What post-COVID-19 travellers need to know

Navigating travel has always had its challenges, but since Covid, a new era of travel has been defined. With vaccinations proceeding at breakneck speeds, travel rules around the world are changing equally fast. With borders opening and airlines ramping up capacity, travellers face new questions and concerns. What is my health risk? Do I have to self-quarantine? What if a border closes unexpectedly? Here’s what you can expect:

Plan to plan

Globally the biggest concern is the introduction of new Covid variants and keeping infections low. As a result, the opportunity to travel to a specific destination changes weekly or even daily. Even with airlines desperate to get airborne again, seats will be limited, increasing pricing during those windows. Having reliable access to up-to-date information will be the only way for you to make travel plans.

Must I be vaccinated?

You don’t need to be vaccinated or present a negative COVID-19 test to board a flight within South Africa. All passengers boarding international flights must show proof of a printed negative COVID-19 test taken between 48 and 72 hours before departure, dependant on the country’s specific requirements. Some transit as well as final destinations require you to quarantine on arrival, so be aware of the rules, or you could risk spending all or part of your trip in isolation.

Airports are busier

Granted, if you travelled before the pandemic, “busier” may seem not so busy. Still, with traveller numbers increasing, fewer flights operating, and less staff on duty, expect long check-in lines during peak times and extended waits to grab that pre-flight coffee. 

What health protocols can I expect?

Protocols vary – some airports have thermal temperature screening as passengers enter the airport, but others only require you to sanitise before boarding. Some airlines will check your temperature before boarding, and others won’t.

Airlines and airports encourage social distancing and have changed boarding policies, put stickers on the floor and every other chair in the gate area to space people out, and made in-flight announcements about deplaning by rows. Even so, check-in lobbies and gate areas are crowded, and the usual rush to get on and off the plane remains human nature. Flights are fuller, and you will be hard-pressed to find the middle seat open in the name of social distancing so don’t expect social distancing on board. Most airlines do however offer the option to purchase two seats to ensure that the seat next to you remains empty.  

Must I wear a mask?

Wearing a mask in the airport and onboard is mandatory. Please remember to check if your chosen airline has a specific requirement – some, for example, stipulate the use of N95 Respirators. Travellers are only allowed to remove face masks at restaurants and bars. During the flight, be prepared for repeated announcements about the mask rules, including how to properly wear masks. Anyone who refuses to wear a mask on board will be removed from the plane, be fined or possibly face criminal charges. 

Are airlines serving food?

Airlines have eliminated the in-flight food and drink service to reduce contact between passengers and flight attendants. Many only offer water, and even then, you may not be able to remove your mask to consume this on board. We suggest that you pack your own food and an empty water bottle to fill up past security. If you prefer to eat at the airport, remember that not all restaurants and shops have fully re-opened. Many businesses are short-staffed, so service may be slower than usual. All in all, travel is slowly getting back to normal. Pack your masks. Pack your patience and plan a little extra time as you head to the airports.