In this series, we check in with people using Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) for essential travel. While leisure travel has been largely put on hold during COVID-19 as we all work together to limit interactions and flatten the curve, we know some of you need to travel for work, family, emergencies, and other reasons that can’t wait. We are here for you now and whenever you are ready to return.
When Jenna Diana moved her husband, five-month-old daughter River, dog, and two ferrets from a remote island in Alaska to the other side of the continent, the pandemic that she’d seen on the news and social media became a reality.
The Dianas had been largely sheltered from the pandemic while residing on an island for the past five years. The island had no cars or stores and was home to just 10 people (31 people during peak salmon season), all of whom worked at the on-island salmon hatchery. The only COVID-related change Diana noticed in her day-to-day life was that groceries flown onto the island had to be sanitized.
All residents of the island were certified as emergency trauma technicians but for more specialized medical care, residents had to fly off the island. With a newborn, flying off the island for monthly trips for doctor’s checkups was becoming costly. At the same time, the Dianas’ North Carolina-based family encouraged them to move closer to home. So when a job opportunity suddenly popped up for Jenna’s husband in Georgia, the Dianas got ready to pack up their lives and enter the chaos of the real world.
Making the move
Coordinating the details of an already complicated move got a lot more challenging in the midst of a global pandemic.
“Most moving companies wouldn’t move us and borders through Canada were still closed so we couldn’t drive,” she said. “We had to find a way to get our entire life for the last five years to the lower 48 in the most cost-effective way without crossing borders.”
So Jenna rented a larger U-Haul, sending everything to Anchorage. While her husband finished his last two weeks of work, Jenna took off early with River and their pets.
Their company owned a warehouse in Anchorage, but when Jenna arrived, she couldn’t find anyone to help her load the U-Haul because of COVID, so she was on her own. She packed everything into the U-Haul and loaded it onto a freightliner headed for Seattle.
After her husband joined her in Anchorage, the family flew to Seattle. Her husband and brother-in-law drove the U-Haul to Georgia, while Jenna and River hopped on a plane for the rest of the journey.
“Traveling definitely made me nervous; it made me feel better that everyone had to wear masks,” she said. “On our flight to Seattle, my husband, daughter, and were I in one row, so I didn’t have to be concerned sitting next to a complete stranger. On the flight out of Seattle I had the row to myself.”
Jenna made sure to pack masks, hand sanitizer, and wet wipes. At touchpoints along the way they made sure to sanitize the best they could and they made sure not to touch anything.
“SEA Airport was definitely taking precautions,” she said. “Everyone was super helpful. I was having a hard time as I got ready for my solo flight with my baby since I knew I wasn’t going to see my husband for a week.”
Once she arrived at SEA, overhead announcements and signage reminded travelers to wear a mask, keep six feet distance from those around, and to wash their hands. Hand sanitizing stations were everywhere.
“Staff handled everything tactfully; we were as safe as you could have been,” she said.
Jenna thought she had arrived at the airport with plenty of time, but due to extra COVID precautions, the checkpoint lines were moving slowly. Thinking she was going to miss her flight, she signed up for CLEAR on the spot to expedite the security screening process.
“I told them ‘I think I’m going to miss my flight’, so they helped me as much as they could. Once I made it through security, I started running with my mask on and my baby on my hip, all the way to my terminal. As I got closer to my gate, I could hear my name being called over the intercom. I hollered to the agent at the nearest gate, and they called the gate I was flying out of to hold the plane for me.”
Once she was seated on the flight, the flight attendant provided extra water and wet wipes to wipe everything down around her.
“She turned the whole flight around for me,” she said.
As they settle into life in Georgia, COVID-19 has made social interactions and meeting new people nearly impossible.
“It’s a new place for us; I currently stay home with our daughter, and there’s no way of meeting anybody,” Jenna said. “Stores in Georgia are still open but there are no social events. This is my first baby and previously I was working 40 to 80 hours a week with my husband and close friends. Family is six hours away and I can’t join a Mommy and Me group, I can’t get coffee with anyone, I can’t get together to meet new people, and that has been difficult.”
The new normal for travel
Jenna said that prior to COVID-19, she traveled often. But around when her daughter was born in January, she started hearing stories of the virus that was starting to spread across the world.
“We had planned on coming back to North Carolina to introduce my daughter River to my family in March but we had to cancel the trip that we had planned for almost a year,” she said. “I also have three close friends who were supposed to get married this year and they weren’t able to have the wedding they wanted.”
When she was in Alaska, COVID made taking River off-island for doctor’s appointments challenging. Half of the hotels were shut down, all of the restaurants were shut down, and during one trip she had to switch hotels three different times. When Jenna and her husband took their animals to the vet, they couldn’t go in with them. They had to drop their pets off at front, remove their own leash and put on the veterinarian’s sanitized leash.
“There were a whole lot of inconveniences for the greater good,” she said. “It’s hard when you’re taking your baby to get shots and you have to go by yourself and you need your husband for moral support.”
Jenna said when restrictions lift she is looking forward to hanging out with friends worry-free and holding her godbaby she hasn't been able to meet.
“I can’t wait to have a dinner date with my husband and not have to worry about whether we are exposing ourselves and others to the virus. I’m looking forward to my daughter’s playdates with cousins. It is very isolating to live on an island but moving to a new place during a pandemic is also isolating.”