It’s been almost a year since business and leisure travel changed dramatically in the wake of a pandemic. I took my first flight in 11 months in early December, and have a few tips to share as more people resume some level of flying in 2021.
Avoid business travel during the holidays. Schedule business trips to avoid peak leisure travel times. Why? Fewer people and savvier travelers, for starters. The fewer people to which you’re exposed, the better off you likely will be. Leisure travel tends to involve lots of children running around maskless, people congregating to eat before flying and long lines at takeouts and restrooms.
Sign up for the Transportation Security Administration Pre-Check program, or Global Entry — which incorporates Pre-Check — if you travel internationally. The $80 to $100 cost is more than worthwhile, and benefits extend for five years. You use lines that are usually shorter and faster moving, so you spend less time in crowded areas. To further speed your way, consider adding the CLEAR benefit. You get to skip the Pre-Check lines and often have a separate screening line to boot. CLEAR costs about $85 per year.
Book a window seat as close to the front as possible, but not right by the toilets or galley. Board as late as possible to avoid bunching during boarding and exposure to passengers packed in the aisles. Consider taking only a boarding bag that fits under your seat and a small day pack, large purse or laptop bag with pockets so you don’t have to put luggage overhead. Hotels have laundry services and towns and cities have laundromats and dry cleaners.
Pack a safety kit with extra masks — non-surgical with three-ply cotton — face shields, latex gloves, sanitizer, wipes in a baggie and reusable straws.
While waiting in the airport departure area, find a gate area with no flights scheduled before your boarding time. Stake out an area with 6 feet all around. If someone gets too close, move.
Bring your own snacks since airlines aren’t providing much or selling anything to eat on board. Aim for things you can eat quickly to minimize maskless time. First class could include a pre-packaged sandwich or limited snack box selection — nothing to write home about. Alcohol is probably not being sold or offered in economy class, and it’s against regulations to bring your own. The straw comes in handy since you can keep your mask on while drinking.
Airlines are taking major steps to ensure planes are clean and sanitized. In addition to extra cleaning and other measures, flight attendants provide packets with sanitizing wipes as you board — ask for two or three. You can use these to wipe any areas you might touch, including the seat, armrests, consoles, seat back pocket, edges of windows and tray table. Airlines operate special websites so you can read about their COVID-19 mitigation procedures and requirements for testing before travel. United Airlines operates websites for pre-departure cleaning information at united.com/cleanplus and COVID-19 testing requirements at your destination united.com/covid-testing.
If you must use a toilet, it’s probably better to use one at a far end of the terminal than one on the plane. You’ll want to have a disinfectant wipe to clean the areas you touch.
Airports have added security personnel to monitor mask use. If you’re not eating or drinking, you could be instructed to wear your mask. Police could remove you if you refuse to comply. Airline personnel also enforce mask use. Failure to comply could get you a slot on a no fly list applicable to all airlines.
Travel has always been an adventure — but now even more so. With planning, though, the experience doesn’t have to be bad.