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A quick trip from Anchorage to Seattle provides a firsthand look at the shifting travel landscape

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: February 5
  • Published January 30

The Space Needle is seen through the pillars of a public art display, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Last week, for just a minute, I stood at the foot of our bed and scratched my head.

“Honey, I don’t even remember how to pack,” I whined to my wife.

Christy chuckled. But aside from a quick joyride out to King Salmon in October, it had been 11 months since I’d boarded an aircraft.

For a quick trip to Seattle, I started with the basics: a raincoat and underwear. Socks, laptop and charger cords. But there were some new additions: several N95 masks, which are more robust than your garden variety cloth mask. In fact, Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s top infectious disease experts, now is recommending wearing two masks at once. That cautionary note is due in part to the new coronavirus variants, which are more contagious.

When I got to the airport, everybody was masked up — and there were hand sanitizer stations everywhere. The TSA was still the TSA. I feel sorry for the front-line greeters since they still want you to pull down your mask when checking your ID. Try not to breathe on them.

There’s a big banner outside Alaska Airlines’ lounge, urging you to come up and relax with a cup of coffee or a beer. The lounge is once again open to Priority Pass members, which many travelers have through their high-end credit cards, including Chase’s Sapphire Reserve card. I have a favorite perch at a window seat so I can look out at all the planes.

When planning this trip, I scooped up an $84 Anchorage-Seattle ticket on Alaska Airlines, hoping they would keep the middle seats open. Right now, Alaska blocks out the middle seats for those seated in premium class, but not in the main cabin. As it turned out, I had a whole row to myself.

On arrival in Seattle, I made a quick exit to the curb, where my sister picked me up. Since we’re not in the same “bubble,” I sat in the back seat and we rode downtown with the windows open — all masked up.

Travelers pick up luggage where signs remind them, with classic Pacific Northwest icons showing the size of two Chinook salmon, to stay six feet apart at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Monday, May 18, 2020, in SeaTac, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The weather in Seattle was beautiful, so we set out on a walk to the waterfront. The big difference right now is there is no viaduct. The Alaskan Way Viaduct — the elevated waterfront freeway — is gone. It’s been replaced by a tunnel. Now the view from Pike Place Market is spectacular. After hiking down to the water, we saw that the “Great Wheel” Ferris wheel was running, so we went for a ride.

This was not the time for indoor shopping, so we were thankful it wasn’t raining. We stopped short of my other favorite Seattle hike, the outdoor Olympic Sculpture Park. The nine-acre park, filled with monumental sculptures, is run by the Seattle Art Museum. There’s a great path to follow from the entrance over the railroad tracks and down to the beach. The views are spectacular. I’ve seen sea lions playing on the beach. Don’t miss it.

Many businesses and restaurants are closed due to the pandemic. Others still are boarded up following last year’s protests on nearby Capitol Hill.

We called ahead to make sure celebrity chef Tom Douglas’ pizza place was open. Serious Pie is a local favorite with some tasty choices. My favorite is the sweet fennel sausage pizza with provolone cheese and roasted peppers.

There’s no indoor seating due to COVID-19 restrictions, but Maggie, the hostess, served us on small sidewalk tables with a couple of fire pits on either side. It was 38 degrees, with a little breeze. We toasted our good fortune with plastic wine glasses before beginning the long march up the hill to our hotel.

My doctor here in Anchorage sent me for a procedure at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle. So I was out of it for most of the following day.

But I knew that I’d have to fill out my traveler’s declaration form before returning to Alaska. There’s no screening when you arrive in Seattle unless you’re coming in on an international flight. Only Alaska and Hawaii have screeners to meet you at the airport.

The state of Alaska has a special website set up to walk you through the travel declaration. This includes instructions and recommendations for getting tested prior to arrival. Whether you’re a resident or not, you still have to get tested. Residents can get a test at the airport on arrival for free while visitors have to pay $250.

Alternatively, there are some mail-in tests that you can order in advance before you return home. The state’s website also has a map tool that shows where to get a test locally.

The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is busy. It’s not as busy as it usually is, but it’s still busy. Everybody was masked up, but it is a little more difficult to keep your 6-foot distance. I guess that was a warm-up for the plane ride back home.

Two other plus-size travelers joined me in the exit row for the flight back to Anchorage. It was cozy. Mask protocols are OK, but everyone takes off their masks to eat and drink … so there’s that. The vents worked pretty well, though.

On arrival in Anchorage, there are clear directions for out-of-state arrivals to check in with the screeners. There was virtually no wait, and they had about 15 screening stations set up near the Starbucks location on the C concourse.

My screener was able to look up my travel declaration by my cellphone number. Since I was gone for less than 72 hours, I didn’t have to get a COVID-19 test. In fact, I had just gotten a negative test in advance of my appointment at Virginia Mason.

When I went down to grab my checked bag, I saw some folks who were on my flight lining up to get tested. It wasn’t crowded and it seemed like folks were getting tested quickly.

Later, I sat in on a Zoom call with Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer. She and her team were briefing the Alaska Travel Industry Association on prospects for the summer travel season. Zink mentioned Alaska now is the most-vaccinated state per capita, although there are still lots of folks who need their shots.

“I had a patient who just complained, ‘I’m so DONE with COVID,’ ” she said.

“Oh,” Zink said she replied, “I’m done too. Unfortunately, though, COVID is not done with us.”

Even as more Alaskans get vaccinated, the state’s team reminded us that mask protocols, hand hygiene and social distancing recommendations will be with us for a while.

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