What It’s Like To Fly During A Pandemic: Safety, Security Lines, Timeliness

In December 2021, I decided to fly during the pandemic. This post will recap what it was like to fly during a pandemic and why I decided to fly. With two young children, it's not the safest thing to do.

For reference, I have taken over 300 flights in my lifetime. I also lived abroad for 13 years, and visited over 60 countries. You can say I'm a flying veteran.

Why I Decided To Fly During The Pandemic

First of all, I dislike flying. Despite traveling all my life as a son of Foreign Service Officers and then working in International Equities my entire career, flying never excited me. The novelty soon wears off after you encounter delayed flights, unruly passenger, smelly neighbors, and long lines.

But after getting my booster shot and feeling negative side effects for ~40 hours, I figured: If I'm going to vax up and feel like crap, I had better make the best of the situation by seeing my parents. They are in their mid-70s. I also felt like crap for 36 hours after my second shot.

After the fact, I also realized I was hesitant to fly solo and leave my family because I had not found a solution to my life insurance needs yet. Yes, I know the chance of dying in a plane crash is low. However, you just never know.

I decided to leave my two kids under 5 at home because they were unvaccinated. Besides, the best time to fly with children is when they are over 5, so they can actually remember and enjoy their travels.

Once I was able to get a new 20-year term life insurance policy, I felt relief. It was like letting go of two heavy duffle bags, one on each shoulder. Of course, the kids would miss me if I never came home. But at least they'd be taken care of until adulthood. 

If you're looking to get affordable life insurance, I highly recommend Policygenius. Policygenius will provide you real quotes from competing carriers in minutes. It's how my wife was able to double her coverage for less and how I was able to get a new affordable policy.

How The Flight Experience Was Like During A Pandemic

Airlines recommend to arrive three hours before departure, but I decided to arrive 1 hour 30 minutes beforehand. This was 30 minutes later than my usual arrive time. I wanted to spend as much time with my family before leaving.

Last Sunday, I got to curbside at 9:45 AM and by 10 AM I was through security. Then I waited for another 23 minutes to get my Hawaii Safe Travel wristband. Although the line was long, it was at a gate just across from mine. So I felt no stress. 

The whole process of getting to my gate took ~40 minutes, meaning I had about 50 minutes to twiddle my thumbs before they closed the doors. And this was supposed to be a busy time of year. 

In other words, the airport process was about the same as pre-pandemic. My overall experience flying during a pandemic was positive.

Seat Choice And Class Cabin

The reason why I published the post, How To Pay For A First Class Ticket Without Remorse, was because I was hemming and hawing for two weeks on whether to pay up. The choice was between a $680 Economy Class seat, a $890 Economy Plus seat, or a $1,680 First Class seat. 

In the end, I went First Class based on my own guidelines. See how easily we can justify our decisions? When I discovered the Boeing 777-300ER on United had lay-flat beds, I decided it was worth it. And you know what? It was, especially on the red-eye back. 

My only mistake was not getting an odd seat next to the window, instead of an even seat next to the window. The odd seats are more snug inside. 

How Was The Return Flight During A Pandemic

The return flight during a pandemic was excellent. From now on, I'm only flying red-eyes back to San Francisco from Honolulu. My flight was at 11:20 PM and arrived at 6:10 AM. 

There is way less foot traffic at the airport late at night. I got through security in just six minutes. The United gate D1 was also just outside security, unlike at SFO. Less foot traffic feels safer during a pandemic.

Getting to the airport 30 minutes before my plane departed would have been no problem. But I'd still arrive an hour before or later just to be safe. 

Due to taking a red-eye, I got to spend breakfast, lunch, and dinner with my parents. I also got to spend a couple hours at the beach after lunch. 

In order to stay awake for a red-eye, I decided to take an hour-long nap after lunch. That helped power me through because Hawaii is two hours behind San Francisco. Therefore, a 11:20 PM flight is kind of like leaving at 1:20 AM. I only stayed for 5 nights in Honolulu, so I wasn't 100% over my jet lag.

average air fare compared to inflation, global flights

How Safe Do You Feel Flying During A Pandemic?

I felt safe flying during a pandemic. Nobody social distanced in the security line, but everybody wore a mask. Once through the security line, you have plenty of space to keep to yourself. Honolulu Int'l Airport is nice because much of it is outdoors.

On the plane, a mask is required the entire time, except while drinking and eating. As far as I could tell, everybody complied. Psychologically, it also helped that I flew first class. There were also less people in First Class. The seats have walls around them that limit your field of vision.

While in Honolulu, I ate with my parents and relatives either outside in warm weather or about 20 feet away the first four days. Then I took a test (negative) and we inched closer. I just pretended like we ate at one of those big royal banquet tables. 

On the final day of my departure, we finally embraced. If none of us don't get sick by the end of this week, the trip will be deemed a success. And if we do, then it will all depend on how sick. I have high hopes things will turn out fine. 

Flying during a pandemic was fine. In retrospect, I wish I flew even more during the pandemic given the smaller crowds and cheaper airline tickets. I could have even flown first class for cheap.

What It's Like To Fly During A Pandemic: Safety, Security Lines, Timeliness

Investment Implications For 2023+

I consider myself someone with relatively a lot of patience and endurance. I'm also probably more conservative than most because I have two young children. But two years of not seeing my parents was my limit. 

Therefore, if I decided to “get on with things,” I think most people will in 2023 as well. Frankly, many people probably already have, as evidenced by many of my softball buddies flying everywhere this year. 

I think the S&P 500 will eek out a gain in 2023. However, I'm much more bullish on real estate in 2023, even despite the higher mortgage rates.

I think most of us are going to spend like there's no tomorrow in 2023. We've got the investment gains to do so. Further, for many with jobs, we've got the pay raises to boot. 

Best Asset Class To Make Money

To take advantage of increased economic activity, I'd invest in real estate. With real estate, you can make money and sleep well at night. I think rents and property prices are going to continue going up in 2022 and beyond.

As a result, I'm holding onto all my physical real estate. Further, I'm actively investing in real estate crowdfunding in lower-cost areas of the country. So far, I've invested $810,000 in 18 real estate crowdfunded projects. I plan to invest at least $200,000 more in the next 12 months.

My favorite platforms are:

CrowdStreet: A way for accredited investors to invest in individual real estate opportunities mostly in 18-hour cities. 18-hour cities are secondary cities with lower valuations, higher rental yields, and potentially higher growth due to job growth and demographic trends. If you have a lot more capital, you can build you own diversified real estate portfolio. 

Fundrise: A way for accredited and non-accredited investors to diversify into real estate through private eFunds. Fundrise has been around since 2012 and has consistently generated steady returns, no matter what the stock market is doing. For most people, investing in a diversified eREIT is the easiest way to gain real estate exposure. 

I'll also be holding onto all my stocks, which account for about 30% of my net worth. I think the S&P 500 will close up between 5% – 8% in 2022. There will be volatility, but that's what my real estate holdings are for.