DENVER (CBS4)– Airlines are desperate to get passengers back into skies. Travel has plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic. Flying these days is a different experience. CBS4’s Rick Sallinger needed to take a flight to St. Louis on family business and this is his experience on his journey:

My trip started in a nearly empty Pikes Peak parking lot at Denver International Airport. No need to circle around looking for spaces. The bus carried just two other mask wearing passengers and myself to the terminal. DIA soon after that announced it would be closing the shuttle lots. I am worried about those friendly, helpful drivers.

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Even before I had reached the airport, there were electric signs informing people that face coverings are required. That is an order. Everyone must wear a mask.

Upon arrival, I went to the information counter to ask the attendant the obvious question, “Why aren’t you wearing a mask?” He quickly and sheepishly put one on.

At security, passengers had their masks and were spaced evenly six feet between lines. But when I presented my driver’s license and boarding pass, the TSA agent asked me to remove my mask. He wanted to see if that was indeed my face on the ID. It certainly was.

I then boarded what seemed like a ghost train to the C concourse. Normally squeezing between pole-hanging passengers, this time I had a car all to myself.

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Reaching the Southwest gate for my flight to St. Louis, people were spread out in the waiting area. It wasn’t difficult though to find a lot of passengers who weren’t covering their faces. A DIA spokesperson told me that they are trying to “encourage” people to wear masks.

The airport is also working to be able to sell masks for those who don’t have one. A statement from DIA indicated if people do not comply with the order they could face a fine up to $999 and additional civil penalties.

The Southwest gate agents were protected behind clear shields and wore masks. Boarding for the flight was done 10 at a time to avoid crowding on the ramp to the plane.

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I asked the flight attendant who greeted me, “Hi, full flight today?” She replied, “No take any seat available.”

It looked like my plane was about one-third filled. As usual with Southwest, I had set a reminder on my phone to alert me when to check in exactly 24 hours in advance so I could get a good seat. I got A31, but as it turned out I decided it would be better to try to be the last one to board so I could see where everyone else was sitting. I opted for as far back as possible. I figured if anyone was going to cough or sneeze I would be more strategically seated in the rear.

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After sitting in a row all to myself, I immediately soaked my arm rest and tray table with
A sanitizing wipe. If someone was seated next to me I might have been tempted to wipe down him or her, too.

We taxied past a group of lonely looking planes parked on the tarmac with nowhere to go.

Leaving DIA behind, I sat back wearing my mask, glasses and then relaxed to read the paper. The headline on the New York Times wasn’t very comforting though, “U.S. Unemployment Worst Since Depression.” OK, where’s the comics?

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An hour-and-a-half later I spotted the famous arch through the window, we arrived in St. Louis.

Before reaching the gate a flight attendant practically begged passengers over the loudspeaker, “Please, please, please, social distance.”

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While the bags were unloaded, you guessed it, everyone seemed to forget what the flight attendant had just said and crowded to the front of the aircraft to disembark. Well, at least they still had their masks on and at least I was in St. Louis.

Rick Sallinger