Flying in the COVID-19 era – What you should consider before going on your next trip
While air travel is slowly starting again it has changed with respect to the time pre COVID-19. Certain things that experienced travellers took for granted and relied upon have changed. In this blog post we discuss the most important changes that might surprise you on your next trip.
Planning your trip
Check the local lockdown state
Openforbusiness provides a map, that ranks travel restrictions on a scale from 0 (free movement) to 100 (complete lockdown) and provides an overview showing what is allowed and what is not. It is particularly useful if you want to travel between multiple countries and need to understand what is currently feasible. It also helps if you want to choose between different destinations. Once you selected a particular destination you should check an official website for the particular region since this service cannot be held liable in case of wrong information. We did check ten destinations in the end of July 2020 and have found no errors, but as things change rapidly that might change with time.
Check potential travel restrictions
Travel restrictions are trickier to obtain, because they depend not only on the country or region you are going to but also on your nationality and origin of travel. The only comprehensive information we found is from official sites of the destination country. This information might be changing quickly and can change on short notice. Therefore, it is worth waiting with booking as long as possible or choose a flexible ticket. Many airlines offer more flexible cancellation or rebooking options now. Note, some airlines do not directly refund but will give a voucher to you or you can only directly rebook. Further, also check the details of the cancellation/rebooking policy since the process for some airlines takes quite a bit of effort and certain official documents (like a doctors certificate, evidence of particular covid-thread level in the country you are going to, …).
Getting to the airport
Due to the reduced passenger numbers, certain airports have closed terminals and the regular terminal for an airline might have changed. So, don’t rely on your past experience and double check which terminal you depart from.
If you plan on driving to the airport, check whether long term parking lots are open and whether shuttle buses between the airport and the long-term parking places are operating. Due to the decreased demand some airports have closed some of these services.
Public Transport and Airport Transfer:
Public transport connections to some airports operate in a reduced mode with increased intervals and the first and last service might have changed as well. Check directly with the operator since in some cases the information on the airport web page has not been updated.
At the airport
The general rule is that you have to put on a mask when you enter the departure airport and can take off the mask when you leave the arrival airport. In between you have to wear it throughout the entire flight and are only allowed to take it off to drink and eat. The masks always have to cover your nose and mouth.
Social distancing and Queuing
Most airports have markers on the floor to ensure sufficient distance between travellers. This leads to longer queues. In order to ensure a sufficient distance many airports disallow the use of certain seats such that it is not always possible to find a seat close to your gate. Currently this is not a big concern since there are fewer travellers but once air travel picks up again it is expected to result in more time required to navigate around the queues on the airports. In general, it is advised to plan in longer time reserves at the airport and to arrive earlier at the gate.
Shops and restaurants
Many shops and restaurants at airports have reduced opening hours or are entirely closed. If you are planning to have some food, check on the airport webpage which shops are open. If you want to be on the safe side, bring all necessary goods to the airport. Vending machines are regularly refilled at most airports. Also some lounges are closed so double check if you plan on spending your waiting time there. Bathrooms are open and are frequently cleaned to limit the possibility of infections.
No luggage trolleys
Some airports have removed luggage trolleys since it is difficult to keep them sterilized. In case you are travelling with heavy luggage it might be a good idea to double check with the airport webpage and use a suitcase with wheels if in doubt.
Passport control, COVID-19 tests and travel information
Passport controls after arrival have been reinstantiated between some Schengen countries in order to handle COVID 19 routines for travellers based on their nationality and origin. At many airports you have to provide information about where you have been, where you are going to stay and potentially some information about where you are going to be in quarantine. You will receive information about your obligations and information about what to do in case of COVID 19 symptoms. Depending on the country you are going to, bringing an official negative COVID 19 test certificate can save you from a 14-day quarantine. Some countries require you to take a test upon arrival. All together additional time is needed for this procedure, even if you do not have to provide that information, you still have to queue
Most airlines have reduced the in-flight service to improve social distancing. Some airlines only hand out bottled water when the passengers enter the plane and in-flight purchases might not be available. Hence, do not rely on receiving or buying a snack on board and rather bring enough yourself to the flight. Bear in mind though, that the same rules regarding liquids apply as before COVID-19. Trash might be collected less frequently or not at all, so take a small bag where you can put your trash. Sanitation wipes are handed out by some airlines such that each passenger can disinfect their hands when they are seated. There is no law that forces airlines to keep seats blocked to increase the distance between passengers. However, if flights are not fully booked, airlines tend to restrict seats that can be selected in a manner that increases the space between passengers. Please keep in mind, that masks need to be worn the entire flight.
Boarding and leaving the plane
Boarding is mostly done by rows and seats, such that the plane fills up from the back. In this way there is the smallest amount of contact between the passengers since it prevents unnecessary contact between passengers. The boarding procedure takes longer so ensure that you are at the gate on time, in particular if you have seats in the rear. Some airlines changed their disembarking procedure so that only a certain number of rows leave at the same time in an effort to further subdivide the group of passengers that get into closer contact.
In order to limit the spread of COVID 19 during travelling by air certain measures have been enforced. Certain things, that were taken for granted pre-COVID 19, are not the same anymore. In this post we summarized aspects that most passengers can work around fairly straight forwardly, if they are aware. However, if you are unprepared it might cost substantial time and lead to an unpleasant, stressful, and expensive experience.
While planning your trip you should check the local lockdown state and current travel restrictions. On travel day, you still should plan an extra hour before and after the flight to be on the safe side as airport transport might be limited and the boarding procedure might take longer.
Be aware, that not all airport and in-flight services are available and that you might need health certificates before you can check in. Masks must be worn as soon you entire the airport, on your flight and can taken off after leaving the airport at the final destination.
Overall, the measures do make sense and can significantly reduce the risk of an infection. Some measures are instantiated for economic reasons. However, most of these measures can change frequently and differ between airports, such that it is important to check the information on airport webpages, in particular, sections about COVID 19.
Have you already travelled in the COVID 19 era? Have you been surprised by certain procedures? What were the biggest annoyances with respect to the pre COVID19 era?
Share your experiences in the comments below.