Have Vaccine, Will Travel: Flying Blind During COVID

A sun hat, tropical leaf, a miniature bus and airplane, and a passport book arranged in an organized fashion with colorful accents

My boyfriend Juan lives in Houston. I live in the suburbs of Chicago. He came to visit me last fall, and the last day we were together was September 26, 2020.

That was nearly seven months ago.

A few weeks ago, I finally booked tickets to fly out there this month for a much-needed and highly-anticipated reunion. I’m not going to lie to you: the long wait hasn’t been easy. With a feeling of uncertainty constantly looming over both of us, some days really took their toll.

When we parted ways in September, we were reasonably certain I’d be able to make it out there for my birthday and Thanksgiving. I didn’t. We also missed New Year’s, his birthday and our first Valentine’s Day together.

Phone calls, text messages, and Zoom meetings galore kept us busy and connected. It was tough, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s been worth it.

I am not the type of person to make travel plans and wing it. I like to do a lot of research beforehand. Before I took my first solo flight last year, I did a lot of research on airlines and accommodations, and asked blind and visually-impaired friends what their advice was. I posted my questions on Facebook and I did a lot of my own research on airlines and accommodations.

When planning my upcoming trip, I didn’t post any questions on social media. Instead, I talked again to blind and visually-impaired friends, and this time I also talked with former teachers who are very familiar with blind travel or have traveled themselves. Some of the questions I asked:

  • What was assistance like at the airports?
  • Was the level of assistance any different than before COVID?
  • Should I plan to arrive extra early, even earlier than I normally would?
  • Does the airline need advanced notice of my need for accommodations?

While I don’t expect things to be super different, I do expect some changes, so I logged onto the Southwest Airlines website to read about their COVID-19 travel updates. It doesn’t look like traveling is any different in terms of accommodations. Boarding might be a longer process, but typically I go for pre-boarding anyway. There are markings on the floors to indicate a 6-feet distance, but I trust that my assistant will make sure I am distanced from other people.

So, after extensive, careful research and my family and me getting fully vaccinated, it felt like the right time to travel to Houston.

Juan and I have discussed the Texas governor’s recent decision to lift all mask mandates there, and he assured me he always wears his mask. I asked him if restaurants still require masks and, if so, how he knows that (since, like me, he is totally blind and wouldn’t be able to read the signs). “I’m usually with two of my friends who can see, and they’ve told me there are signs,” he explained, assuring me that the businesses he goes to are still really good about requiring masks.

So with that extra reassurance, I finally booked my flight! I’ll be spending two weeks in Houston, somewhere I haven’t been since early 2020. I’m excited to see some of my friends that I met last year, and welcome that sense of freedom that always sticks with me after traveling somewhere on my own.

Look for another post about travel from Ali when she returns from Houston in May and can report in on their adventures together there.


 

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