So you’re thinking about flying somewhere, soon, or just in the not so distant future. I can tell you first hand, after getting off two transatlantic and two intra European flights, that I personally found the experience much more normal and comforting than imagined, albeit not without a few jitters and of course – some reasonable worries.
Life is all about movement and improvement, and on the return journey of this trip I found a few things which really helped my peace of mind, many of which I was doing before, but many which I’m more passionate about now….
Even though airlines claim they’re going to extensive lengths to sanitize flights, I’d rather not take anyone else’s word on my personal safety. Accordingly, I’ve become more in love than ever with my personal tablet, laptop and wireless ear buds.
Even if you don’t have wireless buds, at least find some you can connect to your own stuff. Download a bunch of content for offline viewing, be it Netflix, Amazon Prime or iTunes and that way you’re only tapping away or touching your own things. It never hurts to wipe them down.
Triple Check Entry Restrictions
On my return journey, I asked the lovely check in agent how her day was going and she said “I’m stressed man, too many entry restrictions and new rules”. I heard her, loud and clear. Most surveyed passengers say fears of border restrictions, or spontaneous closures are their main fear for returning to travel, not safety.
IATA, the International Airline Transport Association has a great interactive country by country guide, which may even improve your geography. It’ll give you all the most up to date entry information, and may be worth printing out that, and any other sources you can, in case it’s a war of words with a check in agent trying to prohibit you from going.
Don’t forget that some countries, such as St. Lucia, are demanding a recent negative test before they’ll allow you to board an inbound flight, whereas others have no requirements at all. Fortunately, the IATA page has all the info you need.
Side tip: if your government is currently advising against non essential travel, most insurance is invalidated, so for some travelers it may be best to wait until those restrictions lift. Let’s hope those restrictions lift ASAP.
I think as a baseline, the fewer things you touch that you don’t know who’s touched them the better. Now is the time to pick up take out, make yourself a sandwich, or curate a snack bag and be ready to self cater your way to happiness.
With few exceptions, it’s not like airplane food was ever particularly exciting, and now you have an extra good reason not to bother. For the most part, airlines aren’t really offering anything, even if you do want something, and yes, even in business class!
Don’t forget that you can bring an empty reusable water bottle and fill up for free once through security. That’ll save you a few bucks and protect the environment, two things I’m definitely down for.
Bring Your Own Wipes
Across my four recent flights, which were taken out of necessity and not for leisure, I found access to wipes and sanitizer very hit or miss. Some places were all over it, others were not, even in the same airport. If you want to mitigate potential issues with things around you, bring your own wipes or disinfectant.
Naomi Campbell may be a bit out there, but her viral airplane hygiene video was ahead of its time. If you’re making a return journey, do yourself a favor and bring enough for both segments. One less thing to worry about, and don’t forget that most airports have increased limits on hand sanitizer to greater than 100ml.
Airplanes left a funky feeling on people before covid-19, and the uneasy feeling might be a little extra on tilt now. Having layers to shed, and perhaps even discard, leaves travelers less to worry about with surface contact. I made a point on my return journey to change into a fresh outfit and subsequently wash my hands after going through airport security.
A nice thing with layers, is that if you do happen to sneeze (it is allergy season), you can not only rely on your mask, but also try to raise your hoodie, scarf or anything else over your face to further reduce the spread of droplets and other harmful elements to others. It’s not just about what others are bringing to you, but what you are bringing to others.
Avoid Overhead Bins Where Possible
Overhead bins have been the great dilemma for frequent travelers forever, and now they’re everyone’s dilemma. Airlines charging astronomical fees for checked bags brought many savvy travelers to learn how to properly pack their carry on suitcases, but that means reaching up into the least cleaned area of an aircraft, mingling with the belongings of others, and that’s still only half the problem.
In my experience, now is the time where being last to board, not first to board is what feels like winning. On all my flights, the gate area was always the juncture where social distancing broke down most, and then the slow trickle of people onto the plane made it even worse. Confined spaces are not our friend right now, and being last to board is more time in less of a confined space.
With no need to reach up into overhead bins or worry about space to put your belongings, you can join team board last and wait it out by the gate until it seems like things are ready to go. Even if you’re in business class, it’s not like many airlines are offering pre-departure champagne right now, anyway.
Take Two Masks, And…
People are torn on masks, though I’m not one of them. I think very clearly that they should be mandatory right now, for the simple reason that you don’t want to impact anyone else, and masks help reduce your spray of droplets when you talk, sneeze or breath with your mouth open.
In an article with my argument, many argued in comments to me that masks are only really effective for four hours, which is a fair point. In that case, bring two, or even three if you’ll be transiting or in the air for longer. Be sure to learn how to wear one too.
In addition to hand sanitizers and other personal choices, bringing a few pairs of gloves never hurts either, so long as you remember not to touch your face or skin while wearing them. It’s not a bad idea to wear some through check in and security, then discard them, or to wash your hands before getting on the plane.
Many travelers hold sentimental value to physical boarding passes, myself included, but for the time being airports are not places you want to linger; or congregate near others in. Wherever possible, printing out your boarding pass, or better yet using your airlines mobile app to bypass all the faff will save time, effort and close physical contact with others.
This is easier said than done on international trips, where many airlines need to verify that you’re eligible to fly right now – aka not restricted by country rules – but for shorter trips or domestic trips it should be easy, and is always worth trying for longer international trips as well.
Pay More Attention To Transit Options
At least for me, travel to the airport prior to covid-19 was always a tossup between a ride share service, mass transit and convincing friends or family I’m worth the lift. Typically, that just left the latter two, though I was very fortunate on this last trip to draw rides from family.
The point is: most countries are advising against mass transit wherever possible. Pay a bit more attention to the availability and or protocols required to hail a ride of any kind, or whether mass transit is even available to or from wherever you’re going.
Select Seats Closest To Exit Doors And Windows
One of the real things that hit me quickly on my first flight, was what an idiot I was for selecting an aisle seat. I boarded towards the end, but still had time to feel the shoulders of at least 10 people brush past me, or worse, linger around me as they waited to proceed down the aisle.
Wherever possible, putting yourself nearest the exit door of the aircraft, and also in a window will ensure you easier access to being last on, and among the first off. SeatGuru or your airline’s website are the best places to find a good layout map. With a window seat, you can better control your journey without anyone stepping over you. If you can hold it in, you’ll be as close to socially distancing as possible!
Expect The Unexpected
From last minute cancellations to randomized health checks, it’ll be a little while before travel returns to the normality experienced prior to covid-19. Going in with an open mind, or more importantly – an understanding that things could change – will only help to make the trip more enjoyable.
Things seem to be getting more normal by the day and countries are adding greater clarity as to any and all immigration procedures, including testing on arrival, or the need to produce a recent test before departure. Do your homework and the chances that you don’t end up on the news increase quite a lot…