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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.