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Flying in 2020: A step-by-step journey through airports

We know that travel is especially difficult right now. But alongside the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates, we want to continue to inspire you with new travel content so that when the world opens its doors again, you'll be ready.

With the onset of the pandemic, travel as we know it has been completely upended. As we tackle living in this new normal, governments, tourist authorities, airports, and airlines are all instituting new protocols to help keep us safe while we travel.

If you’re a little confused by what you need to do and how you need to go about it on your next trip, we’ve written up a step-by-step guide on what you can expect at major airports during coronavirus. We’ll lead you through the new processes and answer your major questions.

That being said, this is a developing situation, so it is important that before you book, or set off, that you check with your origin and destination airports to find the latest information.

What to expect at the airport during COVID?

Airports are rarely anyone’s favourite part of the journey thanks to queues, security clearances and customs. While some aspects of the airport transit process are becoming more streamlined as a result of the pandemic, there are also a few checks and systems now.

Going forward, expect changes like lines incorporating social distance markers, temperature checks, disinfectant points, and mandatory masks.

Step-by-step travelling through an airport: From arrival to departure

Please note: at the time of writing there is still an indefinite overseas travel ban in place in Australia. Any international flight information is referring solely to travellers that are flying into Australia or have been awarded an exemption to travel overseas by the Australian government. Some passengers may travel domestically, but this is dependent fully on the airline, state and territory requirements.

Step 1: Check in online and use a mobile ticket

The less physical contact you have with people, the better. We recommend checking-in online before you get to the airport. Now, most major airlines encourage passengers to print their boarding pass or download the airline app for a mobile ticket.

Man typing with credit card in hand

Many airports are limiting face-to-face contact at the airports to protect their staff, so you’ll find your journey is faster and safer if you have all your documents ready to go when you get there. Airports are also advising passengers to book their parking spots online if they are driving themselves to the airport.

Also, download the COVIDSafe app rolled out by the Australian health department. This app allows health officials to get in contact with you as quickly as possible if you have been exposed to COVID-19.

Step 2: Check the airport’s website for up-to-date information

Once you’ve checked-in online, the next step is to check the websites for both your origin and destination airports. These sites will have the latest information on any changes or restrictions currently in place at your departure and arrival points.

Traveller scanning mobile phone at airports during coronavirus
© LHR Airports Limited

All major airports in Australia have dedicated COVID-19 pages, but you should also check their Arrival and Departure pages for details on new rules or requirements.

Step 3: Arrive at the airport early

Get to the airport early. The new recommended times are at least 1 hour before domestic flights and 3 hours before international ones. These are the bare minimum times you’ll need to allow for. Some airports are still getting used to new procedures, and might not be as efficient as they would be in typical circumstances.

Check-in counter at London Heathrow Airport
© LHR Airports Limited

Step 4: Wear a mask

Currently, of the major Australian airports, only Melbourne Airport requires that you wear a mask within the airport. The World Health Organisation’s safety guidelines strongly recommend that you wear a mask in any public area where there are crowds.

Woman wearing a mask at the airport during coronavirus
© LHR Airports Limited

It’s worth noting that you may be required to wear a mask on the flight. For instance, Qantas has made mask wearing mandatory for all flights flying to or arriving from Melbourne.

Hand sanitiser stations have also been installed at every major airport. These will be typically at the entrances, check-in desks, bathrooms and security areas. Make sure you sanitise your hands after coming into contact with high touch areas, such as hand rails and door handles.

Step 5: Expect social distancing measures

Once you’re inside the airport you will notice social distancing markers. These will be set 1.5 km apart, and will help to guide queues, and demarcate sitting areas. There may also be wayfinding paths so that passengers can get to the gate or queue for boarding safely.

Luggage at a social distancing line on the floor
© LHR Airports Limited

Step 6: Allow extra time to get through security

Traveller waiting in queue for check in desk
© LHR Airports Limited

Some travellers may be subject to temperature checks, though currently this is generally conducted with arrivals, particularly international arrivals. However, Canberra Airport conducts temperature checks for departures as part of their security screening.

Overall, at security areas within airports you will find the lines are socially distanced by 1.5m, and if you are required to stand for a pat-down, then security guards will wear gloves or sanitise their hands in between passengers. Getting through security may take longer than normal due to these extra steps.

What should I expect at Australian airports during COVID-19?

Other than the step by step of arriving and heading through the terminals, there might be some other questions you have regarding travel during this time.

Airline staff smiling under face shield
© LHR Airports Limited

Are restaurants in airports open during coronavirus?

