There's no doubt that the biggest adjustment we have made to our lives in these Days of Wine and Covid has been cutting out air travel. We've been together now over 12 years, and in the first ten of those years we must have been on more than 80 different flights to various destinations. In the past two years, none at all.

That is, until we arranged to fly out to Billings, Montana to see some family we had not seen since the fall of 2019.

We made the reservations back in June, when infection rates and deaths were going down, and the number of those vaccinated was going up. But as summer wore on and the delta variant picked up speed, we started to worry. It didn't help that the GOP decided to turn a public health issue into a political statement, and talking heads on TV still continue to try and convince people they have a Constitutional Right to spread an infectious disease.

We ordered a box of N95 masks for the airplanes, and consoled ourselves with the fact that both the Knoxville and Billings airports are small (only 8 gates here, 5 gates in Billings) so we would not be facing large crowds.

Of course we would be changing planes in Minneapolis on the way out, and for some reason Salt Lake City and Atlanta on the way back, but at least our TSA checks, where you usually have the biggest crowds of people, would be in the small airports.

As the travel time approached, we were relieved to see that the airlines and airports were all mandating masks. In fact when I checked in online (with Delta, ironically enough), I found that I had to acknowledge that I understood I would not be allowed to board the plane without an approved face covering, which must be worn at all times. We also decided to carry our vaccination cards with us, just in case the rules changed while we were gone and we needed to show proof of vaccination to catch our return flights.

One of the reasons we love the Knoxville area is that we are a short Uber ride from the airport. As I made our 4:15am pickup reservation, I was pleased to see that they also require their drivers and passengers to wear masks.

So we had our carryons packed and ready to go (no checked bags - another place people congregate closely at airports is baggage claim), with extra masks in easy reach. Since the N95's are disposable, we planned on using a fresh one for each leg of the journey.

If you've never worn an N95 before, they do not attached behind the ears - at least ours didn't. The straps are at the top and bottom, and you pull them both over your head, wearing the chin strap low and the nose strap high. Not great for your hairdo, but they are more comfortable for your ears. They certainly do fit snugly, and provided great coverage.

When we arrived at the Knoxville airport, since we had no checked bags and electronic boarding passes, we could proceed directly to TSA and the gates. As we had hoped, the airport was almost deserted. We were able to get through TSA in less than five minutes, no crowd and no fuss - and no need for the "Recomposure Area".

I was amused by the "Recomposure Area" on the other side of the TSA check.

We haven't flown Delta for quite a while, so I was happy to see that our first flight (and all of the others as well) loaded quickly and right on time. The only surprise was Rita's "window seat".

Rita's window seat. Note the fashionable N95 mask.

I'm happy to report that for the most part, people were adhering to the rules and keeping their masks on during the flights. We did have one person in front of us on one plane who wore his mask, but for some reason pulled it down whenever he talked to someone - which he did frequently. This makes as much sense as wearing a condom on a date but taking it off to have sex.

It has been ten days since our return, and neither of us are showing any symptoms, so I call the trip a qualified success. It wasn't our most pleasant air journey, but it wasn't our worst either. The worst would have to be a flight from Guayaquil to Quito in Ecuador on Tame Air, when the Emergency Exit door across the aisle from us started making a whistling noise around the edges. One of the flight attendants came back, put her face near the source of the whistle, and went running to the cockpit.

Doesn't fill you with confidence.

The pilot started flying as low as he could, which wasn't very low as Quito is surrounded by mountains in the 12-14,000 foot range.

But we survived that trip, and the more recent one, so we are hoping to slowly resume our travels. While overseas destinations still seem a little too risky, we are planning to take a week in San Fransico at the end of September.

And now, your Moment of Zen - a Montana Prairie Dog.