Travelling during a pandemic
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Travelling During a Pandemic – 12 Tips how to prepare for an international flight

Three weeks ago, I came back to my home country Bulgaria, after spending 5 months in the USA. I absolutely love every aspect of travelling and I have always enjoyed the thrill of taking off. I have never even been bothered about longer layovers or multiple connecting flights. This journey, however,
was completely different and I decided to share an article with you about my personal travel experience while flying during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Reasons why I had to travel

First of I want to say that I absolutely do not encourage travelling right now, especially after my recent experience! The reason why I had to take this journey was the fact that my allowed time in the USA under the tourist visa was coming to a close at the beginning of August, so I was under a lot of pressure and had to go back home. There was only some basic information about a virus that was starting to spread when I flew to America at the beginning of February, however, no one really knew how serious that would become.

From the numerous flight cancellations to the lack of social distancing in the plane, everything about this trip was a challenge. Keep reading to learn my Top 12 Tips how to prepare for traveling during a pandemic:

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Get Ready for Possible Changes

The main reason why I was extremely stressed out was probably the numerous flight cancellations. My original flight was on 24th June, however, I only barely managed to get a seat on a plane for 8th July after countless phone calls to Lufthansa and hours of being on hold. If you are planning on travelling during a pandemic, I would suggest to be patient and get ready for all the possible changes. Travelling during a pandemic is certainly challenging with many uncertainties.

Document Check

Regularly Check your Booking Details

Following from the first tip, I strongly recommend regularly checking your booking details. Lufthansa kept making changes to my original flight including completely cancelling it without informing me. Once I have realized that they do not send emails to advise the passengers of the changes, I was literally checking my booking details every day. While infuriating, it was a little humorous when I realized at one point they expected me to time travel to make a connecting flight.

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Regularly Check your Destination’s Travel Restrictions

Though this may be obvious to many travel bloggers and aficionados, my fiance had to learn this the hard way: it is a good idea to continuously monitor your destination’s travel restrictions. The situation is changing day by day and each country is constantly altering its regulations and restrictions. You do not want to be denied entrance and turned around after flying halfway across the world.

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Prepare all Necessary Documents

Keep in mind that currently, airlines have an additional document check. My international flight was from Houston to Frankfurt and during this time American citizens were restricted to enter Europe for any non- essential reasons. I noticed that the airline had an additional check of passengers’ nationalities and passports at the gate. If you are required to have particular documents to travel to your final destination, make sure that you have prepared them in advance. If you have a specific case and unsure if you will be allowed into your final destination, it might be a good idea to contact the embassy.

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Check the airline’s baggage regulations

Airlines would normally allow two pieces of carry-on luggage for international flights. Due to the current situation, however, some changes have been introduced by most airlines. Passengers are now only permitted one piece of carry-on luggage. While this may not be the case for every company, it was for Lufthansa and I was reminded multiple times over the phone while changing my flights that I can only take one bag with me on board. I certainly like travelling light, however, a small handbag would have been useful for all hygiene essentials required for a 24-hour journey.

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Hygiene Essentials

I would suggest planning all your carry on hygiene essentials a few days before your flight. Getting everything in the last moment is not a very good idea. I am saying this from personal experience, as I was trying to get alcohol wipes a day before my flight. After going through a few stores I finally managed to get some tiny alcohol wipes from a pharmacy. A hand sanitizer and multiple face masks are also a must. I noticed a lot of people were also wearing gloves, however, I decided against them. Together with the compulsory face mask and hand sanitizer, just remember to wash your hands regularly!

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Wear your Face Mask

For an international flight, you should certainly prepare several face masks. Wearing a mask for so long can make them dirty and at times a bit disgusting – have multiples to swap in and out is certainly a welcome luxury! I had to board on three flights and go through four airports, and wearing a face mask was compulsory everywhere. However, I noticed that some people were not wearing their face masks. I know that 24 hours with a mask on your face is certainly unpleasant, nonetheless, it is our responsibility to keep not only ourselves but the others around us safe.

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Keep Social Distancing

Keeping social distance is another very obvious tip when travelling during a pandemic. All airports that I went through had signs and stickers on the floor to remind everyone about the 6 feet / 1.5 meters distance that should be kept from one another. Even still, I noticed that a lot of people did not take them into consideration, especially in security and passport control. It is unpleasant to have someone breathing down your back while waiting in line to board the plane even there is no risk of coronavirus!

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Bring your own food and snack

While I guess no one can ever really enjoy in-flight meals, (except for my fiance), this was by far the worst that I have ever had. We got a tasteless vegetarian pasta for dinner and a cold, pitiful sandwich for breakfast. Additionally, throughout the airports, there were a very limited amount of open restaurants, shops and cafes. It is certainly a good idea to bring a bit of food and snacks in your carry on when travelling international during a pandemic.

