October 05, 2020

This road warrior has flown Delta throughout the pandemic. Here’s what it’s been like

Wade McKinney is a man on a mission. Each year, he logs more than 100,000 air miles crisscrossing the U.S. as head of BioLife operations for Takeda Pharmaceutical. This year, his mission took on even more importance: He has flown nearly every week — even during the pandemic — as part of Takeda’s work with the world’s leading plasma companies on a virus-fighting antibody treatment for patients battling COVID-19.

Delta’s Kristen Shovlin, Vice President — Sales Operations & Development, sat down with McKinney recently to discuss his work and his flying experiences.

Kristen Shovlin: You’re clearly a road warrior. Tell us about your job and what keeps you on the move.

Wade McKinney: I’m responsible for ensuring that all of Takeda’s U.S. facilities are operating and are maintained properly — including making sure that we have our main critical product, plasma, safely stored for life-saving treatments. That includes 31 U.S. plasma centers, which have taken on critically new importance during COVID.

Shovlin: How much time do you spend on the road?

McKinney: My team is constantly on the road. Between coordinating all the processes to maintain a facility, I personally am traveling two to three weeks out of every month.

Shovlin: Did your travel schedule change in March, like that of so many others?

McKinney: I’m on the same schedule I was before the pandemic. We have so many new facilities starting up and needing our support. Our patients needed us, and we needed healthy donors to help those suffering to stay alive. So, shutting down wasn’t an option.

Shovlin: Tell us about your first flight in the COVID era.

McKinney: It was in mid-March in Atlanta. When I got out of my Uber, it was only me and a police car in front of the airport. I walked through the front door, and it looked like the zombie apocalypse. Everything was shifted to one area, and I was one of only six people in line — it was crazy. When I got on the plane, I think there were nine of us in total. Social distancing was not a concern — it’s like we were all in first class.

Shovlin: Were you concerned about flying?

McKinney: I didn’t really have many concerns. Delta very early on started loading from the back to the front, which made distancing easier — and everybody did a great job on this. Then, Delta went a step further — which was impressive, as it wasn’t a requirement from the CDC — by replacing HEPA filters more frequently than most industry experts recommend. That gave me an ever greater sense of comfort. As a veteran of the U.S. Army, with a background in aviation, I felt good about flying even in the early days of COVID. And, as a business leader, I spoke candidly about flying and tried to reassure the people around me what was happening to keep people safe.

Shovlin: Now that it’s been more than six months of flying during COVID, what has impressed you most?

McKinney: Delta has never stood still. It’s been a story about progress through a series of innovations. They started with the back-to-front boarding, which was a great idea. And then they moved to a focus on spacing out the seating — which has been a huge comfort for everyone on board. Added to that has been mandatory mask requirements and all the partnerships to keep every step of travel clean and safe. All of this has added up, and it’s really made a difference. People appreciate it — I know I do.

Shovlin: What would you say to anyone who is uncomfortable flying today?

McKinney: I work in the medical industry, so I look first at the facts and the science. Delta has implemented more than 100 CDC-recommended initiatives for safety at every stage of travel. CDC science shows face masks protect the wearer and others from COVID-19, which is why Delta has mandated that every traveler wear one. Delta is continuing to increase space for customers on all aircrafts to promote social distancing, which health experts agree is effective in stopping the spread of viruses. The CDC says most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on board. Delta has been out front and communicating every one of these steps and I have absolutely no concern about getting on board, and I would put my own team and my own family on a flight today without any hesitation.