Here’s what it’s like flying domestically during COVID-19

Woman waiting in a long line for a flight wearing a N95 face mask during a global pandemic

As Queensland reopened its borders to interstate travel over the weekend, packed flights full of Sydneysiders headed to the sunshine state for their first real jaunt since lockdown began.

Travel Weekly was lucky enough to score a seat on Virgin Australia flight 947 from Sydney to Brisbane, so we thought we’d share a few insights into what it’s like to fly domestically during a global pandemic so you can make sure your clients know what to expect when they get back out there.

Airport, gate and check-in 

Despite a midday departure, Sydney airport was practically a ghost town, except for a few holidaymakers who looked as though they were beside themselves with excitement to finally be going somewhere after months of lockdown.

That said, we recommend arriving earlier than the standard 45 minutes before a domestic flight, just in case.

Sydney Airport has put a few extra precautions in place to keep passengers safe, such as hourly cleaning of high-touch areas and ample green dots indicating safe places to sit or stand. The airport also provides more than enough hand sanitiser stations dotted throughout.

Check-in queues and bag drop-off lines were quick and seamless, with most people following the green dots on the ground that allow travellers to safely social distance.

Security was much the same as it always is for domestic flights, with the only exception being the green dots which, again, most people adhered to.

We say most because, as you will have noticed if you’ve been out and about over the past few months, there are always a few people who won’t heed precautions. Sadly, despite the low numbers of people at the airport, we encountered a few who completely ignored social distancing requirements.

As for shops and food options, most vendors are still closed. However, we were able to locate a bar and cafe with food options as well as a chemist and a lone Surf, Dive n’ Ski store.

Boarding and flight 

Virgin Australia boarded passengers by seat row section to prevent crowding at the gate and encouraged passengers to scan their own boarding pass to avoid unnecessary contact. Many passengers chose to wear a mask while boarding and throughout the flight and cabin crew announced that extra masks and hand sanitiser were available should anyone want them.

Many jet aircraft, Virgin Australia’s fleet included, are equipt with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, which claim to remove 99.9 per cent of microbes from the air, and the airline’s website said there is very low-risk of contracting COVID-19 while flying.

Cabin crew also informed passengers that aircraft are now cleaned and disinfected every 24-hours at a minimum. The airline is also trying to leave empty seats between travelling groups where it can, but as this flight was near full, empty seats were a rarity.

Food and drink service was also altered for minimum contact, with passengers still receiving a small snack and a drink but additional food offerings were unavailable. We recommend bringing food with you from home as there are few places open at the airport to buy snacks.

Passengers were also asked to limit moving around the cabin as much as possible and to wait until their row was called before disembarking, however, most passengers ignored this and disembarked as normal.

Arrival in Queensland

At this stage, you need to apply online for an entry pass if you are travelling from interstate but the form is easy and your pass is instantly emailed to you so you can either print it or save it to your phone to show upon arrival.

We had to show our passes not only to airport staff but also to the police and military. While this process is bulky now, it is still early days of navigating pandemic travel so we recommend setting aside additional time for this but expect it to improve as time progresses.

Featured image source: iStock/AJ_Watt

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