• Ellen Saksen

Up In The Air, Again: It's Good To Be Back

After nearly a decade of living much of my professional life on the road, the pandemic brought that life to a screeching halt. My corporation’s travel policy, along with concern for my health and safety -- and that of my loved ones -- kept me out of the sky for 10 months. But then, as with many in my circle of professional and personal friends, something happened during the last few weeks.

Maybe it was the fragile sense of hope inspired by the presidential inauguration. Or the days becoming incrementally longer, allowing more light into the world. Or the Covid-19 vaccine now in distribution. . Or all of that, or maybe something else. Whatever it was, a small window in my life of relative confinement opened a crack.

I decided to get on a plane again.

And so I did. And I survived.

More than that, I thrived. Yes, the virus continues to take a tragic toll. Nevertheless, once I realized this wasn’t the apocalypse, I found an odd comfort in the quiet of the airport on a Friday afternoon, a time usually bustling with commuters eager to get home, families heading to weekend getaways and long-distance lovers barely containing their excitement to be reunited.

On the other hand, there was activity I found reassuring. The conversion of the A-Terminal massage spa into a rapid test site (a not-so-subtle reminder of where we still are) was offset by some of the vendors that remain open. The specialty macaron popup was still staffed and hawking pricey (yet tasty) French pastries. I took incredible solace in this. My airport was a microcosm of the world right now and here I was, walking through it, playing my role as an early adopter of life on the road, post-pandemic.

As I stood in the boarding area, all of us standing six or more feet apart (made easier by floor stickers and cautionary messages everywhere), I felt proud of myself for acknowledging but not acquiescing to the concerns of family and friends who thought I must be crazy to travel, especially as new variants of the virus were popping up.

I know myself, and I was ready to accept a certain amount of risk for the return of getting back to something so critical to my existence. It starts with limiting the risk. I listened to Dr. Fauci and double-masked up. I carried my hand sanitizer and wipes and kept as far as possible from others. United Airlines made it easier, too. Flights boarded from back to front and deplaned one row at a time. We got wipes along with our snacks and bottled water. The plane was about two-thirds full. The flight attendants were respectful and cheery and also resolute, reminding us of the safety measures. They must have felt somewhat reassured by President Biden’s recent mask mandate. So was I. All the passengers were respectful, and there was no socializing.

At takeoff I looked out the window, rapt like a child flying for the first time. I was so grateful to be in transit again. At cruising altitude I noticed how “normal” I felt, double-masks and all. And then it hit me. This is the new normal. And it already felt normal after one go. I evaluated my own risk-tolerance, acted, and made it to the other side intact and virus-free.

We road warriors are getting back on the road, slowly but steadily. We’re digging out our Briggs & Riley roller bags and Rothy’s slip-ons and compression socks. We’re buying better masks and dipping our toes back in. The business travel industry is waiting to welcome us, again. And it’s up to us to tell them when they nailed it and when they miss the mark when it comes to safety precautions for the new normal.

For years, we women on the road have been making business travel work in ways that often veer from the standard protocols. For me, traveling during these difficult times felt not-so-different. Women adjust all the time. This is simply another adjustment, safety always coming first.

I recognize that we deal differently with risk, and I am but one woman business traveler. But here’s the thing: I made it. Roundtrip. And I will head out again the next chance I get, eyes wide open, appreciating the companies and individuals who are doing their best to keep us safe and the industry moving toward recovery.

Get out there and Go Jane, Go.

(Ellen flew between PIT and IAH)

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