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At the time of this writing in October 2020, flying during the COVID-19 pandemic is not really new news, but I did want to document my experiences flying this fall and sharing some tips and observations with you. I had a great experience flying despite COVID, so keep reading for more info on how to fly safely during the pandemic.
What It’s Like To Fly During the COVID-19 Pandemic
As with all things related to this pandemic, consult your doctor for medical advice. Everything, including travel, has assumed risks of contracting the coronavirus.
In the fall of 2019, I was flying almost weekly. I had great trips to Kure Beach, North Carolina; Oregon; Sandals Grenada; Italy; Clearwater, Florida; Naples, Florida; Orlando, Florida, and the Bahamas!
The last time I flew, pre-pandemic, was to Port St. Lucie, Florida to attend a travel agent training at Club Med Sandpiper.
Seems like a lifetime ago!
I flew home from that trip on February 29, and remember sitting in the airport Chili’s enjoying a veggie burger and hearing the reports of the first US Coronavirus cases on the news.
Well fast forward to fall 2020, and despite spending all summer in Naples, Florida (and spending two days at Walt Disney World during the pandemic, among other great places far from home) we drove to Florida during COVID. And of course, drove back home to New York in lieu of air travel.
All summer, we did tons of awesome things, and stayed in seven different hotels during the pandemic, but did not get on an airplane at all.
I wasn’t afraid or anything, it’s just the opportunity didn’t arise.
Until I was invited to come visit Sandals Grande Antigua in October of 2020.
I was definitely not going to turn down that invite!
As a full service travel agent, and Certified Sandals Specialist, I was invited to experience first-hand the amazing job Sandals Resorts are doing with their Platinum Protocols of Cleanliness to keep guests safe during their vacations.
Finally, it was time to dust off that passport and get back to the friendly skies!
What to Consider When Booking a Flight During COVID-19 Pandemic
As a result of the pandemic, airlines have been offering flexible options to change your flight, even at the last minute. It seems this flexibility might be here to stay, which isn’t a bad thing!
To break it down, what this means is once you book, you can cancel your ticket and use the credit of what you paid for a future trip. It doesn’t even have to be to the same destination, but must be on the same airline.
It is important to note that if you change your flight to a more expensive one (even the same route) you WILL have to pay the difference in fare, and you most likely won’t be refunded if the new flight is less, but should be able to keep the remainder as a travel credit.
For me, this totally makes the uncertainty of any upcoming travel plans more solid because you will not lose the money you spent.
If we have learned anything from the last few months, it’s that things can change quickly.
When booking my trip to Antigua, I had specific dates to travel – Thursday October 22 thru Sunday, October 25. Which was perfect because Thursday and Sunday were the only days of the week that direct flights were operating from New York JFK to Antigua.
Despite air travel being seemingly on the up from the spring of 2020, it is still nowhere near where it was a year ago, and hence service has been cut in many markets. If you have flexible travel dates (or departure/arrival airport cities) might be worth checking different combinations to find direct flights, the best connections, and best fares.
Speaking of fares, there are some great airfares to be booked, and I felt very confident booking the lowest fare category on Jet Blue, the Blue Basic fare. Here is why –
NOVEMBER 2020 UPDATE: Now it seems that the basic fares are ONLY flexible if you PURCHASE BY 12/31/2020 – so you want to check with your carrier for current updates.
JANUARY 2021 UPDATE: Many carriers are NO LONGER offering flexible changes on Basic Economy fares.
- With this basic fare you normally board in the last group. Which means you might lose out on an overhead space and be forced to gate check your luggage. Well, because of the pandemic, airlines are boarding flights by row, from back to front. So, your boarding group has nothing to do with your fare.
- With a basic fare, you are not assigned a seat until check in, which usually means a high chance of being stuck in a middle seat. BUT, airlines are either blocking middle seats OR limiting capacity so that ergo, no single traveler will end up in a middle anyway. UPDATE: As of October 16, Jet Blue is no longer blocking middle seats, so best to check your specific carrier for their occupancy restrictions.
- Normally with a basic fare, there are NO options to change your ticket or go standby on another flight, but with the flexible changes this is no longer an issue!
