It persistently surprises me when people question how I am adjusting to telecommuting. It really has not been any adjustment, as I have remained on-the-job, and in the office throughout 2020. For this, the entire OJCC deserves significant praise. We have had a few absences in recent months, and perhaps about 20% of staff has telecommuted at some point. But, here I have been day after day. It has been a long spring and summer. I had every intention of taking my planned vacation in July, but travel constraints interfered with those plans. Nonetheless, we managed a trip.
Taking to the air again was eye-opening. Things are different. I was afforded great parking choices at the airport. The lots were all minimally populated. It would seem fair to say that air travel is diminished.
I was confronted by the signs at the airport door "masks must be worn at all times in the airport, NO EXCEPTIONS." Within minutes thereafter, I presented my boarding pass to the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) officer who, looking at my driver's license, literally said "take off your mask." You cannot make this stuff up. Notably, their was no line whatsoever at the TSA station. The personnel were striving mightily to appear busy, though they outnumbered the passengers at the check point at least two to one.
There is now stress on social distancing in the terminal and gate area. This was not difficult as there are far fewer travelers than you might expect. Even at the through-hub Dallas Fort Worth, there was minimal foot traffic. Many of the airport stores are closed. Particularly noted were the sun glasses, jewelry, and candy stores. However, almost all the food spots were open.
The aircraft boarding process has not changed much. Before COVID became a thing, people were studying the efficiency of aircraft boarding. Using "4D math," a study in January 2020 Popular Mechanics made recommendations for efficient loading. It is a bit complicated, but essentially is "let the slow people go first." Notably, The Points Guy notes that some airlines have elected to try "back-to-front" boarding. This is seen as minimizing customer interaction and minimizing contact. I did not witness this on my trip.
Wired noted several years ago that airlines will not be efficient in boarding, instead it claims they are too enamored with their different levels of boarding for different perks." We all get to file past the premium travelers, way closer than 6 feet, to reach our cheap seats. And, for the price they pay, they get to be exposed to us all as we pass them. Not efficient or COVID-friendly, but it is a business model.
When I landed, they announced on the public address system their preference that the passengers deplane "front-to-back" to assist with "social distancing." How do you deplane other than front-to-back? Has anyone ever been on a plane that deplaned back-to-front? It would be as illogical to keep the front seat passengers seated while those in the back filed past. And, it would also upset the premium price-payers. Upon arrival, some people behind me (I stood in the aisle to stretch while the front row passengers deplaned) asked to step around me. They assured me that the "front-to-back" did not apply to them because "we have no luggage." That confused me, but likely there is some logic there I am missing.
Upon taxi commencing, the flight attendant announced that there would be "no service" in order to minimize traffic in the aisles and to maintain the continuous use of masks. The first thing that struck me was that the airlines are striving to get their planes airborne and full, the jobs of so many depend upon that: pilots, attendants, agents (gate and counter), maintenance, fuel, etc. But, I felt some concern for the folks that deliver cookies, pretzels, and canned drinks to planes. Perhaps some jobs will return slower than others. Then, on another flight, I was handed a paper bag that contained a napkin, bottle of water, and cookies. So, perhaps some catering is occurring? And, there is the added task; someone has to put the items in those bags.
The lack of drinks on the one flight got me thinking about weight and cost. Flight is, in large part, about overcoming and lifting weight. Airlines have been historically focused on minimizing weight and costs.ABC News reported in 2001 that "Penny Pinching Adds Up." The context there was olives. An airline executive figured out that "if you removed just one olive from every salad served to passengers, nobody would notice … and the airline would save $100,000 a year." Remember when airlines served food (they still do, but only on really long flights).
What would airlines save if they eliminated the weight of that drink cart on flights (average drink cart weighs about 300 pounds by some estimates)? How might it decrease costs for the galley doors on aircraft to remain closed (easier to maintain air conditioned or heated cabin on the ground). How much might be saved in terms of aircraft cleaning? A side note, airlines seem to be bragging about their "enhanced" cleaning during COVID, but that was not apparent on this trip in either presence of personnel or cleanliness of the aircraft, gates, or jet-bridges.
I encountered restaurants that had eliminated menus completely. The tables had QR codes taped to them to allow menu viewing on a cell phone. I noted many eateries with tables or booths taped-off to enhance social distancing. Virtually all of the restaurant employees wore masks. Many of them wore the masks incorrectly (with the mouth covered but not the nose), but they did wear masks. Some restaurants are checking everyone's temperature upon entry. And, for those of you wondering why you cannot find hand sanitizer or masks, many restaurants and hotels have an abundance of each available for customer use.
I ate from disposable plates with plastic utensils. I was provided condiments in individual size packets in some instances. I went to a fast food outlet that actually had a door-person that was keeping count of how many were inside the store and granting of denying entry accordingly. The drive-thru at that business had 25 cars in its line. At another restaurant there was a sign for "drive thru only" service. As I sat in the line, I watched personnel walking out to make deliveries to cars in the lot. Upon reaching the menu board (inside), I first encountered a sign encouraging Internet ordering for "car service." Once you are at the ordering point, that seems a little late?
Some of this may be old news to you. Maybe this is how things are where you live also. The main point of all of this is that business is adapting to the realities that we face. Or, perhaps they are striving to make us think so (let's "deplane front-to-back"). They are striving to provide products, service, and consumer confidence. They are unlikely to be perfect or perhaps even consistent, but the point is that they are trying. In the present, we will likely adjust and adapt to their efforts. But, what happens when COVID ends?
Will we return to the pre-COVID? Will telecommuting and telemedicine again be doubted or eschewed? Will we return in droves to sit-down dining in crowded rooms, salad bars, and similar? Or, will COVID effect permanent changes? Bob Wilson recently noted how we sometimes fail to make accurate predictions in Never Waste a Pandemic. Can we any better foresee where we will be in a year, and whether the changes of today were permanent or temporary?
What are you doing with your habits and practices? Will they be efficiencies that survive the end of this illness, or are you focused on a return to "normal." How will the outcome of all of this affect us all emotionally, and does that depend upon our belief regarding predicting the future? Perhaps from that standpoint we would all be well advised to just say "I will wait and see?"
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