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What to expect when flying during coronavirus – my experience

This post was written by Annika Friesen of Fernweh Society — a blog for travel-obsessed and career-minded millennials. She shares her experience of travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting the "new norms" she witnessed when it comes to international travel. All views expressed here are her own.

Let the disclaimer here be that I was not going on vacation nor was I travelling for work.

As you may know, if you follow Fernweh Society, I am currently doing my MBA at HEC Paris. This MBA was already a whirlwind, and with COVID-19, of course, things have gotten even more interesting.

Another disclaimer that I want to share is that your flight experience might be different than mine. I also want to take this opportunity to send thoughts and prayers to those whose health or the health of their family has been compromised. This is a scary time but even more terrifying for people who are in hospital.

Why was I flying?

As mentioned before, I am living in France as an MBA student of HEC Paris —I live in Versailles. When the coronavirus started really making an impact in Europe, we began experiencing the cancellations of large events, small events and eventually the closure of our campus. The school was officially shut down the weekend of March 14th to organize and get classes online.

Originally, I don’t think we all knew how long this would go on for, neither did we realize the impact that it would have. I was planning on staying at my place in Versailles.

Things moved quickly, only a few days passed and it was evident that we still didn’t know how long this lockdown would go on for, but we knew it wasn’t going to be short.

Around that time, my husband and I made the decision that I should go back to Toronto.

Airplane window, flying during covid-19 coronavirus

Booking the flight

I will start by saying even just booking a flight was an extreme process! I normally don’t look for flights the next day or even the next week, but this was a unique circumstance.

Additionally, hundreds or maybe thousands of people were trying to get home to loved ones and this made prices skyrocket! We saw flights that were posted for 2000 euros one-way to Toronto! Luckily, with a slightly longer wait in Versailles and a 5.5-hour layover in Montreal, we found a flight with Air Transat that wasn’t as extreme in price.

Travel day

I really didn’t know what to expect, so here is an idea of what I experienced — though things could change rapidly.

I started my day with an Uber to Charles De Gaulle Airport. My driver was in gloves and a mask and kept as much distance as he could from me.

Once I arrived at the airport, the check-in was fairly seamless as there were not that many people there. Air Transat was the only flight checking people in.

We kept about a 2-meter distance from each other while standing in line. Once we were in the terminal and waiting for the flight, there was one coffee shop open, this time keeping more than a 2-meter distance from each other in line. When I sat down in the terminal, the place felt so empty compared to what a normal flying experience is like.

When the flight crew arrived in the terminal, everyone started applauding them, which makes sense! These people are putting themselves at risk by getting us all home!

On the plane – what I did

I have a feeling that these in-flight habits are going to stay with me forever. When I got on the plane, I used my bleach wipes and literally wiped down the three seats in my row, all armrests, tray tables (inside and out), the back of the seats in front of me, the TVs, the window and wall. Yes, my hands smelled like bleach and were super dry but I think it was worth it 🙂

I also brought a bunch of my own snacks as I didn’t know what to expect with the inflight service.

On the plane – “a new normal”

Each member of the flight crew was wearing a mask and a pair of latex gloves. They inform you that there will be no formal service on the plane so you are to pick up a meal on your way in. This meal was fine, essentially a brown bag lunch. This makes sense as there is a lot of contact that happens when the inflight service comes around.

Another thing that was different was that each passenger flying solo got an entire row to themself, and if you were flying with someone, then you would share a row with them. This likely means that the airlines are probably not making money on these flights because airlines need a packed plane to make a substantial margin, but I think this distance is the safest thing possible.

Row of empty seats in an airplane, flying during coronavirus outbreak

Layover in Montreal

Okay, back to the story — from Paris to Montreal there were, of course, these changes but nothing too extreme. I will say I really respected the distance that people were giving each other.

Arriving in Montreal seemed to be a different story. Multiple restaurants and stores were open in the airport and there were actually quite a few people. Luckily, places like Tim Horton’s had closed their seating area and people were not sitting close to one another in the terminal. I even saw a couple of women traveling in hazmat suits. Too extreme? Not sure, but they likely won’t get sick!

Arrival in Toronto

Nothing really different caught my eye in Toronto, minus the fact that there were groups of people waiting for their loved ones to arrive home. The airport had open stores, flights that were leaving but also people taking extra precautions like wearing masks and gloves.

If you should you have to fly during this time

I saw and experienced a lot of new things on this trip that have very much shaped my opinion about what our new travel norms will look like. I’ve listed a few of them below, but please note that these are just my thoughts based on my personal experience. When it comes to how you should prepare for the next time you fly, it’s always best to refer to official, international government bodies like the WHO, as well as your local government organisations. 

Wearing a mask is definitely going to be the new thing while flying. Even at the airport, they require you to wear your non-medical mask to ensure that we are all doing everything possible to stop the spread of the virus. Of course, distance from others is always best, but distance combined with the protection of a mask will better ensure everyone is safe. Please note, if you are possibly sick or are coughing, it’s best just to not travel at all. Be prepared to wear your mask from the departure airport up to and including when you leave your arrival airport.

Gloves are also a good idea. I can see that gloves could be good because your skin won’t hurt from all the disinfectants and bleach. However, I caution! Just because you’re wearing gloves doesn’t mean you won’t come into contact with the virus or something yucky. All it does is block it from touching your skin on your hands. This issue is that I think sometimes when people wear gloves they feel invincible… and then accidentally touch their face, which ultimately defeats the purpose of wearing the gloves in the first place.

I think the best things to do are to have disinfectant wipes and hand gel, wash your hands, and keep as much distance as possible on your travels. When I boarded the plane, I disinfected the entire row of seats including the backs of the seats in front of me, the armrests, TVs, and window area. I also did NOT touch the seat pockets at all.

Aside from times with coronavirus, these areas are hard to clean and therefore hold the most bacteria and could be a place where the virus could live for up to a day. I refrained from moving around the plane too much (i.e., restroom) and touching areas that I didn’t disinfect. If I did need to get up, which for me pretty much was only to use the restroom, I made sure to do the 20 seconds of handwashing.

Arriving at home

The last advice I will give for anyone traveling during the coronavirus pandemic is what to do when you get to wherever you’re going. You guessed it: stay home for 14 days! Be respectful to those around you and in your community and just play it safe. Also always be sure to follow your government guidelines, and consider sanitizing your keys, phone, laptop and anything else that you touch often — it can’t hurt! 

I hope this is helpful for anyone who needs to travel during this very uncertain time. We will all get through this together and faster if we all take the necessary precautions. And isn’t that what we all want? To get back out there and travel again? 

Stay curious, stay safe, and I hope to see you soon! 

About the Author: Annika Friesen is the creator of Fernweh Society — a blog for travel-obsessed and career-minded millennials. She is passionate about travel and career, having travelled to 47 countries and received a business degree. She wants to help others create a passionate life, see the world, and build the careers of their dreams.