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Sunday, May 31, 2020

What it is like to fly in the era of the coronavirus

A man checks his phone inside an almost empty Los Angeles international airport.

Nowadays airports seem dramatically different.

Terminals that are normally crowded with people are now desolate as many remain at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Countries have sealed their borders and imposed travel restrictions on certain areas. Airlines are scaling back their plans, canceling flights and completely suspending some routes.

On Monday, a woman prints a baggage tag at Auckland Airport in New Zealand.

Flights are canceled at Auckland airport.

Washington photojournalist Amanda Andrade-Rhoades visited New Zealand this month when the outbreak became a global pandemic.

He documented his return trip Monday and posted the photos to his Instagram account.

“As soon as I realized that things were out of the ordinary at Auckland airport, it was then that I started taking pictures,” he said. “It seemed important to start documenting what was happening and how different the process was from day to day.”

Passengers queue for flights at the Los Angeles International Airport International Terminal.

A woman walks past a window in Los Angeles. “I have never personally seen LAX as empty as when I arrived,” photojournalist Amanda Andrade-Rhoades said.

Masks were much more popular. Travelers were advised to leave space between them by standing in line. And many airport areas looked like a ghost town.

“He was a little dystopian,” said Andrade-Rhoades, who started in Christchurch before flying to Auckland, Los Angeles and finally Washington.

The check-in process seemed more complicated for her too. Despite fewer travelers, it took her over an hour to drop her bag.

Los Angeles people check in for a China Eastern Airlines flight on Monday. At the time, the international terminal was almost empty, except for this flight, Andrade-Rhoades said.

Passengers line up to be checked in at Auckland Airport on Monday. To be admitted inside the international terminal, passengers had to show their passport and prove that they had a ticket outside the country.

Andrade-Rhoades struggled with the decision to go home.

At first he wondered if it would have been better to “get away” in New Zealand, which has far fewer cases of coronavirus than in the United States and many other countries. He dismissed his flight a week before finally deciding that it was best to return to the United States before travel restrictions could eventually narrow down further.

She was not alone.

“The flight between Auckland and Los Angeles has been surprisingly full,” he said. “Every other flight, either I had my line or there was nobody sitting in the middle.”

There were fewer than 20 passengers on the Andrade-Rhoades flight from Los Angeles to Washington. “We have all been able to have our line,” he said.

A view of Southern California from inside a passenger plane. “I am originally from the Los Angeles area and have never seen empty beaches,” said Andrade-Rhoades.

Between flights, Andrade-Rhoades took multiple photos while making sure to keep away from other people.

But not everyone was as cautious as she was.

“People didn’t always keep social distances, and sometimes people hacked and coughed and that was downright unnerving,” he said.

After arriving in Los Angeles, passengers had to collect their baggage and undergo additional checks and customs checks.

Flight attendants enter the international terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. Andrade-Rhoades said that during his trip it is not uncommon to see flight attendants wearing more protective gear than the people who work at the various airport doors.

The most unnerving thing for her was that no one was screened for the disease.

“I have reviewed multiple security checkpoints at each airport, basically two security checks at each airport. And all the time, absolutely no one asked me if I was experiencing symptoms or if I had been exposed to someone with symptoms, “he said.

She acknowledged that people could simply lie, but it still seemed to her that no health questions had been asked, although New Zealand had not had many confirmed coronavirus cases up to that point.

Baggage claim is almost empty at Washington’s Reagan international airport.

Anita Milman, who lives in Massachusetts, has placed encouraging signs on her suitcase to thank the employees of Los Angeles airport. Milman was expected to be in Australia for the next four months, but had to leave early due to the coronavirus pandemic.

And even with the best of intentions, there was sometimes no way for Andrade-Rhoades to keep social distances.

“I tried to keep my distance, but it’s very difficult when people keep bumping into you,” he said. “I definitely washed my hands and face enough and was lucky enough to get a hand sanitizer before I left.”

During his flights, he “religiously” cleaned his seats and his tray table.

“If you plan to travel, you have to proceed as no one else is taking precautions. Because I’m probably not, “he said, offering his best advice.

Washington airport was almost empty when Andrade-Rhoades arrived home. “Although there was still some construction going on at the airport, most of the lights were dimly lit and the offices closed,” he said.

“When I came out of (Reagan), I noticed that there were many gloves and other protective equipment scattered on the ground,” said Andrade-Rhoades.

When he finally arrived home in the nation’s capital – after more than half a day in the air and an 8-hour layover in Los Angeles – Andrade-Rhoades continued to take precautions. He left his luggage out and dried it with a disinfectant before storing it.

“I could have stayed in New Zealand, but I as a journalist seemed very important to be here and to continue working if it were an option,” he said. “It’s not the kind of career you choose to be on the sidelines of anything. It is important to keep people informed. It was a big motivating factor in choosing to return. “

Amanda Andrade-Rhoades is a Washington-based photojournalist. Follow her on Instagram.

Photo editing: Brett Roegiers and Will Lanzoni

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