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WFAE's Social Distancing series looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, work, learn and connect with each other. The series is hosted by reporter Sarah Delia.

Social Distancing: A Flight Attendant Asks That You Mind Your Manners And Your Mask

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Kristen Bandoo can recite from memory the instructions she’s given on countless flights over the last eight years she’s been a flight attendant. The 31-year-old asked that we not name the airline she works for.

That list got longer to include information on masks — not the kind that pop down to provide oxygen in case of emergencies, but the kind of mask that has been scientifically proven to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

But not everyone is keen to wear them on flights.

"People still have a problem with following the rules but I don’t really understand why," she said. "You’re in an enclosed space you should want to be wearing a mask."

She’ll ask someone over and over to "please put their mask on" and tries to avoid confrontation. If someone doesn’t comply after several attempts, she could write them up. She doesn’t like to, she says, but consequences do help enforce the rules.

Keeping a mask on during a flight is for one simple reason: "It’s to protect you and everyone around you."

She says passengers are often upset and surprised to be boarding a full plane.

"You’re on an airplane — how much social distancing can you really do? And they’ll get mad cause the middle seat isn’t open or the plane is 100% full. Even if there was a middle seat open, that’s still not six feet apart," she said. "If you are really worried about COVID and catching COVID, maybe you shouldn’t be flying on an airplane going to Cancun and you should drive to wherever you need to go."

Tensions are high. On a recent flight shortly before takeoff, a passenger approached Bandoo with urgency — he needed to get off the plane immediately.

"I said, ‘OK is there anything wrong? What’s going on?’" she recalled. "And he said, 'Well, the guy next to me is coughing and the lady behind me doesn’t have her mask on and I just don't feel comfortable.'"

She points out the man hadn’t approached any of the flight attendants for help up until this point when he asked to be let off the plane.

"I was like, 'OK, sir. I’m really sorry about that. You are more than welcome to get off.' And that’s what he did and he never got back on," she said. "And this was the day before Thanksgiving, so I’m sure he was probably going to go see family or maybe even going home, I don’t know. Maybe he chose to drive."

She says there’s few people traveling for business these days. Right now with people working form home, they are either flying because of an emergency or the opposite — flying somewhere for fun.

"Flights to Orlando are always full," she said. "Full of families, full of kids, because they are going to Disney World. That has not changed."

Perhaps the most challenging encounters have been with passengers who treat the pandemic as a personal inconvenience. She recalls a recent flight when a woman in first class demanded a blanket. Bandoo explained they had stopped giving out pillows and blankets due to the pandemic.

"'So you mean to tell me I can’t get a blanket at all?'" the woman said to her. "I said, 'Well, ma’am, no. I personally don’t even have a blanket.' And she was kind of yelling at me at this point. It’s an early flight people are sleeping. She was about to throw a temper tantrum and she was like, ‘Yeah COVID, COVID COVID — because that’s all that matters.’ And I kind of got upset because you know, I did have COVID."

Both Bandoo and her fiancé tested positive for COVID-19 back in late September. Both have recovered.

'I didn’t get upset with her, like you know, talking crazy to her, but I told her, 'Yeah, that is what matters,'" she said.

Bandoo doesn’t know where she picked up the virus. It could have been from work she says, or from her fiancé, who is a chef. For Bandoo, the scariest part of having COVID-19 wasn’t how she felt physically — but the fact that she doesn’t know how long she was carrying the virus.

"After having it and then being back out in public you notice it more. Like, 'Wow, people don’t have masks on. They really don’t understand the severity of it.' Because I didn’t have symptoms," she said. "I had a headache. I didn’t have a temperature, I didn't have a cough."

She decided to get tested when her headache wouldn't go away. Had she not taken it upon herself to get tested, she says, she would have never guessed she had it. The same goes for her fiancé.

It’s a question that comes up frequently when flight attendants are chatting with one another: Have you had it? It’s personal information she doesn’t readily volunteer. It’s a little strange to be talking about it on a plane full of people, she pointed out.

"It shouldn’t be a secret because, like, it’s real; it’s out here," she said. "But I don’t want anyone to treat me any different because I had it."

But if she hears someone downplaying the seriousness of COVID-19, she jumps in and shares her story.

"Nobody is exempt from getting COVID," Bandoo said. "It doesn’t just pick and choose who it wants to live inside of."

Her work and her personal health have not only been impacted by the virus — but so has her life plans. Her wedding was supposed to be on Aug. 1.

"We postponed our wedding because we wanted our grandparents there," she said. "At the cost of what, though? It would be selfish to have a wedding and then they come and then somebody there may have it because they weren’t being careful. But, see, I shouldn’t think like that because I think I was as careful as I could be before I got it."

Their new wedding date is March 27. But she's isn’t getting her hopes up.

"If everything shuts down again we’re just going to get married," she said. "Forget the wedding. I guess, take a loss on all the money we’re already spent. Of course I’ve dreamed of having a wedding my whole life. This is something most girls think about. But if it does shut down again, I’m not dragging this on any longer."

Everyone is battling one form of turbulence or another. But life even during a pandemic, inches forward, even if there are delays.

And she doesn’t want to wait any longer for her plans to take off.

How has your life changed since the coronavirus outbreak? Are you interacting with people differently? Are you able to visit loved ones? Are you delaying major life events like a wedding? Share your stories by leaving us a voicemail at 704-916-9114.

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What questions do you have about the coronavirus? What has this experience been like for you? Share your questions below.

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