Before COVID-19 happened, my family and I booked a summer vacation several months in advance. Because each of us had very different schedules, it took a lot to finally find a time that would work for all of us. We settled for Holy Week 2020, and we could hardly wait — finally, some quality time together at the beach.
But then, seemingly out of nowhere, the pandemic happened. Suddenly, plane rides simply weren’t an option; and despite our love for travel, it took more than a year until we felt comfortable enough to even take a road trip. But finally, after learning to adapt to the COVID situation and getting fully vaccinated, we deemed ourselves ready to dip our toes back in the water and perhaps slowly get the hang of travelling once again.
After what seemed like an endless amount of postponements and rebookings, our Boracay trip finally took place a whole year and a half later. It was my first time to ride a plane since the pandemic hit — and I was way more anxious about it than I was excited.
What to expect when riding a plane during the pandemic
Since others may also be feeling at least a little anxiety or hesitation before taking a plane ride during this time, I’ve decided to share my experience here. While mine may not speak of everyone else’s take on flying during the pandemic, this will hopefully give you a clearer picture of what to expect before your first time in a long time.
1. The airport can get surprisingly full
Since I took a long break from travel, it was easy to imagine that everyone else was, too. But the airport was surprisingly full, and social distancing wasn’t strictly enforced. Despite markings on the floor, passengers weren’t really reminded to keep a safe distance between one another.
It was only when my family and I made sure to follow the distance markers that those behind us decided to follow suit; however, this was short-lived as someone behind us eventually decided not to follow. Basically, it’s up to you to make sure you’re getting the personal space you need.
2. You will have to present a lot of documents before you can settle in
Valid IDs, QR codes, vaccination certificates, confirmed flight bookings — make sure to have all these, and any other requirements, handy upon arriving at the airport. You’ll have to present them upon entry and at the check-in counter, so it’s best to have them ready and avoid having to frantically rummage through your bags for all these.
One thing I observed, though, is that they don’t strictly enforce the use of the Traze app. There’s a QR code outside the airport that you might notice while falling in line for entry; you can scan it with your Traze app for contact tracing. Otherwise, though, no one asked me to show my app or actively required me to scan the QR.
3. Airlines are already operating at full capacity
It’s already been a while, but just in case you were wondering: flights are now operating at full capacity. This being said, if you’re heading to a destination that’s currently “in demand,” then chances are you may be taking a full flight.
I was lucky enough to be seated next to my family, so I didn’t feel too uncomfortable. But if you’re travelling alone, then know that you will almost certainly be seated right beside a stranger — unless your flight is only carrying a few passengers.
4. Select destinations no longer require negative swab test results
In case you haven’t heard, travel requirements have loosened up for a number of local destinations — that is, for fully vaccinated tourists. Given the price of swab tests, this is great news for our wallets; on the other hand, though, this should remind you to proceed with extra caution when flying.
While you may be on a plane with mostly fully vaxxed travellers, this doesn’t give you an excuse to be complacent. I, for one, was even more careful about keeping my mask on securely.
5. Face shields are no longer required on flights
One of the things I was most worried about with regard to riding a plane during the pandemic? Having to keep my mask and face shield on for the entire duration of my flight. For now, though, face shields are no longer required. I chose to go for a little extra security by double masking on the plane.
6. Cabin crew members are dressed in full PPE
While COVID-19 protocols have continued to change, cabin crew remain to be dressed in full PPE from head to toe. As frontliners in the air travel industry, I was comforted to know they’re getting the extra protection they deserve. Also, given that we’ve heard several times that being dressed in PPE all day can be quite challenging, remind yourselves to be patient and understanding with cabin crew members during this time!
7. You can pre-order your meals to lessen unnecessary contact
Can’t do without in-flight meals? Opt to pre-order your food instead! Not only will this mean less contact; it’ll also allow for more efficiency. But of course, if you want to avoid taking your mask off on the plane at all costs, then you might want to skip the meal — especially for a quick flight!
8. As expected, there are still a lot of people who don’t wear their masks properly
Don’t be one of them. On my flight, I noticed a number of people who wear their masks below their noses or under their chins. Being with so many other people in such close quarters, I felt so uncomfortable seeing this. This situation simply reminded me that while we can’t control others, we can still look out for ourselves — so, while others may not strictly be following protocols, we can, at the very least, still do so ourselves.
9. Further flight delays can be expected — but for good reason
You might have missed travel so dearly that you even found yourself longing for those good ol’ flight delays. Well, in case this brings you any sort of comfort, flight delays are definitely still a thing. While it may be annoying, you can at least rest assured that despite delays, your cabin crew is still making sure that the plane is thoroughly disinfected before allowing new passengers in. So, don’t be too quick to complain — at least you know they’re taking disinfection seriously.
10. Passengers are required to exit the plane in an orderly fashion
Okay, so this has to be my favourite part about riding a plane during the pandemic. Passengers are forced to fight their atat instinct to exit the plane ASAP, because everyone is required to deplane only a few rows at a time.
For the first time in what feels like my whole life, I didn’t have a bunch of people from rows behind me attempting to scramble towards the front of the plane — especially before it was even time to exit! I’m really hoping this particular protocol will stick even after the pandemic is over.
Despite the big changes, here’s one thing I’m thankful to know: Travel is definitely making a comeback! We just have to do our part to make sure that we stay safe, while still being able to have an enjoyable travel experience. I hope your first time riding a plane during the pandemic is a pleasant one!
Featured image credit: March Sirawit Hengthabthim via Canva Pro