Me in Quarantine after travelling during a pandemic
And then compulsory 14-day Quarantine after Travelling During a Pandemic
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Things have Changed

One of the main things that you cannot fail to notice is how empty and quiet the airports are. Seeing how much things have changed in just a few months was such a shock for me. Both Houston and Frankfurt are extremely busy hubs, however, the experience while changing terminals was the same – walking through ghost-towns with empty hallways without any passengers. There were two people in the Houston Skyway train – me and a staff member of the airport. In Frankfurt, I spent an entire hour relaxing on a bench between the gates and I saw just one person – another staff member cleaning the windows. Not even sure whom are they cleaning them for. What used to be bustling, hectic and purpose-filled airports are now nothing else but sad and empty buildings.

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No Social distancing on the Flights

While the airports were absolutely empty, there were a few gates that were packed with people: The few that had actual flights taking off. It was not just the gates, though, it was the planes as well. I noticed that all three flights were almost completely booked. Not one of them had an empty middle seat or any regulations in terms of distancing the passengers. Everything was almost as it used to be before – still sitting next to each, just with a mask on!

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Prepare for quarantine

Part of the regulations to enter most countries is a compulsory quarantine. For example, my home country of Bulgaria has a mandatory quarantine of 14 days for anyone who is arriving from the USA. As we were landing, we were given forms to fill in with the details of our origin-destination. Just before the passport control, there was a temporary check-in desk, where they were collecting every passenger’s form and getting the address details and phone numbers for those who would need to go through the mandatory quarantine.

As precautions measures, I would advise anyone who is travelling internationally to self-quarantine for at least a few days after arrival. We are in this together and it is each and every person’s responsibility to not only stay safe but be careful when in contact with other people.

Personal Observation: Airport security and staff members were trying to enforce social distancing measures, however, it was the passengers that did not want to follow the guidelines. I am not sure if the pressure from travelling during a pandemic made some people less respectful, but everyone seemed to be in such a rush to get on the planes. Not even sure why – no one will really take your seat. There was plenty of space for carry-on luggage in the overhead compartments, as we all carried less. What was the reason for everyone to rush and line at the gate or passport control without keeping social distance, I do not know. If you have decided to travel during the pandemic, please keep this in mind and always try to follow the guidelines so we can all remain safe!

I would like to note that I flew from Pensacola, Florida to Sofia, Bulgaria via Houston, Texas and Frankfurt, Germany. The first flight was operated by United Airlines, while the other two by Lufthansa. Everything that I have mentioned above was related to my personal experience while travelling during a pandemic. You might have a completely different experience based on your travel destination and airline.

Have you travelled during the last few months? What was your experience of travelling during a pandemic like? Feel free to share in the comment section below.

48 Comments

  • Arabela

    Interesting! Sounds similar to my experience flying long-haul out of the US two weeks ago. I was really confused about the luggage rule though. On my airline’s website it said that we have to check in our carry-on bags, so I distributed my liquid cosmetic products all over them. But when we got to the airport, we were told that we’d have to take the bags on board with us as usual. I forgot about my cosmetics but when I passed security, I was asked to dump them all. Ouch!!!

    • Polly Dimitrova

      Oh no! This is so unfortunate. I think that people are having very different experiences with flying long-haul right now. The luggage regulations are certainly confusing though 🙁

      • Savannah

        I’m so glad I read this! My husband and I love im Italy and are planning a trip to Iceland in October. Hopefully it will be a little less of a hassle since we’re staying within Europe but these are all still important things to take note of!

        • Polly Dimitrova

          I am glad that you found this useful, Savannah. Yes, hopefully staying within Europe would mean less hassle when travelling. I wish you safe travels and a fantastic holiday 🙂

  • Kylie

    Very good info! Traveling during this time definitely isn’t ideal, but sometimes we have to! I love your honest opinion of the experience and suggestions!

  • Natalie

    I just flew internationally a few days ago, and it was interesting hearing about your experience since mine was a bit different. I flew British Airways from Chicago to London, and that flight was so empty… not only was no one sitting in my row, but no one was sitting in the middle row either! The closest person in my row was five seats and two aisles away from me. Also, in the airports, the staff called people up by seat number to board the plane, and everyone was respectful about maintaining 2 meters distance. My flight from London to Warsaw (which was my final destination), was bit different. It was a full flight, so every seat was filled :/ So I guess it just depends on the demand for the flight and how many people are willing (or able- for example, Americans aren’t allowed into EU countries) to fly between the destinations.

    Overall, I thought British Airways did a good job, despite the full flight to Warsaw. They give you both hand sanitizer and an antibacterial wipe as you board the plane, and the food was sanitarily packed- that meant no hot meals, but I’d rather have a cold sandwich than risk getting coronavirus!

    • Polly Dimitrova

      It is great to hear that you had a nice experience when travelling with British Airlines. Yes, I think that it depends on the demand, destination and airline. I heard similar things that happened to other things travelling with Lufthansa. Certainly, do not want to blame them, but maybe they have some issues with getting things under control right now, while British Airlines seems to be doing a much better job.
      I thought it is important to share what my experience was like, but I am certainly happy that you had a much better experience than me 🙂

  • Meghan Emcee

    This is such an eye opening and well written article about travelling during the pandemic. I was starting to think whether I could start booking a flight, but I think I’ll hold off a bit longer. I know I’m going to be careful, but it’s everyone else that I’m worried about!

