Imagine the disappointment of having a flight canceled due to COVID-19: missing a vacation, a reunion, a work trip you were actually kind of looking forward to.
For kids like two-and-a-half-year-old Joanna “Jojo” Hoskins, who relies on chemotherapy treatments for a rare form of brain cancer called medulloblastoma, the ability to travel is literally a life-or-death situation. Every other week, Jojo and her mother use Miracle Flights to fly from Great Falls, Montana to Seattle so that the little girl can receive chemotherapy at Seattle Children’s Hospital. She had brain tumors removed last year, but still depends on chemotherapy, so staying at home is not an option.
And then there’s Asher Waff. The three-year-old from Radford, Virginia has 23 life-threatening food allergies, including a fatal airborne allergy to garlic. His family has been accessing innovative treatments in Los Angeles and has to fly there every five to six weeks for appointments. Delaying his treatments at this point would mean losing much of the progress he has made toward beating his allergies.
Despite widespread travel restrictions and the uncertainty of the airline industry these days, Jojo, Asher, and many other kids like them benefit from the services of Miracle Flights, an organization which provides free flights to adults and children in need of medical care not available where they live. While insurance may cover a portion of medical expenses, it doesn’t take into account the cost of travel to receive the medical care patients need. Miracle Flights allows patients to fly with up to two parents, guardians, or caregivers and works with all commercial airlines in the country. The organization provides 600-700 free flights per month and has racked up over 75 million miles since 1985, and is especially important to these families right now.
When asked about the impact COVID-19 is having on folks who are part of the Miracle Flights family, CEO Mark Brown told Scary Mommy via email, “For 35 years, Miracle Flights has been committed to advocating for families in medical crisis and working with our airline partners to accommodate their needs. That’s especially true now.”
Brown notes their flight specialists are advocates for the families they help and work with airlines to make special accommodations. Families are allowed to board early and request that all seats and arm rests are wiped down. Direct flights are booked. And since most flights are not crowded, families are able to maintain the rules of social distancing.
Asher, Jojo, and many patients flying in the midst of a pandemic are doing so at a risk — but the risk of not receiving treatment is one they can’t take. Even so, Jojo’s mom, Meghan, continues to worry every time she boards a flight with her immunocompromised daughter.
Flying out of boredom, to see a loved one just because you miss them, or to take advantage of a great deal just feels like selfish and gross excuses to hop on a flight right now, but that doesn’t stop some people from taking to the skies for nonessential reasons. Though The Centers for Disease Control provides travel guidelines and informs folks about the risk of traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic, the website is clear that CDC does not issue restrictions for travel within the United States borders.
When it comes to air travel, CDC has offered guidance for best practices when dealing with potentially sick passengers, cabin crew exposure, and provides clear and detailed cleaning instructions. However, the Federal Aviation Administration does not require airlines to follow these guidelines; rather, they “recommend and expect” that airlines are using the recently published Safety Alert for Operators that do use CDC suggestions.
After a number of airline worker coronavirus related deaths, the Los Angeles Times reported that pilot and flight attendant unions have criticized airlines for not informing crew members of COVID-19 exposure. The Association of Flight Attendants has called for the grounding of all non-essential travel, for very good reason — especially the safety of medically vulnerable kids like Jojo and Asher.
The majority of us have the luxury of not taking our kids anywhere right now. We all know the risks of going, well, practically anywhere in public these days, and it’s clear that most of us are nervous about the risks of getting on a plane, even when we can. Delta Airlines reported to USA Today that bookings are still staggeringly low: passenger counts are off by 95%. As of late April, it was boarding around 30,000 passengers per day compared to 550,000 a year ago, even though the airline is based out of Georgia, which is taking some of the most aggressive steps to repeal restrictions and reopen its economy.
And that’s good news. Because when folks abandon caution out of selfish ignorance or entitlement, that jeopardizes the essential workers and travelers who are flying to offer medical care, supplies, and other essential gear to those on the front lines — and the fragile patients who don’t have a choice. Travelers with severely compromised immune systems and diseases would much rather be at home than flying to their next medically-necessary appointment.
I want to travel again too. I want to see my partner who lives 1,400 miles away. I want to attend events and take vacations. But right now, I am thinking of those who don’t have the option to shelter in place. When we are out of the thick of the pandemic I want to look back and know I did what was best for me and my family, but also what was best for others.
And right now, the only people who should be in the skies are the heroes flying to help on the frontlines — and people like Jojo and Asher, their families, and the airline personnel working to get them to the critical appointments they didn’t have a choice in making.