You may find that restaurants and cafes across airports are either fully closed, or partially closed. Hours may be limited. Bring your own water bottle to fill up, and pack snacks for the flight. Onboard drinks and food service has halted for many airlines, so if you don’t want to go hungry, make sure you’re prepared. If an airline does serve food, it’s usually in the form of a minor snack pack.

If you have a stopover, you’ll want to check with the individual airport for more detailed information on whether or not you’ll be able to find a bite to eat.

Is extra hand sanitiser allowed on the flight?

You may bring hand sanitiser with you, but flights will still only allow a maximum of 100ml of liquid per bottle onboard. There is also a maximum amount of bottle you can bring: they must fit within a small transparent plastic bag with an area no bigger than 80 centimetres (eg. 20 x 20cm or 15 x25cm).

There will be hand sanitising stations throughout the airport though, so you can save your hand sanitiser for the flight itself. Some airlines offer hand sanitiser and sanitising wipes as part of their in-flight toiletry pack.

Can I fly with my pet during the COVID pandemic?

As there has been mass flight disruptions, places for pets on domestic flights are limited. Each state has different restrictions, so you will need to check their individual requirements before contacting the airlines.

As there is an overseas travel ban in place, many airlines have cancelled their pet programs through to 2021. Contact the company you are flying with, and the airport for resources related to this.

What happens on arrival?

If you are flying within your own state, i.e. Cairns to Brisbane, you may not be subject to any extra protocols on arrival if you are not displaying symptoms off illness. However, it is important to check with each state, and their airports to double check conditions, as they are subject to change.

Further, it is worth heading to the Australian Interstate Quarantine website, which has been set up to give you the most up-to-date information on allowances and restrictions of travel between states.

Can I pick people up at the airport? Can I be picked up at the airport?

If you are a domestic traveller or picking up a domestic traveller, yes, you can both pick someone up and be picked up at the airport. There will be designated pick up points, though your family and friends will have to adhere to social distancing measures within the airport.

However, if you, or the traveller in question is flying in from overseas, you will not be able to be picked up, or pick up that traveller. Overseas flyers will be required to stay in a government designated hotel and quarantine for 14 days before they can see family and friends.

Will I have to quarantine if I am flying domestically?

One of the reasons it is vital to check inter-state conditions of travel is because some states have closed their borders to COVID-19 hotspots, and you may be denied entry, and returned to your original destination.

If you are a resident of that state, and you are returning home from a COVID-19 hotspot, you will have to undergo a mandatory 14 day quarantine at a designated government hotel at your own expense.

Sydney Airport during coronavirus: Things to know

Sydney Airport has instituted several new protocols to keep their passengers safe. These include:

  • Higher frequency cleaning in high-touch areas. Counters, touch-screens, door handles, rails are now cleaned every hour with hospital-grade cleaning products.
  • There are hand sanitiser units at terminal entrances and exits, check-in, and security areas, as well as near bathrooms.
  • Markers have been placed for social distancing.
  • They are broadcasting messaging with guidance on how to stay safe in the airport.
  • The airport is supporting the government conduct health assessments.
  • They update their food and drink page regularly so you can see which outlets are open at the time of travel.
  • Please note: There is an overseas travel ban in place. If your travel is essential, you can apply for an exemption from the Home Affairs department.

Melbourne Airport during coronavirus: Things to know

Melbourne Airport has several new protocols in place for travellers transiting through their facility. These include:

  • Wearing a mask is currently mandatory in the state of Victoria. You must wear one as soon as you leave home, and this includes the airport.
  • There are hand sanitiser units at check-in, along the concourses towards the gates, at all of their bathroom facilities and food courts. The airport also supplies disinfectant wipes should you need them.
  • There are wayfinders and markings to help passengers stay socially distanced through the airport, such as at security screening and check-in counters.
  • Please note: There is an overseas travel ban in place. All international arrivals into Melbourne Airport have been suspended until the 24th October 2020. If you need to travel overseas and feel that need is essential, you can apply for an exemption from the Home Affairs department.

Brisbane Airport during coronavirus: Things to know

Brisbane Airport, like Sydney and Melbourne have instituted several new changes to mitigate the risk of transmission. These include:

  • Asking passengers to download the COVIDSafe app.
  • Floor marking and bollards to help guide passengers to safely socially distance.
  • Added sanitation stations at the terminal entry points, as well as screening locations, on the transfer buses and at their boarding gates.
  • Increased cleaning schedules throughout the airport and on transfer buses.
  • Trolley wipe stations.
  • Please note: There is an overseas travel ban in place. If your travel is essential, you can apply for an exemption from the Home Affairs department.

Useful COVID travel resources:

Please check official channels and advice on where and when you can travel.

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