I normally travel a lot and not doing so has certainly left life with a little less color, so when the opportunity arose to travel cheaply to wine country with my mom, we leapt at the opportunity. While the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still being felt, many states have begun to loosen restrictions on travel - Sonoma County in California just recently began reopening for leisure travel days before we departed. We both felt rather comfortable with the idea of flying, particularly on Southwest where the focus certainly appears to be on passenger safety versus the experience on American and United where social distancing is no longer in place. We still, however, were not sold on spending our time in an urban area - so a socially distant wine country visit it would be!
We booked our stay at the Hyatt Regency Sonoma - Wine Country, found a great rate with National Car Rental and scored some cheap award flights with Southwest Airlines - we were on our way to enjoying virtually empty wineries and spending time in the great outdoors of Northern California!
UPDATE - JULY 20TH, 2020: We've also updated this piece to reflect a visit taken to Colorado Springs, Colorado which includes updates on the rental car front, and the addition of the airbnb experience during COVID-19. You can find these updates in Italics in the article below.
At the Airport
Our journey begins at Chicago Midway International Airport, where traffic was much higher than expected - I’ve since learned from a friend at Southwest that Midway is currently their busiest station. On the landside, social distancing is in place at the check in desk and plexiglass shields have been installed at every employee station. Over at TSA, the same is true. You now must place your own boarding pass on the scanner, which was always the case for mobile ones, and once received, an agent reviews your ID as normal and asks you to quickly remove your mask for verification.
With the exceptions of the requirement to wear masks and the lack of open businesses in the airport, it felt surprisingly normal - in fact, the amount of crowding and lack of social distancing, despite clear markings, was a bit alarming at times. I was also shocked by the lack of hand sanitizing locations in Midway.
Once we arrived in San Francisco, deplaning happened just the same as it normally would, although with a bit less cramming and urgency, and we were soon out into a terminal that felt like a complete ghost town. Back at Oakland, the experience on the ground was nearly identical to that of Midway, but with many more concessions and shopping options in operation. Upon arrival back to Chicago-Midway, social distancing was also in place at the Baggage Claim, although it was non-existent out on the curbside.