While it’s not ideal to fly during the COVID-19 pandemic, circumstances may require that you do. If you need to fly, the information below will help you to prepare for safe flying during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I recently had to fly from Des Moines to Washington, DC, with a layover in Chicago. I’m providing my experiences below to help you prepare for any flights that you have to take right now.
While it’s very possible that you’ll have different experiences while flying, it’s my hope that you’ll at least feel a little more prepared and less anxious.
Read on for what you need to know about flying during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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- COVID-19 Travel Questions You Need to Consider
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You may experience canceled or rescheduled flights
Because fewer people are flying right now, there’s a greater chance that an under-booked flight will be canceled or rescheduled.
In addition, you may find that typical routes and times aren’t available right now. There used to be a daily direct flight between Des Moines and Washington, DC’s Reagan National Airport. That flight path isn’t operating right now.
Be flexible with your travel plans and anticipate that your flight may be canceled or rescheduled.
Last minute flights aren’t expensive right now
In the past, airlines would charge more for last minute flights to capitalize on business travelers, who weren’t as worried about cost as non-business travelers.
However, there aren’t that many business travelers right now. This creates the unexpected benefit of next-day flights being very similar in price to flights that are weeks from now.
I booked my flight from Des Moines to Washington, DC the same week I flew. The flight cost was the same as flights occurring six weeks after that.
This might not always be the case, but it worked out well for me.
Flight costs are volatile
While last-minute flights aren’t expensive right now, you still need to be monitoring prices so you don’t overpay for your flight.
When I was booking my flight to Washington, DC, the flight costs varied depending on the day I checked costs.
I planned to fly on a Friday and began checking flight costs the Saturday before. On Saturday, the flight cost was less than $200. On Sunday, it jumped up to $500. On Monday, it was back down to $200.
There are new TSA security requirements
To help reduce cross-contamination and touch points at security screening areas, TSA has implemented some new security requirements.
Some important changes to know:
- You’ll have to go back through security again if you accidentally pack a prohibited item. TSA agents used to take the item out of your carry-on luggage. Now they’ll make you exit security, take the item out yourself, and then go back through security.
- Food needs to go in plastic bags like toiletries.
- The 3.4 ounces carry-on requirement is waived for hand sanitizer. You can currently carry-on up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer.
Read more about the new TSA security procedures here.
Some airports will be packed…others, empty
I traveled through three airports during my recent travels – Des Moines, Chicago O’Hare, and Washington, DC Reagan National.
Des Moines and Washington, DC Reagan National were practically empty. Entire gates had no one in sight.
Chicago O’Hare was absolutely packed. I saw more people in 45 minutes at Chicago O’Hare than I’d seen during the last five months of my self-imposed quarantine. It was not a pleasant experience.
Mentally prepare yourself for situations like Chicago O’Hare when flying during COVID-19. If I had a chance to do it over, I’d fly through a non-hub airport in the hopes of encountering fewer people.
Don’t count on social distancing at the airport
Even in non-busy airports, social distancing really only happened in the gate seating area.
When going through security, boarding the plane, and standing in line for food, social distancing was non-existent.
If you’re like me, this will make you extremely uncomfortable. But it’s likely unavoidable if you have to fly at this time.
Some flights will be packed and others will be empty
Like the airports, you’ll likely find that some flights will be packed and others will be completely empty.
While some airlines are leaving the middle seat free, I wouldn’t count on this lasting for long. Especially since other airlines have already stopped leaving the middle seat free.
On both my flights (from Des Moines to Chicago and Chicago to DC), the flights were pretty empty. I had a row to myself the first flight and one person across the aisle on the second flight. The flight attendants actively encouraged people to space out.
You may get mixed messages about face masks
While in the Des Moines airport waiting for my Chicago flight, the gate clerk actively encouraged people to take off their masks while waiting for the flight. Her rationale was that the Des Moines airport didn’t require masks, but the airline did, so we should take advantage of the mask-free time while we could.
What she didn’t mention was that the airline I was flying requires passengers to wear masks on the flight and in the airport, regardless of the airport’s mask policy. The airline’s policy indicated that it had the right to refuse service if passengers didn’t comply.
Most people seemed to be aware of this policy because no one took off their mask in response to the gate clerk’s announcement. Just be mindful that someone may tell you that a mask isn’t required when it actually is required.
Most people will be wearing masks
Most people were wearing masks in the Des Moines, Chicago, and DC airports I went through.
People did take off their masks to eat and drink beverages, which is considered acceptable by the airports and airlines. Some people also seemed to think it was okay to take off their masks while talking on the phone (which is not an accepted practice), but this was a rarity.
Just be aware that people will take their masks off at certain times around you. While you still may feel uncomfortable when this happens, you’ll at least be prepared for it.
You’ll be wearing a face mask for a long time
If you’re preparing to fly, this may have already occurred to you. But just in case – be aware that you’ll be wearing a mask from the second you step in the airport, on all your flights, layovers, bathroom breaks, on any public or shared transport, and in any hotel lobbies, all the way until you’re by yourself or alone with your travel companions.
In other words, you’ll be wearing a face mask for a really, really long time. Especially if you’re on longer flights or have longer layovers.
While you can take off your mask while eating or drinking, you’ll have to put your mask back on immediately afterwards.
Make sure you have a mask that is comfortable to wear for an extended period of time. Check out some of my favorite face masks here.
There may be quarantine or negative COVID-19 test result requirements at your destination
The situation with COVID-19 is rapidly changing. Places with no quarantine requirements may implement one overnight. Places that previously didn’t require negative COVID-19 test results may suddenly require them upon arrival.
Before heading to the airport, make sure that you’re aware of all the quarantine and COVID-19 testing requirements at your destination. And be aware that new requirements may impact you when you get home.
Bring a sanitation kit
Airports and airlines are doing a lot right now to ensure the safety of passengers. However, it’s important to take your own safety measures, too.
I recommend packing a sanitation kit with things like hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and disposable gloves.
Check out this article for items I recommend packing in your travel sanitation kit. Having your own sanitation kit will give you a little peace of mind while flying during COVID-19.
Try to reduce contact with others
Flying during COVID-19 is going to expose you to more people than if you were to stay at home. But there are some things you can do to reduce your contact with others:
- Don’t check a bag. By carrying on your luggage, you skip the bag return and spend less time at the airport.
- Bring your own snacks. If you have your own snacks, you don’t have to go into crowded stores and wait in line to purchase food.
- Bring your own water bottle. With your own water bottle, you can fill up your water at a water fountain and avoid going into crowded stores to purchase water.
- Bring a portable charger like this one. How many times have you seen people crowd around charging stations at airports? Skip the crowd and bring your own portable charger.
While everyone’s flight experience will be different right now, I’m hoping my experience will help you to prepare for flying during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay safe and healthy!