On Sunday, March 15, the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport felt unsettlingly empty as the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic limited travel.
The recommended arrival of two hours before takeoff was almost laughable as the lines for check-in and security were vacant. Full staff was still available and offering assistance to the few people who were there, but people kept their encounters at a minimum. Gloves and masks were worn by a majority of staff and travelers.
Empty chairs and cleared walkways created an eerie atmosphere to the usually crowded DTW airport. Even food centers were empty as employees sat around waiting for customers to come.
Jessica, who asked to keep her last name anonymous, has been working at DTW for three years and is a single mother to two children. She spoke of how the Coronavirus pandemic is taking a hit on airport dining.
“It hasn’t necessarily affected me down on this end [of the airport] as it has for some of my coworkers. For example, further down in this terminal they service people from Korea and China, so the international travel workers have been more affected,” Jessica said.
I think people are still traveling, they're just trying to keep it at a minimum. It seems to me that business people are figuring out how to work from home,” Jessica said.
With fears of working at an airport during a pandemic, she has taken as many vacation days this last week as she could. Now, she says her company is talking about voluntary layoffs and how she wishes she too could go that route as some of her coupled coworkers, that have two incomes, can take. Jessica wishes she could self quarantine with her son, who was released from school and is old enough to stay home alone. She instead had to work a 15 hour shift this given Sunday.
Walking from gate to gate in the Delta terminal, people avoided eye contact as much as possible. Fear was a common theme among scattered individuals. In some cases, people would even back away if they thought another person came too close in their surroundings. Little communication took place. The only sounds to be heard were those of airport televisions broadcasting Coronavirus news updates.
Pilots gathered in groups and contributed in uneasy looking conversations. Though no pilots could volunteer an official statement, as they must speak through their union, they looked concerned. One spoke of there being fewer travelers.
Most planes were quite empty and had staggered seats, so no two passengers sat to close to another other.
Kiki H., a traveler arriving to DTW via Paris, explained that the major change she saw in airport etiquette was the amount of panic that seemed to be running through people's minds. She herself was not nervous as she is practicing social distancing given by the Center for Disease Control guidelines.
Reflecting on her luck, Kiki H. spoke of her time in Paris, during this pandemic.
“I did not have to change any of my flights. I live part of the time in Paris and part of the time in the United States. . . People there were freaking out, mostly because the bars were closing and that is heinous for the French. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened here, but I don’t think it would be as big of a cultural shock.”
However, extra safeguards were taken as she returned to the United States.
“Today, there had to be extra tests for everyone coming back from Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt. It wasn't that bad, we had to fill out a form on the plane. Then, we came out and went through customs. After that, we went through another line to confirm our forms. They took our temperature and they gave us temperature packets, so we have to record our temperatures for the next two weeks and the CDC are going to check in with us. Then we went through another set of customs and security. They had a separate room for people with a temperature above 104 degrees (Fahrenheit). I would imagine that they have to quarantine them here or they have to to [take a] swab test [of such a passenger] ,” Kiki said.
No clear answer on what would happen to those with a fever, nor was the number of individuals with a fever given by airport staff.
Uncertainty and panic displayed in everyone, but they were just reminded to wash their hands and maintain a distance.
“Everybody should be thinking about precautions to take. It isn’t just precautions for me, it is precautions for other people, think of the elderly. Some people's resources are a little more limited. People need to be aware of everyone and not just themselves” Jessica said.