Airport Etiquette in the Time of COVID

The COVID pandemic has resulted in a swathe of strict safety measures being implemented in airports across the globe, most of which are unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Travellers have entirely embraced the need for social distancing measures, wearing masks, temperature checks, and COVID testing as a pre-requisite to a safe (not to mention healthy) journey.

But if you have been on a plane of late, you will have no doubt noticed that each airport experience is different. Here is an overview of what can you anticipate as you head off your next trip, but one thing is certain, there is no normal, so also pack loads of patience.

Sanitary Measures

Every airport has implemented the most stringent sanitary measures. Trolleys and baggage will be frequently sanitised, as will seat, restaurants, etc. Almost without exception, hand sanitisers have been made available at strategic passenger journey touchpoints throughout the terminals. However, some airports may offer a self-sanitising station, while others have installed sophisticated temperature technology to scan you as you enter the airport building.

You will be required to wear your face mask (this excludes children under the age of five in South Africa.)  Please be aware that face shields are only acceptable if a face mask that covers your mouth and nose is worn underneath the face shield. All employees wear masks, and passengers only have to briefly pull down their face coverings to show their faces after their IDs are scanned. Again, sometimes this will be required and other times not. Food is no longer served on domestic flights, and you’ll also need to wear a mask for the duration of the flight unless drinking water.

Social Distancing

As is to be expected, social distancing will remain in effect at check-in, security controls, baggage halls and all amenities at the airport. If you were hoping to have a middle seat blocked off for extra space, know that most airlines lifted that restriction, and you likely won’t be afforded that luxury. However, you can pay for an extra seat to ensure that you don’t have someone sitting next to you on the flight. One positive change is that the disembarkation process is no longer a free for all. Airlines disembark a few rows at a time, usually from the front and the back, and the process is far more orderly and efficient as a result.

Documentation Requirements

In addition to your passport, ticket and other travel documentation, international travellers departing from and returning to South Africa must carry a hard copy of the Traveller Health Questionnaire. This form must be submitted at least two days before travelling to or from South Africa. (You will need to have two forms – one for exit and one for re-entry.)

it is recommended that you download the COVID Alert SA exposure notification app. It lets people know when they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, and it is recommended that international travellers download this app before their trip.

Health Testing

Some degree of health testing is likely to become an accepted part of airport security screening procedures. Passengers arriving in or departing from South Africa must hold a negative PCR test certificate recognised by the World Health Organisation obtained within 72 hours before departure from the departure date. International travellers who are screened and found to have symptoms of COVID-19 will be required to have another test and be subjected to 10 days mandatory quarantine at a state-appointed facility at their own cost. So do ensure that you have this on hand to avoid unnecessary delays.

No PCR test is required for domestic travel. Please do not travel if you are feeling unwell.

Longer Queues

Although some airports may have “fast lanes” in place, security screenings will almost certainly take longer.  Many airports will facilitate biometric technology via eyes or facial recognition to mitigate the longer waiting times which may be experienced. For this reason, you should arrive at least 90 minutes before departure for domestic flights and 3-4 hours before the departure of international flights

Contactless Processes

Contactless check-ins and self-service kiosks are already being adopted in developed airports worldwide, including tagging, biometric security checks, and baggage drop-offs.  Passengers are encouraged to use the online check-in to minimise touching of personal identity documents. Security will also request that passengers scan their boarding cards. It cannot be overstated that every airport will have contrasting safety measures and precautions in place to deal with COVID.  This is sure to provide you with the reassurance and answers you need to stay safe, stay healthy and stay connected.