    • Polly Dimitrova

      I am glad that you found some useful information, Meghan. Yes, I think a bit longer until things start to settle down might be a good idea! 🙂

  • Shay

    As someone who has recently flown, I agree that these are some really great tips. Super helpful for those traveling right now.

    • Polly Dimitrova

      Thank you, Shay! I am glad that you are agreeing with them. Let me know if you think anything else also needs to be added 🙂

  • Alex

    Great article! It is crazy that the airlines had every seat filled. If you didn’t have to, would you travel again right now or wait for vacations?

    • Polly Dimitrova

      I think that travelling right now is not the best idea. I think it might be better if people wait for a bit longer until it is safe to travel again 🙂

  • Hannah

    I know a few people who have had to travel during the pandemic, and have had similar experiences. I’m disappointed in the airlines for packing the seats, but I suppose from their perspective it was about surviving financially.

    If we do any travel, it will just be road trips around our area in France – and watching the numbers before we go anywhere!

    • Polly Dimitrova

      Yes, I totally agree Hannah! I was really not expecting this from Lufthansa as I have been flying with them for years and never really had any bad experiences until this year. There was a lot going on on the news, however, when it comes to their financial situation. I really think that a few people had much better experience than this, though, where middle seat was empty as well as some really good measures were taken to ensure everyone is staying away from each other, I think the airlines who did that are managing the situation much better.
      I think that road tripping and staying somewhere local might be the best idea for now. When things start to go back to normal, we can then think about more international travels 🙂

    • Polly Dimitrova

      Yes, the quarantine is a bit unpleasant, but unfortunately this is the current situation. Certainly nice to be able to se your family, though 🙂

  • Ramya

    This is the much needed article during these tough times. Else like your fiance one needs to be ready for some rude surprises. I thought Lufthansa is an excellent airlines, their not reporting to the passengers about the flight changes, reflect poorly on the way they treat the passengers. I believe traveling has changed for good, time will tell what new norms will be further implemented by the countries? Well written piece.

  • Sarah

    Oh yes – these are definitely good tips. I think we’ll all have to learn a little more patience and flexibility…with all the last minute changes that could unfold! Definitely useful and practical pieces of advice!

  • Aradhana

    Can totally imagine your ordeal. Travelling during a pandemic can actually be stressful rather than enjoyable. I was supposed to travel to Maldives just when the lockdown was announced in my country India and soon after followed a trail of endless running around agent for postponement of my bookings , cancellation of flights and what not! Still awaiting refund on my ticket and further moving the booking to next year. I wouldn’t recommend anyone travel either until things settle down a bit!

  • Kelly

    It’s too bad that you had to travel during the pandemic, but it is interesting to read what flying and the airports are like during all of this. Canada still has very limited flights flying, and I don’t intend on boarding one anytime in 2020, as I can’t afford to quarantine upon my return.

  • Kelly

    These are all really good tips! I recently just did a short domestic flight and even that I wouldn’t really recommend with all the precautions in place. It is a very different experience from what we are used to, that’s for sure!

  • Rhonda Albom

    I am so sorry that you got caught out during this unfortunate time. Definitely, I would not travel by plane now unless I absolutely had to. Your suggestions and advice are valuable to anybody needing to fly.

  • Kez

    It’s interesting the different experiences that people have had when travelling during the pandemic. My flights in February and July (London to Hong Kong) were definitely socially distanced and people were being respectful about it.

    • Polly Dimitrova

      Yes, it really is. I believe it is all about the airline and destination. I am happy that you had a good experience, though, Kez 🙂

  • ItsFlorin.com

    Now here is an actual article that is quite useful to read especially during the crisis that we’re going through! Thumbs for it, I loved every tip and I can’t wait to see what you’ll post in the future! 🙂

  • Georgina

    Love your presentation of this article covering all the points. But so sorry that you had endure a flight where people were not observing social distancing measures. I can only imagine your ordeal. Glad that you are home and safe. I am not ready to travel internationally yet.

    • Polly Dimitrova

      Thank you, Georgina. Yes, I think that I had a bit of an unpleasant experience that is why I am staying and exploring just the local area now 🙂 Hope you are doing well too 🙂

  • Kanupriyaa

    I am hoping to travel home to India in a couple months time and I love this article because it answers all my questions!

    • Polly Dimitrova

      It really is extremely sad to see how everything has slowed down and changed so much in such a short amount of time. Yes, hopefully soon 🙂

  • Anshul

    I think this article will be bookmarked forever for me because I make so many mistakes during my travels that it keeps giving me anxiety. You have categorized your article very well.

    • Polly Dimitrova

      I am glad that you found it useful, Anshul! And I really hope you start enjoying the process of traveling instead of being stressed and anxious about it! 🙂

  • Anita

    This is what I was looking for! A guide to travel during pandemic that tackles it all. Thank you for that, and love the structure of this post – so clear and simple.

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