Updated: Jan 4
While the COVID-19 pandemic turned the travel industry on its head, new vaccines and declining cases mean that you may be starting to plan your next getaway. The good news is that while you’ve been stuck at home, the travel industry has been evolving to help keep you safe when you travel. But before you head to the airport for the first time in more than a year, here are some of the biggest changes you should expect.
Even seasoned travelers will have to adjust how they pack their bags for post-COVID travel. Below are a few tips for carry-on essentials for your next trip:
Hand sanitizer: TSA now allows you to bring a 12-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer in your carry-on. Take advantage and bring the big bottle.
Extra masks: Masking is mandatory throughout the entire travel process. If you have a long journey, you’ll be grateful for the chance to swap out a mask you used all day for a fresh one. Be sure to bring masks that aren’t too tight around your ears, or use an ear protector to keep your ears from being sore. I learned my lesson during a flight to Utah in 2020. After hauling my luggage through the airport, I realized the heavy-duty N-95 mask that I had on was literally taking my breath away, and I couldn’t take it for the entire duration of that trip. Luckily, I packed an extra mask that had adjustable straps and that saved the day.
Snacks: The number of operating restaurants, cafes, and shops in airports are reduced and those that are open for business have shortened hours. If you’re arriving late at night or early in the morning, you might be out of luck for a meal or a cup of coffee. Bring plenty of your own snacks to get you through the journey.
Those that travel a lot know the better you prepare for your trip, the smoother the journey will go. This is especially true these days since the rules and regulations of air travel have changed so much. Create a less stressful start to the trip by following these tips before you get to the airport:
Provide a negative COVID-19 test: The CDC recommends all U.S. domestic and international travelers get a COVID test 1-3 days before they fly. The CDC requires that anyone boarding a flight to the U.S., including U.S. citizens, must possess a negative COVID test. If you’re traveling to an international destination, keep this in mind for your return to the U.S. Some airlines, like American, make it easy to upload your negative test on the secure VeriFLY app, which also allows travelers to check the requirements at their destination.
Check your airline’s policies: Some airlines, like United Airlines, ask you to fill out a Pre-Health survey before you fly. Make sure you look into the requirements of the specific airline you’re flying with so you arrive at the airport with all the documents you need in hand.
Arrive early: Arrive earlier than you did in the past. New airport protocols and reduced staff means there is more potential for delays. Avoid rushing by arriving at the airport well ahead of schedule – running in a mask is not something you want to do!
Be aware of new change and cancellation policies: Many major airlines like Delta, United, and Alaska Airlines are waiving change and cancelation fees. If you feel sick or need to cancel your flight due to COVID, you may be able to do so without losing out financially. Always check with your airline for the latest policies.
Credit: Michael Gaida
At the Airport
Once you are at the airport, you will notice plenty of new protocols and procedures that strive to keep travelers and airport employees safe. Here are some of the changes and how to navigate them:
Mandatory masking: You are required to wear a mask when you enter the airport, throughout the check-in and security processes, at your gate, and on the airplane.
Barriers: Plexiglass barriers will separate you from the check-in and TSA agents. These partitions can make it hard to hear and understand each other, so try to be as patient and as clear as possible in conversation.
Pay attention to the floor stickers and seat spacers: Some airports have social distancing stickers on the floor to remind passengers to keep 6 feet between each other and airport employees. At the gate, every other seat is marked off with tape or stickers to prevent passengers from sitting next to each other.
Give your passport/license, hold your boarding pass: When you pass through security, TSA agents will take your identification (passport or license). They may ask you to pull your mask down for a moment to identify you better. In an effort to reduce contact, you may even be asked to scan your own boarding pass instead of handing it to an agent.
Fill up at home: Food options could be few and far between when you’re at the gate. Do a little research ahead of time to find out what will be open in the airport.
Credit: Michigan Health Blog
In the Air
The actual experience of flying hasn’t changed too much, but here are few small tweaks in service that you can expect:
Boarding: More structure has been added to getting on the plane. Most airlines are boarding from back to front to avoid crowding in the aisles. Also, groups of rows are being called up to board versus the mad rush at the gate that most of us are accustomed to experiencing.
Masking: Masks are mandatory throughout the entire flight. Eating and drinking is the only exception.
Reduced food and drink service: Travelers in the main cabin on domestic flights typically receive pre-packaged snack bags and bottled water. Most airlines are only serving alcohol to business class passengers. My longest flight since COVID was from Atlanta to Salt Lake City. I received a sealed meal box on my flight with a bottle of water.
Air filtration system: This isn’t something that you will see, but it’s comforting to know it’s there. Most airlines are using HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters which remove 99.99% of airborne particles. American, Delta, United, and Southwest all note their use of this state-of-the-art system.
Frequent sanitation: Airlines conduct a sanitation process after each flight which disinfects the airplane and focuses on high-touch surfaces.
Credit: Dai Saguno
Most of what’s outlined above also applies when you land. Here’s what you should be prepared for:
Have your documents ready for officials: That includes a pre-flight health survey, negative COVID test, or anything else your airline or destination requires.
Temperature screening: Several airports in the U.S. are currently conducting temperature checks, so you could be checked after you deplane.
Business as usual: Collect your baggage as usual (while being sure to maintain social distance) and pass through Customs, if applicable, or head on out to your destination.
While travel has undergone modifications that sometimes means delays and small inconveniences, thankfully these new protocols make it possible to explore again. Stay safe my friends!
Hey, I'm Ronda Wright 👋🏽
I’m the founder of The Wright Getaway. I love all things travel and helping other people experience the world.
Let's chat about your upcoming travel plans!