Flights are confirmed, the accommodation is booked and your bags are packed. What  happens next? Many Australians had their travel plans put on hold in 2020. If you’re heading off on a plane this year, things are going to be a little bit different, with airlines and airports making a number of changes to make flying safer during a pandemic.

Here’s a round-up of the changes, as they currently stand. Plus some tips from Australian Medical Association vice president Dr Chris Moy on how to protect yourself inflight.

Before you fly

Travellers on domestic flights do not need a COVID-19 test prior to flying.

If travelling with Qantas, passengers are asked to complete a health screening form two days prior to the flight. This asks if you’ve been in contact with a Covid case, and whether you’re experiencing any symptoms. At check-in you will have your temperature taken.

Virgin Australia requires all passengers to complete a pre-departure health acknowledgement at check-in.

If passengers are experiencing any symptoms at all, they should not fly.

At the airport

As well as increased cleaning, hand sanitising stations and social distancing measures within the airport, airlines are asking passengers to help them make the check-in process as contact-free as possible. Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia all recommend customers check in via their websites or apps for domestic flights. At the airport, attach your printed bag tags – or Q Bag Tags for Qantas flights, if you have them – and drop your luggage at the self-service baggage drop.  

Airline service desks are still operational and staff will be available to help if needed.

And don’t forget your mask! These must be worn in the airport terminal and inflight.

Lounges

For many travellers, a visit to their airline’s lounge pre-flight is part of the holiday experience. Or an essential resource for a business traveller. The good news, Qantas and Virgin Australia have re-opened their lounges in some airports. The bad news? The self-service buffets are gone…for now. These have been replaced with table service or pre-packaged snacks. There are also capacity restrictions in line with the government’s social distancing restrictions.

Boarding

As well as observing social distancing measures in departure lounges, passengers will be asked to scan their own boarding passes.

If flying with Qantas or Jetstar, passengers will be given a Fly Well pack at the departure gate. This contains a mask and sanitising wipes. Virgin Australia has face masks on hand at departure gates and inflight if guests require them. 

If you’re bringing your own mask, Australian Medical Association vice president Dr Chris Moy says the N95/P2 variety is best, but it does get very hot underneath them.

“They are better because they reduce the amount [of air] that can get through and around the sides, but it has to be comfortable,” he says.

“But weigh it up, you do need to be comfortable. Comfort matters for a longer flight.”

In-flight

Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin Australia aircraft are all fitted with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, which remove more than 99 per cent of all air particles.  The air in the planes is also refreshed regularly from the outside.

All airlines have stepped up their cleaning in response to the pandemic.

This video from Singapore Airlines outlines its intensive cleaning protocols, which range from the use of an anti-microbial coating on cabin surfaces to sanitising the cabin with electrostatic spraying machines.

There have been changes to how airlines approach inflight services too.  Qantas’s inflight entertainment is on hold and the magazine has gone digital. In terms of food, passengers on shorter flights will be given a drink and snack. On flights longer than 3.5 hours, a hot meal and drink will be served.

Food and drink can still be ordered on Jetstar flights, but cash cannot be used for payment.  Virgin Australia is currently not selling food and drink inflight, but is offering passengers complimentary refreshments.

Bringing your own is another option.

Will I be seated next to someone?

None of the airlines guarantee an empty seat in between passengers.

The industry, in conjunction with the Federal Government, has developed a set of protocols to minimise the risk of Covid spreading on flights.

“There have been limited published reports of COVID-19 transmission in flight, particularly where appropriate control measures have been implemented,” the protocol reads.

“The risk appears to be mitigated by forward facing seats, the height of the seats, the ventilation and filtration systems, the use of masks and other controls applied prior to flight and inflight, including hygiene and environmental measures.”

What else can passengers do?

Dr Moy says to consider wiping down the seat with an alcohol wipe and hand sanitise throughout the journey.

“While you are on the plane try not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth. And hand sanitise during the trip.”

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