- With a basic fare, or main cabin fare, you can carry on a suitcase and a personal item, but with both fare categories have to pay to check a bag.
FLYING DURING THE PANDEMIC PRO-TIP: If you care about where you are seated, book the basic fare and then pay for a seat assignment, this is usually less expensive than the main cabin fare.
For my trip from New York to Antigua, I paid less than $350 round trip and for my November trip to Mexico (Cancun) on Delta, I used only 14,000 SkyMiles (plus the taxes of about $80) for my ticket!
Once you book your ticket, the airline will send you email updates regarding new protocols due to the pandemic. Be sure to be on the lookout for this airline specific information.
My Airport Experience During COVID – Flying out of New York JFK on Jet Blue
I love airports.
Yes, I am the person who arrives early so I can wander around, get food, a drink at the airport bar, and have time to look in all the shops.
In flying Jet Blue from JFK during the pandemic, I wasn’t sure what to expect at the airport, so I went early, with an open mind, and extra snacks on hand.
When I arrived at JFK around 8am on a Thursday morning, the Jet Blue check-in area was fairly busy. Was it as bustling as a “normal” weekday morning? Maybe not as much, but the terminal wasn’t a ghost town by any means.
Masks are required in the airport, as is social distancing (as per multiple loud speaker announcements) but no one seemed to be staying 6 feet apart in the queues. After our pandemic visits to Walt Disney World and the Waterpark at Legoland Florida, I definitely expected little dots on the ground to guide me on where to stand.
I love those dots!
But the security line moved quick, especially in the much shorter TSA pre-check line.
When it was my turn with the security officer, I showed my passport and boarding pass. For some reason it surprised me that I had to lower my mask so he could check my actual face against my identification. Just a heads up that they will do that!
Once through security – the actual security screening was the same as always, just with waiting a little longer for the person in front of you to clear out – the airport was open as normal. Some eateries were closed, but it was early in the morning, so not sure if that was due to it being breakfast time, or the pandemic.
In the Jet Blue terminal, the large food court and Starbucks were open, as was the Hudson News outlets, Baked by Melissa, and some of the random shops.
I grabbed a coffee and sandwich at Starbucks (love those spinach/feta/egg white wraps) and took a seat at my gate. Everyone was wearing masks although I did remove mine to eat and drink.
When it was time to board, they did so by rows – from the back of the plane to the front. Which is how they used to do it – I remember when flying as a child. It makes so much sense to go that way. The only exception was they did call first for anyone that had special needs and required extra time to board.
I was seated in row 15, so went up when I was called.
At the gate, there is self-scan ticketing, although since I was on an international flight, I had to hand the gate attendant my passport.
It is worth noting that I was traveling to a destination, Antigua, that requires you to arrive with a negative PCR COVID test in hand. The airline DOES NOT check whether or not you have this, so it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to know the regulations for your destination. Which is of course why I IMPLORE you to book your Caribbean vacation with a trusted travel advisor (such as myself) and not a discount booking site that will not help you with any of the entry requirements.
DECEMBER 2020 UPDATE: I flew safely to Costa Rica for a week long travel agent trip (we got to tour the Planet Hollywood Beach Resort) and then over to Jamaica to tour Breathless Montego Bay and Sandals Royal Caribbean. Be sure to add Club Mobay to your Jamaica trip!
JANUARY 2021 UPDATE: In December, I had three international trips. On my family trip to Royalton Antigua, the gate agent in the US DID check that we had our negative PCR test results BEFORE checking us in. We flew American Airlines for this December 2020 trip.
April 2021 UPDATE: The virus is still a thing, but travel has been picking up. In the last two months, I have flown to Charleston, Naples, and Orlando twice (including one time to visit Universal Studios Orlando).
Planes are definitely more crowded and after this month, Delta is no longer blocking middle seats, but travel is back and people are excited to explore. Also, NYS residents no longer need to quarantine after travel, so that is an amazing development!
What To Expect On the Plane During the Pandemic
As I boarded the plane, a sanitation kit was offered. It contained two disinfecting wipes and a packet of hand sanitizer. Not normally a germophobic traveler, I did use the wipes to clean the tray, armrests and seat belt. Although it is worth noting that during boarding the flight attendants mentioned several times that the aircraft was just fully sanitized.
