It seems everyone is longing to jump on a plane and jet off on a holiday after the year that was. And while domestic travel around Australia is again a possibility, the thought of navigating the airport and flying post-pandemic may have some feeling slightly confused or anxious. Don’t worry though, you’re not alone. Travel – especially air travel – has transformed dramatically in the wake of COVID-19, and the introduction of new procedures and policies means flying has undergone changes too.
Airlines have adapted to these changes to make travellers feel comfortable next time they are headed to the airport. These programs, like Qantas’ Fly Well, have been designed to reassure passengers about new airport protocols, introduce health and safety measures, and provide peace-of-mind to take the stress out of travelling.
So, to walk you through what you can anticipate on your next trip to the airport, here’s a heads-up on everything you need to know. Find out about changes to booking systems, right through to what to expect on arrival at your destination.
The unpredictable nature of COVID-19 means phrases like ‘snap lockdown’ and ‘border closures’ are now part of the everyday vernacular and booking a getaway when travel conditions can suddenly change is something airlines want passengers to feel confident doing.
Many major airlines are offering increased flexibility when it comes to changing dates or routes, rebooking flights using travel credit, and waiving cancellation fees. For example, Qantas is giving its passengers great flexibility by allowing unlimited date changes until at least February 2022. It is a part of the airline’s ‘Fly Flexible’ policy, which was introduced to help mitigate nervousness or doubts Australians might have about booking a domestic trip. Stephanie Tully, Qantas Group Chief Customer Officer, explains, “Customers have told us that sudden changes to border restrictions by state governments are giving them second thoughts about going on holidays or taking a business trip… To help manage the uncertainty, we’ve introduced the highest level of flexibility in the market so people can plan their next trip with confidence.”
The exact policies vary between airlines and may be updated regularly, so be sure do your research about fare rules and conditions before booking. Don’t forget to stay up to date with the latest state border restrictions, permits and entry requirements too. Being aware of current policies and conditions will help you avoid any unexpected out-of-pocket expenses.
It is almost time for your flight to take off, but before you officially switch over into holiday mode you must make your way through the airport for check-in.
One of the most impactful changes to airports for post-pandemic travel is a requirement to uphold all social distancing measures. This includes maintaining 1.5 metres distance between other travellers, abiding by spacing markers on the ground to prevent crowding, washing your hands regularly and making use of hand sanitiser stations.
Much like other aspects of life have transitioned to prioritise contactless, there has never been a better time to go digital to check-in for your flights. Qantas have long provided passengers the option for contactless check-in, with passengers able to check-in on the Qantas app or online. Making this switch minimises the risk of gatherings at kiosks and service desks, avoids unnecessary interactions and saves time. (Having the Qantas app in the palm of your hand also means you can access updates about your departure gate, boarding time, and baggage carousel). Passengers who utilise the app or online check-ins can usually then proceed straight to the self-service bag drop to deposit their luggage. You can also head to a check-in kiosk to print your bag tag, if needed.
While the rules of mask wearing differ from state to state (it’s well worth checking what restrictions are in place prior to departing for your destination), it is a federal government requirement that masks must be worn on all domestic flights and within airport terminals. Some states may require you to wear a mask in taxi and ride-share services or on public transport too.
In the excitement of remembering to pack your swimmers, hiking boots or holiday read, those who have forgotten their mask have no need to worry. Disposable masks, as well as hand sanitiser and sanitising wipes, are included in Qantas’ Fly Well packs, which are free to all Qantas passengers. The Fly Well packs can be collected as you board your flight or when seated on the aircraft.
Lounges and Transit
It’s one of the most enjoyable parts of travelling for many people, so it is good news that airlines are gradually beginning to open their airport lounges for passengers once again. Select domestic airline-operated lounges have been reopened to travellers, although may look different to the last time you visited as temporary measures have been introduced to ensure the health and wellbeing of all passengers.
Upon entry to any lounge you are now required to provide your contact details, as part of COVID-19 contact tracing requirements. Capacity restrictions are also in place, so if the lounge is full you may be denied access or wait until other members leave.
In keeping with wider airport standards, hand sanitiser stations have been installed throughout lounges and thorough cleaning of high-density areas happens regularly. Social distancing must always be maintained, shower facilities can be closed, and self-serve buffets have been replaced with hosted food and beverage services instead. Exact changes to lounges will vary between airlines.
When moving to and waiting at the departure gate, the above remains applicable. It’s especially crucial to maintain social distancing when lining up to board your flight, and this process may even be staggered into zones to prevent unnecessary crowding. You will also be required to self-scan your boarding pass – so turn your screen brightness up high to avoid any issues. Boarding is often where you can collect in-flight wellness kits, like Qantas’ Fly Well pack.
The risk of in-flight transmission is extremely low, but to reassure passengers further there are several additional safety precautions that airlines have introduced.
Once you’re seated, the flight crew may request you limit your movement around the cabin and avoid congregating in the aisles. Masks must be kept on in-flight and only removed when eating or drinking.
Some airlines have temporarily reduced the in-flight food and beverage services to further minimise contact between passengers and crew. Limited items will still be available, although can vary between services. However, you are welcome to bring snacks and non-alcoholic beverages on-board with you. In-flight entertainment systems may also be on pause, so don’t forget to download the latest Netflix series or grab a book to ensure boredom doesn’t strike.
All aircraft are extensively and regularly cleaned using a specific disinfectant resistant to COVID-19, and staff and flight crew are trained in the latest hygiene protocols. Extra cleaning attention is given to high-contact areas like seatbelts, seats, tray tables, overhead lockers, air vents and toilets.
In addition, all air-conditioning systems are equipped with hospital-grade HEPA filters that remove 99.9% of all particles, including viruses. The air inside the cabin is constantly being refreshed and flows in the direction from ceiling to the ground to ensure it is the highest quality.
You’ve landed! With holiday mode officially activated, all that’s left for you to do is safely disembark from the plane – remembering to keep your mask on and put any used sanitising wipes back in your Fly Well pack before disposing of them in an airport bin – and head to the bag drop-off area to collect your luggage.
If you haven’t checked already, now’s the time to find out if there’s any restrictions or rules that need to be followed in the state you’re visiting. And, of course, you should continue to practice proper social distancing when exiting the airport and travelling to your accommodation or next destination.
Written in partnership with Qantas.