Air travel during pandemic

A month ago, I moved back to the US to reunite with N. Two weeks later, N and I traveled to Ohio to attend my sister-in-law’s wedding! So, I’ve had to travel quite a bit by air in the last 30 days. I flew United and Frontier

Picture Courtesy: N

A few things I noticed during the travel and tips around the same –

  • Check-in: Even if you web check-in you will have to stand in a queue to drop off your bags (if any). You’d see the 6 ft. distance marking on the ground while in the queue. Try to follow the rules and encourage your fellow passengers to do the same.
    Tip: Try to limit the luggage to carry-on if possible. That will spare you from standing in the queue and for luggage drop-off and baggage claim. A good way to avoid crowds.
  • Security check: This process has not changed much. It is really difficult to maintain distance during security checks. The length of the queue will differ by airports – busier airports will take longer. However, I was the only one doing security at the forever-busy Mumbai airport (IDK HOW!!). The security personnel will request you to lower your masks for identity verification purposes. You scan your boarding pass. All security personnel wear gloves that are changed now and then.
  • Before boarding: The airlines usually give you a heads up if the flight is full via email. You can move dates if possible.
    If you are at the airport, the number of passengers seated around the gate should give you a good idea as well.
    Tip: Grab a seat at an adjoining vacant terminal to avoid the crowds.
    Visit the restroom before boarding. Using the restrooms at the airport terminal should feel safer than the ones on the flight.
  • Layovers: We had a 5.5-hour layover in Denver and a 3-hour layover in Vegas. Here’s what we observed – the majority of the stores and restaurants were closed. Very few restaurants serve – some offer only take-out. Restaurants that have dine-in operate at 50% capacity or lesser. This means you may have to wait to be seated.
    We had brunch at Denver and lunch at the Vegas airport. There was sufficient distance between adjoining tables so it felt safe to dine-in. The servers wore masks at all times. The degree of cleanliness may differ by airports/restaurants.
    Since the layover at Denver was longer we had 3+ hours to spare after a leisurely brunch. Due to reduced flights, we found picturesque seats at a vacant terminal to chill and watch a movie. You can find a place away from the crowds at airports in case of layovers.
    Tip: Download movies/series on Netflix before you fly for entertainment purposes.
    Carry snacks whenever possible. It’s best not to rely on airport restaurants during the pandemic.
  • Restroom breaks: As mentioned above, use the ones at airports rather than the ones on the flight. The restrooms were mostly vacant – no queues at all. The stalls were clean and tidy as well. Some airports have blocked adjacent sinks to create the distance.
  • Boarding: Some airlines tend to check the temperature before you board. If your temperature is beyond the threshold you may be denied boarding. Passengers were boarded according to seat numbers and not zones. So, the latter half of the aircraft was boarded first and so on.
  • On the flight: Quite a few articles suggest that traveling via air is lesser risky because of the way the air is filtered and circulated. You should feel safe as long as you have your mask on. 3/6 of my flights were packed. The other 3 were roomy. Traveling in close proximity of unknown passengers feels unsafe though.
    The airline may/may not offer snacks and beverages. United did. Frontier did not.
    Tip: If your row is packed but the flight has enough room you may ask for a different seat.
    Sanitizing the seats, tray, and hand rest would be a good idea.
    Carry snacks if you have a longer flight/tend to get hungry.
  • De-boarding: This process has not changed much. Pandemic/no pandemic passengers are still in a hurry to de-board.
    Tip: Be patient and avoid crowding the aisles.
  • Baggage Claim: High chances of crowds gathering at this step. As mentioned earlier, please try to fit luggage in your backpack/carry-on to spare yourselves the trouble.


    Overall, it is hard to rate whether or not it felt safe to travel by air. Pretty subjective. Personally, I don’t mind traveling by air at this point. There are ways one can maintain distance and take precautions but in the end, it boils down to one’s immunity. I was very aware of anyone sneezing/coughing around me. But the only one sneezing was me (i tend to sneeze when temperature changes). A few parting tips –
  • Take direct flights wherever possible.
  • Did not see anyone wearing PPE kits; masks and face coverings were it.
  • It would have been nice to see more sanitizer lying around. Please carry a sanitizer and make sure to sanitize every time you touch a surface.
  • Make sure to carry sanitizing wipes to wipe the area before you seat yourself.
  • Please carry hand sanitizing wipes just in case.
  • You should carry a moisturizer in case the sanitizer tends to dry your hands out.
  • Carrying multiple masks with you should be a good idea. Change masks if need be.
  • Please carry napkins just in case.
  • Please cover your mouth if you sneeze or cough.

    On that note, I recognize that wearing masks throughout the journey is annoying but you gotta do what you gotta do. Every time the masks irritate you just remember ‘This too shall pass’. Please take a test if you experience symptoms shortly after your travel.

    Stay safe. Safe travels.

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