#SocialDistancing @ 37,000 feet!

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Mar 22 2020 01:05 AM

An infinitesimal reflection of COVID-19, perhaps. A speck of dust in the estimated US$113-billion loss in the American airline industry is now facing, as a consequence of this coronavirus pandemic. 

Just before boarding United Airlines Flight No. 5924 from LAX - Los Angeles International Airport Terminal 7 to San Antonio, Texas / SAT, last Wednesday evening, the pre-departure clerk at Gate 84 announced that there will be available seat reassignments for passengers desiring to observe ‘social distancing.’ The flight was going to be less than half full. These days, that is unexpected.

And so, at an altitude of 37,000 feet, I participated in this new call of the 21st century, “social distancing,” and at 600 miles per hour in air speed, too. Truly great spaces of empty seats while aloft. There really was nothing else unusual about the flight, though.

Unusual was, however, upon arrival. An unbelievable, surprising air travel experience. Now, get this. 

From the aircraft (it was referred to as an “ERJ 175 / Regional Jet”) runway landing, touchdown, to tarmac taxi, tube exit walk and through the terminal proper, down the escalator to baggage retrieval where my two pieces of luggage were already on the carousel waiting. And just about a hundred feet away, the sidewalk passenger pickup station and Texas fresh air. All in ten minutes! Ten minutes! Didn’t I say unbelievable? 

Despite being travel weary and almost done in, I was delightfully perked up simply with the thought that I really must share this experience. Ten minutes! Animating me so, too, was the sight of an able-bodied helmeted policeman in short pants patrolling the airport driveway …. on a bicycle! Certitude that I could not have been still in Manila! 

Okay, San Antonio International Airport is not really a very large facility, simply almost ‘boutique’ type in style and size but oh, so very comfy and friendly. But ten minutes ? Only in the time of world-wide COVID-19. 

Out of curiosity, I tried to find out what a jet aircraft an “ERJ 175 / Regional Jet” was. It was neither US, UK nor Canada-made of the more common aircraft manufacturers we are familiar with. I bet you did not know that Brazil manufactured jet airliners. 

Well, I rode on an “Embraer” jet plane. It is manufactured by a Brazilian aerospace conglomerate called Embraer, S.A. (S.A. is ‘sociedade anonima’ in Portuguese / for French, Societe Anonyme, corresponding to ‘Corporation’ in English) The company is listed in the New York Stock Exchange as “ERJ.” The company must have some commendable credentials and reputation so that America’s Boeing has been talked about as wanting to buy out Embraer’s commercial division, subject of course to anti-trust scrutiny and the current turbulence in the stock market.

Landing at LAX about half a day earlier was also a surprise. Another consequence of air-travel coronavirus-induced paucity in passenger capacity. A mere hand-held gadget temperature test aimed at below the ear, upon boarding, as the only reminder that we were travelling in COVID-19 times. Asiana flight No. OZ202 out of Incheon at Seoul was half-full and, upon disembarkation, so was the otherwise humungous LAX terminal. 

From end of journey touchdown, tarmac taxi, tube walk all the way to formal entry into the USA, immigration/ border control, baggage carousel, Customs clearance and wheeling my cart to the designated baggage transfer facility, for the final leg of the tip. And finally, out into Terminal B’s sidewalk and fresh air. All in under 45 minutes! That, too, is record, memorable time! 

The refreshingly therapeutic walk from Terminal B to Terminal Seven was a good kilometer distance. Midway, I passed through from across the street on the left side, the iconic ‘Theme Building’ of LAX. It is recognized worldwide as the ‘space-age landmark’ representing Los Angeles. The edifice is kinda spider-like, appearing futuristic and somewhat playfully on stilts. I was told there is a restaurant, designed like an unidentified flying object (UFO), suspended from the center of the skeletal domelike structure. 

What awaited me was that dreadful layover that was to last for some ten hours, almost half a day! I survived the ordeal, though. Cat naps here and there in various bodily contortions, solitaire and internet news, a little calisthenics, some cat-like stretching and walkabouts. That the terminal was not crawling full of travelers as they would have been otherwise, also helped. I decided that all these were the least of coronavirus inconveniences for me compared to most, if only to self-psyche and get over it! 

Boredom was anticipated. All appointments, engagements, reunions and visits that I still looked forward to, have been foregone and cancelled. Metro Manila and in fact all of Luzon was declared under “enhanced community quarantine,” a euphemism for total lockdown. I had to escape cabin fever that was beginning to set in while a guest at my son-in-law’s and daughter’s home ion Pasig City. Chaos, distress and frustration was beginning to dominate life in the metropolis. Government authorities had in fact announced suspension of all international travel before midnight of Thursday. 

I just had to fly out. In the very least, I had that choice and opportunity. Having taken it, I have likewise given up the right to bellyache and whine.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.