Frequent fliers quickly became frequent hand-washers. And despite everything, some are still wiping down their tray tables and flying on.

International travel bans are in effect and warnings against nonessential travel are in place. Companies have issued edicts to scrap trips, and cancellations of just about any and every event and meeting have left little travel going on. Airlines are grounding 75% of their long-haul international flying; some U.S. carriers are pulling back 20%, even 50% of their domestic flights.

The remaining flights sometimes have only a few passengers. The people still traveling are willing to take the risk because jobs include essential travel. Others don’t want to give up vacations to places they consider relatively safe from coronavirus, for now. Many are still scrambling to get home. A few are taking advantage of cheap fares to try new adventures or catch more frequent-flier credits for elite status, even if that means ignoring warnings from government officials and epidemiologists that they might not only catch a potentially deadly virus but spread it to others.

Road warriors say they’ve been through 9/11, airline bankruptcies and mergers and the financial crisis. Some have been through other epidemics like SARS.

“This may be bad, but it’s no worse or better than any other travel crisis that’s hit," says Mike Sullivan, a Dallas-based financial consultant to companies. Clients are still requesting his help, and at 35 years old, he wants to continue business-as-usual as much as he can. But on Monday night, his firm decided to ground all travel and he had to fly home Tuesday.

“In time, this will go away, and in 18 months, we’ll all be back to complaining about high fares and packed airplanes," Mr. Sullivan says.

Those still flying face potential disruption with no warning. On Saturday, Customs and Border Protection changed procedures and created enormous, elbow-to-elbow packed lines with hourslong waits, raising fears that the lines themselves created hazardous conditions for virus spread. Travelers also face airline cancellations and even shutdowns: Austrian Airlines is shutting down Wednesday night. U.S. airlines are already lobbying for a $50 billion bailout.

Some travelers worry domestic flying will be grounded with no warning. On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence said the White House was considering restrictions on domestic travel, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, the administration’s point-man on coronavirus, said, “I don’t see that right now or in the immediate future."

Along with carry-on bags, travelers are packing precautions. So many passengers used sanitizing wipes to clean seats, tray tables, arm rests and air vents on Rae Loverde’s Southwest flight from Seattle to San Jose, Calif., that flight attendants announced they were coming down the aisle to collect wipes, imploring people not to stuff them in seat-back pockets.

Ms. Loverde, who works as both an assistant for a New York literary agency and a sportswriter covering college volleyball, continued on to her home in Los Angeles and was surprised that fellow travelers were joking about cheap flights to exotic destinations.

“Coping with humor, naturally," she says.

Each of her two flights Friday had about 40 passengers. Airports broadcast public-address announcements reminding travelers to use hand sanitizer and to wash hands. People gave each other hand-washing tips in airport bathrooms—like not forgetting fingertips and getting under fingernails.

“I was expecting everything to be insane, with people freaking out and wearing hazmat suits. But no one was really concerned," she says.

Travelers say crowds have been inconsistent. Much of the time airports and airplanes are eerily empty. Other times they encounter packed flights and a mass of people frantic to get somewhere.

On Lisa Chester Schroeder’s flight from Nashville, Tenn., to Los Angeles on Thursday, one woman stood at the front of the plane and handed out wipes to fellow passengers. When they got to Los Angeles International Airport, “it looked like Christmas there were so many people. It was really odd," she says.

Ms. Schroeder, 56, says she’s healthy and not at high risk. “My husband is a little concerned, but I have not been concerned," she says.

She is taking precautions, and wishes the U.S. government had reacted more quickly and with more consistency. This week, her flying may drop considerably. Her company supplies hospitals, but in-person sales calls likely will vanish.

“I do think we need to take it seriously. It’s a concerning time. But I am going to keep on going with my life," she says.

For the few still flying, perks abound. Long-sought first-class upgrades are now easy to score for frequent fliers. Social distancing is easy to practice on most flights.

Mr. Sullivan, the consultant, was on an American flight a week ago from Chicago to Dallas and was shocked at how easily he upgraded. Usually on flights in prime business markets, from one American connecting hub to another, 70% or more of the passengers are top-level frequent fliers, and upgrades are scarce.

“Everybody’s upgrade cleared. I’ve never seen that happen before," he says.

Richard Kelly, a field engineer for a company that produces pharmaceutical manufacturing equipment, has to go when clients call. At least he’s the guy at his company who’s willing to go.

He’s loyal to United and finds most crews in good spirits, some even happy to pick up extra flights for extra income. He’s a healthy 64 years old—old enough to be considered higher risk for getting very sick by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—and says his family doesn’t worry too much.

“A bug isn’t going to slow me down. They understand that," he says.

Jim vanBergen, a freelance entertainment production manager and audio system designer, flew back home to New York on Friday, since performances have been canceled. He had two flights last week that were less than half full.

“People are not lining up and pushing as they used to. It was a lot more relaxed," he says. “There’s a lot less coughing on planes—that’s one nice thing. If anybody coughs on a plane, everyone gives them the stare of death."

Mr. vanBergen, loyal to Delta, brings his own Clorox wipes to clean his seating area. He takes time to wash hands carefully, and finds others are as well. In some airport restrooms, there’s a wait to get to a sink.

“I saw more attendants paying attention to filling soap dispensers," he says.

Family and friends have urged him to quit traveling. Even his in-laws have urged him and his wife, also in the entertainment business, to stop traveling.

“We’re going to do what we feel is best, regardless," he says.

Justin Seevers, a college student from Poulsbo, Wash., who was returning from a vacation in Hawaii last week, says empty airports have left him feeling self-conscious, and worried that all eyes will be on him if he coughs.

“There was a noticeable tension in the air at the terminal," he says. “To be honest, it’s kind of a dream come true for an introvert like me. Going out in public without having to deal with people is amazing."

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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