Figured extra cleaning couldn’t hurt!
FLYING DURING THE PANDEMIC PRO-TIP: On your outbound flight, take an extra sanitizing pack for the way home – in Antigua this was not offered on the return flight.
Once we got going it was pretty much a normal flight. Jet Blue offered their in-flight entertainment – which I think stinks on Caribbean flights since the DISH TV craps out after about 30 minutes at which point you only have a few movies to choose from – and they aren’t even on demand! #FirstWorldProblems
The biggest difference in service is there is no, well, service. At the beginning of the flight, an attendant came around offering a bag with a tiny water bottle, and two snacks (a bag of Cheeze-Its and a bag of Pop Corners if you were wondering).
And that was it.
No food for purchase, no alcohol, no beverage choice. So definitely keep that in mind as you pack and board. Prior to boarding they did mention there would be essentially no food service and asked travelers to plan accordingly before coming on the plane.
UPDATE: On my flight home, we had a newer Jet Blue plane with on-demand movies and they did have headphones for purchase.
What to Bring on Your Flight During COVID
I have a great article about surviving long flights, and more about what I “normally” bring in my carry on. For my first flight during COVID I did bring a few extra items:
- Multiple masks. I wore my favorite princess one I bought at the reopening of Disney Springs and packed a few disposable ones as back up. I thought about buying an N95 level mask, but decided not to. Worth mentioning that it is an FAA regulation that all guests age 2 and up wear a face covering on board. This should not vary by carrier.
- A mask lanyard. I made my own, but you can buy one prior to your trip, that way you don’t have to put your mask down while eating or drinking.
- Extra hand sanitizer
- Lysol Wipes (I had a travel pack I got at the dollar store)
- A metal water bottle to fill up once passed security
- Lunch and snacks. Because my flight was from 10:30-2:30 I wanted to have enough food to constitute a meal, since there is not food for purchase on board
- Headphones – they did not give these out, so bring your own
- Travel Blanket and Travel Pillow – these were also not passed out, so best to bring your own
- Negative COVID test – if your destination requires it. You might want to scan a copy to have electronically as well.
My Experience Flying to Cancun Mexico on Delta Airlines
NOVEMBER 2020 UPDATE: Last week, I was invited to Cancun, Mexico to tour several Karisma properties and stay at the El Dorado Royale adults only, all-inclusive. For this trip I flew on my beloved Delta Airlines from NY-JFK.
I arrived at the airport rather early, because I just was not sure what to expect with lines and crowds. I had my boarding pass on my phone and went right to the TSA pre-check line which was very short.
There did seem to be some kind of backup at the bag drop-off, but luckily, I was carrying on.
Once through security at Terminal 4, I walked down to the Delta Sky Lounge. I was surprised that most eateries and retail shops were closed. It was a Monday morning at 7:30AM, but after traveling Jet Blue in October, I expected more to be open.
The Sky Club was fully operational – masks are required and the buffet has been replaced with grab and go options (which I think I enjoyed more than the old choices!).
PS The overnight oats with peaches are amazing!
Coffee and beverages were self-serve, and the full service bar was open.
When it was time for my flight, Delta also boarded the plane from back to front, and middle seats are blocked until January (please check for current info on this). Otherwise, the plane was more full than I expected.
On the flight, a snack bag with water and Biscoff cookies were handed out.
The flight home was just as seamless, and pretty much empty. Again, another positive experience flying during the pandemic.
Should You Fly During COVID?
I have to say, the answer to that question is definitely a personal one.
I felt very safe and as someone who is inundated with travel news, have not heard of airline travel spiking coronavirus outbreaks. But of course, anytime we leave our home, we put ourselves at a calculated risk and at the end of the day no one wants to get sick.
If you have to, or want to fly, bring a good mask, some extra cleaning supplies and maybe try to travel at an off-time to limit crowds. Be confident the airlines ARE taking extra pre-cautions to welcome you (and their crew) back safely!
Have you flown during the Coronavirus Pandemic? How did it go? Will you be traveling by air soon? Where do YOU want to go?