What a Cross-Country Client Visit is Like During a Pandemic

For LJB’s Mark Bourquin, who is an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) pilot and technical specialist, trekking across the country to visit client sites is typical. But his recent trip from Dayton, Ohio, to a client site near Portland, Oregon, was definitely not typical. After all, we’re in a pandemic.

Though LJB’s work is deemed essential under the Ohio governor’s stay-at-home order, Mark has only performed drone work at client sites within driving distance of LJB’s corporate office in Dayton. But a Portland-area client needed his expertise as part of a fall hazard risk assessment contract that was about to expire.

Before packing his bags, he worked closely with LJB safety director, Dawn Colombi, to review recommended and required safety precautions. They agreed Mark could meet the client’s needs with minimal risk to himself or anyone else. The trip was on.

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With airlines only flying to major hubs, Mark’s flight options were limited. From the Dayton airport, he flew to Detroit, then to Salt Lake City, then to Seattle, and finally to Portland.

“Air travel is the most bizarre thing ever right now,” he said. “There were four people on my first flight, and about six on my second.” There was no food or beverage service, but he could get bottled water and a plastic bag of cheese crackers by request.

Airports were nearly empty, and stores were closed. “The only thing open was McDonald’s,” Mark said.

And the cleaning crews were everywhere.

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“At every terminal, airline reps announced that we needed to wait for cleaning crews to finish before we could board,” Mark said. “Planes are probably the cleanest they’ve ever been.”

With so few passengers, flights boarded in about five minutes. And, once he reached his destination, Mark said, “Rental car garages were all full, so car choices were wide open.”

Since only a few employees were at the client location, Mark was able to complete his work with minimal interaction, other than socially distanced conversations with his on-site contact. The data he gathered has since been passed on to LJB’s Health, Safety and Environment group to help assess and evaluate fall hazards at the client location. Mission accomplished.

“It was an odd experience, but I didn’t feel vulnerable at any point,” Mark said. “I spoke to maybe 10 people face-to-face during the whole trip—properly distanced, of course.”

A few days into what was supposed to be a Sunday-to-Wednesday trip, his return flight kept getting delayed. Turns out, the Portland-to-Seattle leg was canceling because there weren’t enough people booked. After five cancellations, Mark made other arrangements.

He stayed an extra day—a very quiet extra day, since parks, restaurants and any other places he would have visited under normal circumstances were closed.

In the wee hours of Thursday morning, Mark drove from Portland to Seattle to catch a 5 a.m. flight to Detroit. The plane was nearly deserted, so he asked an attendant if he could switch seats. She replied, “Honey, there are seven people on this airplane. You can sit wherever you want.”

He enjoyed the rest of the flight in first class.

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