Is it safe to fly right now?
As countries are reopening, more and more people are itching to travel again, but is it safe to fly now? Read more to find out about our experience flying and our advice for those who want to book their flights in the near future.
We spent 4 months in Chile, hoping that South America will reopen again. However, after no signs of improvements, we decided to pack our bags and move to Mexico for a while. There are plenty of reasons why we made this decision, most notably we wanted to escape the winter weather and the 9-week-and-going quarantine.
It was very challenging to find flights from South America but in the end we booked three flights. The first was domestic, from Iquique to Santiago and the other two were international, Santiago-Miami-Cancun.
The airport experience
We believe that airports have never been cleaner. However, the way a nation tackles the pandemic clearly reflects the airports and flying experience. That being said, we went to two airports in Chile, one in the United States and one in Mexico. The experience was different in each place.
Airports in Chile
Chile takes the pandemic very seriously and has kept strict lockdown measures for the past few months. The airports clearly reflect this.
Chilean airports are equipped with thermographic cameras and there are also people who check your health forms and screen you for any symptoms. After the medical screening, you may enter the airport. Everyone is required to wear a mask and keep social distance.
There are hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere and a lot of social distancing measures implemented. The check-in and customs processes are contactless, you don't have to hand in your travel documents but show them through the screens. You can also use the automatic check-in counters. When passing through security checks, you no longer need to take out everything from your bag, such as laptops and liquids.
Most shops in the Chilean airports are closed. There are a couple of kiosks that sell souvenirs and duty-free shops which are open. However, the majority of restaurants, cafés and shops are closed.
Airports in the United States
We flew in and out of Miami International Airport. The airport experience was not the best, and it reflects how the state tackles the pandemic. People are required to wear a mask but there are no health screening processes. You don't need a health form in order to enter or depart the United States.
There are hand sanitizer dispensers and stickers on the floors which tell you to keep social distancing measures. However, many people do not respect the rules. The check in process is as usual, you have to hand in your travel documents several times. Hence, you get to touch a lot of papers that have been passed through several airport staff. Sometimes it is not even necessary for the staff to touch the papers, but they still do. Oh, and some of the airport staff does not even use masks correctly.
Going through security is also an unchanged process. You are required to remove everything from your bags and even remove your shoes before passing through. Well, the United States has had enhanced security measures for a long time, but we believe they could have definitely done better.
We'd say that half the shops and restaurants are open inside the airport. You can find food, drinks and some shops open.
Airports in Mexico
Mexican airports are definitely better than the one in Miami. They use thermographic cameras and incoming visitors are required to complete a health form prior to arrival.
There are hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere and social distancing protocols in place. The airport staff uses masks, face shields and gloves. Some shops are open.
The flight experience
We flew with LATAM Airlines and American Airlines. The experience was very different when comparing the two. However, both airlines require passengers to wear masks at all times.
Entering the aircraft
All airlines enhanced social distancing measures upon entering aircraft. Passengers are part of groups, and they are allowed to enter depending on their group, starting from the front of the aircraft. However, it would have made more sense to start filling the aircraft from the back if passengers entered through the front door.
In-flight social distancing
LATAM kept at least one seat empty between passengers. On our red-eye from Santiago to Miami, each of us had an entire row to ourselves. On the other hand, the American Airlines flight was full, no social distancing measures were taken.
All aircraft seemed to be cleaner than usual. However, LATAM also offered wet wipes to passengers. Magazines were removed from LATAM flights, whereas on American they were not.
LATAM offers a bottle of water and a snack on the short flights, and a meal on long flights. The meal was different from usual, it only involved dispensable plates. Trays and other bowls were removed, and the meal was more basic, it included a portion of marinara pasta and a cereal bar.
American Airlines does not offer any in-flight service.
Some advice if you plan to fly soon
We will share some advice based on our experience flying during the pandemic. We will share everything that has helped us stay safe during our flights.
1. Always wear a mask. Masks are very important as they protect for both spreading and getting the virus. It is best to have additional masks with you in case you need to change.
2. Get plenty of hand sanitizer and use it frequently. We had two bottles each and it was fine. Make sure you have hand sanitizer with 70%+ alcohol.
3. Have disinfectant wipes with you. They were very useful especially for cleaning our seat, handles, tray tables when entering the plane and during our trips to the restrooms.
4. Use Ziploc bags. We used some to put in the travel documents after being touched by airport staff and some for our masks.
5. Don't forget the water. As some airlines may not even offer water, it is best to have a refillable water bottle with you. This is a great option to use to hydrate yourself at any time. Make sure it's empty before you go through security check though!
6. Have a jacket with you. We were pretty cold on most flights, and we suggest having your own layers with you. Some flights may offer blankets but it is not the safest option to use them.
7. Bring your own food. Most airplane food is bad anyway, but it's better to pack your own snacks and food if you have a longer flight. However, if your flight is short, then we recommend you to avoid eating during the flight. Eating and drinking require you to remove your mask, thus exposing you to a higher risk.
So it is safe to fly right now?
The Arizona Health Department State categorizes flying as a moderate-high risk activity. Business Insider has a similar view, due to the fact that the virus can spread easier in enclosed spaces. Most nations advise against non-essential travel right now. However, if you do want to fly right now, you can definitely lower your risks by taking proper social distancing measures. In addition, you should make good use of masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.
Other things to consider
When you decide to plan your trip, you should also consider the following aspects:
- Your flight may change or get cancelled, make sure you check the status of your flight regularly.
- If you plan to party you should know that most destinations that are open have not yet opened nightclubs.
- CDC recommends to practice self-isolation once you return home.
Sources: CDC / LATAM / American Airlines / Resident Advisor / Travel and Leisure / CNBC / Arizona Department of Health Service
Read more about countries reopening in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa.