I flew for the first time since restrictions were lifted: 7 things you should know

Jul 7, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Monday was a great day. I was finally back in the air after not stepping foot in an airport or on a plane since February.

Thanks to the much of the U.K. opening up again for domestic travel as of 4 July, I was able to travel to London to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday and combine it with a return flight home to the northeast of England on the first-ever commercial flight between London City (LCY) and Teesside Airport (MME) with Eastern Airways.

Sign up for the free daily TPG newsletter for more travel information!

It’s no shock that travel — and more specifically, air travel — is different right now. We’ve all seen the images of cabin crew dressed in full PPE and eerily quiet major airports around the world. And because of the still-looming threat of coronavirus, I was a little more anxious than usual before I got to the airport, as I had no idea what to expect.

Once inside the airport, I was comforted by the measures that were in place for passenger and staff safety — including temperature checks. While the whole experience was very different from what I’m used to, I didn’t once feel unsafe.

 Follow The Points Guy on Facebook and Twitter, and to ensure you never miss anything, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

Flying during the coronavirus pandemic. London City Airport advising passengers that there will be temperature checks. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
London City Airport advising passengers that there will be temperature checks. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

But if you’re planning on travelling soon, here are a few things you should know, based on my experience.

1. Bring your own mask

Wearing a mask is compulsory on all forms of public transport in the U.K. This is also the case while in airport buildings and was introduced by some airports back in May. Every member of staff I saw was either wearing a mask, a visor or both.

Related: UK government publishes guidance for passengers travelling during pandemic

At one point during the security screening process, I had removed my mask. Two passengers behind me had done the same thing, and we were all asked politely to put them back on before we went through the security scanners.

While some airports are providing masks for passengers who forget, I didn’t see any signs at London City (LCY) advising that masks were available. To make for a smooth travel experience, I highly recommend ensuring that you take your mask — and even a spare just in case. If you’re travelling on a longer-haul flight, you’ll want to bring enough to change your mask every four hours.

On board the Eastern Airways Saab 2000, we were informed that masks were mandatory throughout the flight unless you had a valid reason not to wear one.

Related: 9 ways coronavirus could forever change the future of travel

2. Bring your own food

While flight schedules are slowly increasing, most U.K. airports are still operating with only the bare minimum passenger facilities open. On Monday morning, London City airport only had a single, tiny Boots shop open.

Flying during the coronavirus pandemic. The only shop open at the airport (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
The only shop open at the airport. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

There was also a very strict and clearly signposted one-way system in place with only one entrance and exit.

Flying during the pandemic. Boots strict one-way policy through its small shop (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
Boots’ strict one-way policy through its small shop. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

Shelves were fully stacked and I had only seen around three other passengers in the terminal, so there wasn’t likely to be a shortage of food. If you’re travelling from a larger airport like Heathrow (LHR), then I’d highly recommend bringing your own food to avoid any potential hunger issues.

Flying during the coronavirus pandemic. An eerily quiet Monday morning departure lounge at London City (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
Flying during the coronavirus pandemic. An eerily quiet Monday morning departure lounge at London City. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

Every other shop, restaurant and bar was closed — including Pret.

Flying during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

We’re all learning to adapt to this new flying experience, including staff. For many of the airport staff I spoke to, Monday was their first day back working since London City Airport closed in March. The airport officially reopened on 21 June, and there are plans for flights to gradually resume. For members of the staff I spoke with at LCY, they seemed happy to be there and keen to help if I had any questions.

Related: Going the extra mile: The airline staff who made me feel like a first-class flyer even in economy

The same can be said on board the aircraft. The cabin crew lead announced at the start of the flight that the inflight service was currently suspended due to COVID-19. Once airborne, I spoke to a member of the crew about the usual service, which he said will “hopefully be back soon”, but that there were bottles of water for those who asked.

If you’re travelling by air, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Several airlines have announced that they’re suspending inflight meal and drink service in an effort to cut down on passenger and crew interaction. While you should probably bring your own food and drink on board, if you forget or are very thirsty, there’s a chance you’ll still be served.

4. Pay attention to signage

Even in a pre-coronavirus world, airports were already places with strict rules and guidelines to follow. But flying now, the signage and guidelines are even more so.

In my experience at LCY on Monday, there was a strict one-way system for entering and exiting the main terminal building.

Flying during the pandemic. The one-way entrance and exit system at London City Airport (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
Flying during the pandemic. The one-way entrance and exit system at London City Airport. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

There were floor markings throughout the airport, including at check-in and while queueing to board the plane.

Social distancing floor signs at the boarding gates. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

Several areas where people are usually packed tight together are now partly closed off to ensure that passengers can keep as far apart from each other as possible — including before, during and after security.

Flying during the coronavirus pandemic. Socially distanced gates at the entrance to security. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
Socially distanced gates at the entrance to security. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
Flying during the coronavirus pandemic. Socially distanced hand luggage repacking area (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
Socially distanced hand luggage repacking area. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

As more people are starting to take back to the skies, it might be worth allowing yourself more time, as passing through these areas could take longer at larger, busier airports.

Other safety measures included several hand sanitising stations at London City as well as on arrival at Teesside. Plastic screens had also been installed at check-in and other places where staff and passengers would come into close contact like information desks and the boarding gate.

(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

5. You’re likely to get a social distanced seating assignment

To help with social distancing, some airlines around the world have introduced new seating policies such as blocking out the middle seat — especially in the U.S. — or automatic allocation by the airline.

As I was flying Eastern Airways, I wasn’t able to reserve a seat on its website and was told I’d get allocated a seat at check-in. This wasn’t the case, either. My boarding pass just showed “seat free”, and the agent told me I’d be assigned a seat when I boarded. As I entered the aircraft I was asked if I was travelling alone, then told to head to the back and sit in the single-seat row — the Saab 2000 is arranged in a 1-2 configuration — on the port side of the plane.

The view from 16A onboard a socially distanced Eastern Airways Saab 2000 (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
The view from 16A onboard a socially distanced Eastern Airways Saab 2000. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

Head of TPG U.K. Video Jean Arnas also flew recently, and both Ryanair and British Airways didn’t allow seat selection online before flying. Instead, he was allocated an empty row on each of the three flights he took.

6. Once the plane lands, stay seated

Before we landed at Teesside, there was a PA advising that passengers were to remain seated on landing and that the plane would be deboarded in rows. Gone are the days of rushing out of your seat to stand in the aisle waiting for the jet bridge to be connected.

At the end of the day, the move isn’t to slow down the deplaning process. Instead, it’s to keep passengers and crew as safe as possible. The policy is meant to help keep passengers a safe distance apart from one another.

7. Research your airline’s policy

To save yourself hassle at the airport or on the plane, it’s advisable to spend a couple of minutes to check over your airline’s latest COVID-19 policy. Some airlines require passengers to wear masks, while some only encourage it.

Changes have also been made to some baggage policies. For example, Emirates has banned hand luggage from the overhead bins, and for flights to or from Italy, overhead bins have been completely taken out of use. In the latter instance, since it’s a government-imposed mandate, passengers don’t have to pay for checked baggage fees — as long as they’re within the airline’s size requirements for carry-on baggage.

Final thoughts

You can’t see it, but I have a massive smile on my face behind that mask.

In-flight during coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
Inflight during coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

Before restrictions were lifted, I was nervous about what the whole airport and flying experience would be like, but I didn’t feel at all apprehensive during my journey on Monday. The only negatives were that I was quite rudely told by a policeman that I wasn’t allowed to take photos in the terminal building and that I couldn’t have a proper pre-flight coffee.

(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

Everything else went smoothly. I felt safe and I’ve never experienced a cleaner airport. It was so nice to be back in the air with that view above the clouds.

Featured photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.