so a stranger isn’t in your car (sometimes airport parking shuttles will park your car for you).
- Rent a car (and ahead of time) rather than taking the Magical Express or another form of ground transportation. You’ll avoid people and be able to drive to the parks instead of sharing Disney transportation with other guests.
- When renting a car, use a company that’s attached to the airport so you can walk and avoid boarding the rental car shuttle that transports guests to the airport.
- Avoid busy airport areas, like food courts. If possible, pack your own snacks or meals. Here’s what type of food is allowed (via TSA.gov).
- Speaking of snacks, put them in baggies. Both PIT and MCO made me place all my snacks in bins.
- If you’re flying with someone else, leave the aisle seat open so no one bumps into you as they walk by.
- If you’re like me and won’t remove your mask in the airport or on the airplane, be sure to make sure you eat beforehand and that you’re hydrated!
- Try to book a non-stop flight. The less airport time, the better. Also, traveling on weekdays might be less busy than weekends.
- You will have to pull down your mask to verify your ID before going through security, so keep that in mind.
- Finally, and most importantly, be your own advocate. If you ever feel unsafe or someone is making you uncomfortable, speak up. Now more than ever you need to do what’s best and safest for you.