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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.

Over the last few months, airports have implemented new policies to ensure the health and safety of employees and travellers. While you may not be ready to hop on a plane just yet, this guide will help prepare you for when you are. We have gathered as much information as possible about airports during coronavirus, but it’s important to remember that they are not all the same. Before flying, you should look up the official information about the airport you are flying to and from.

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

Travelling in 2020, you will find most airports during coronavirus have made similar changes including mandatory face masks, signage to encourage social distancing, temperature checks, enhanced cleaning, and additional hand sanitizer stations. Here is a step-by-step guide on travelling through airports during coronavirus from arrival to departure.

Step 1: Check-in online and print your boarding pass at home or download it to your phone. To reduce potential touchpoints, some airlines are limiting face-to-face contact at check-in desks, and are asking travellers to have all documents prior to arrival at the airport. If you are checking a bag, most airlines will let you handle your own bag.

flight agent with plexi glass and face mask
© LHR Airports Limited

Step 2: Check the airport websites for information. Before departure, plan to check your arrival and departure airports for official details regarding new process changes or coronavirus requirements.

Step 3: Arrive at the airport early. Coronavirus has affected staffing and operations across the airport environment, potentially adding time to your pre-flight experience. For domestic flights, arrive at least 90 minutes before your flight. For international flights, arrive at least three hours early. Terminal access is restricted to passengers who are travelling on the same day and airport employees on duty.

empty airports during coronavirus
© LHR Airports Limited

Step 4: At the airport during coronavirus, it is mandatory to wear a mask/face covering at all times. This includes the pre and post-security screening areas of the terminals, parking facilities, people mover trains, sidewalks/curbs outside the terminals and other outdoor public areas. Most airports have installed extra hand sanitizer stations. It is also encouraged to take advantage of the bathrooms within airports and wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds as this is more effective.

hand sanitizer station in airport
© LHR Airports Limited

Step 5: Expect social distancing measures. From queuing to dropping your bag at the check-in desk, to going through security, most airports during coronavirus have implemented physical distancing signage. Throughout the airport, you will see floor markers to ensure you are standing two metres away from other travellers. In the airport waiting areas, expect every second chair to be closed off.

closed off seats in airports to support social distancing
© LHR Airports Limited

Step 6: Leave extra time to go through security. Many airports have tweaked security procedures to reduce how much travellers have to handle security bins and to keep agents from touching travellers’ belongings. If you need to be patted down, officers will change gloves after each pat-down.

Starting July 30th, Temperature screening is being implemented in phases at Canada’s 15 busiest airports during coronavirus, starting with Calgary, Toronto Pearson, and Montreal-Trudeau. On or before September 30, 2020, temperature screening operations will commence at the next 11 busiest airports. All passengers departing from these airports will be required to undergo temperature screening before proceeding to the screening checkpoint.

sign in airport for temperature check trial
© LHR Airports Limited

Step 7: In the airport terminal. Many shops, restaurants and lounges may be closed, and not all airlines are serving food on flights, so you may want to bring your own food and drink with you. Pack some snacks that you can bring with you in your carry-on to eat while you’re waiting at the terminal before your flight boards. This will limit your need to eat on the flight, so you won’t have to take off your face mask while on the plane. Also, please note that most airports are also discouraging the use of cash, so bring a tap-to-pay card or contactless payments like Apple Pay on your phone.

airports during coronavirus with seats closed off
© LHR Airports Limited

Step 8: Arrive early at your gate for boarding. Airlines will ask health questions required by Transport Canada, take your temperature without contact and ensure that you have your own face mask to wear on your flight. Some airlines have also changed their boarding procedures. For example, boarding fewer people at a time to keep crowds from forming at the gate, on the jet bridge and as people get on the plane. Airlines are also asking people to scan their own boarding passes.

passenger scanning boarding pass in airport
© LHR Airports Limited

Step 9: Boarding the plane. When you board your flight, airlines such as Air Canada are handing out a clean care kit, which includes water, hand sanitizer, masks, gloves, and disinfectant wipes which we also recommend packing with you. Masks are required during the entire flight, and food and drink service may not be available. Some airlines are trying to leave the middle seat open for social distancing between travellers, but this is not guaranteed.

Step 10: Arriving at the destination airport. At the baggage claim area, most airports have implemented spacing stickers at the conveyor belt to remind travellers of physical distancing. Baggage carts are sanitized before each use, and other high-contact areas are continuously cleaned. Also note that airports during coronavirus are asking travellers to immediately exit the terminal buildings upon collecting your bags from the baggage carousel.

passenger picking up baggage on carousel
What is it like at airports during coronavirus?

Depending on where you are going, there may be additional screening on disembarkation. If you are travelling outside of Canada, many countries have implemented temperature screening, mandatory coronavirus tests, or proof of a negative coronavirus test taken in the previous 72 hours. Always check the official information of the country you are visiting before departing to ensure you know what to expect.

Within Canada, air travel is permitted throughout the country but those who show any coronavirus symptoms will be denied boarding. The Atlantic Provinces have formed a travel bubble and are only allowing those who reside in Atlantic Canada to travel between them unless you have an exemption notice. When travelling between the Atlantic provinces, you will need to show two forms of ID on arrival. Canadians are allowed to travel internationally but are required to self-isolate for two weeks when they return. An isolation document must be filled out before speaking to a Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer, and anyone entering the country, regardless of citizenship, is required to provide contact information.

Toronto Pearson: things to know

Toronto Pearson Airport has implemented new initiatives and processes to ensure passengers and airport employees safety while travelling through the airport. As of June 1st, masks are required at all times and terminal access is only available to passengers travelling on the same day and employees. There have been enhanced cleaning and sanitization stations, as well as signage to encourage social distancing. Passenger info desks have gone virtual to help protect passengers and employees.

Vancouver International Airport: Things to Know

Similarly to Pearson, the Vancouver International Airport has implemented new travel requirements under the YVR TAKECare, a new health and safety program. Travellers can expect mandatory temperature screening and face masks, increased cleaning and sanitary stations, plexiglass at counters, and clear physical distancing signage throughout the passenger journey.

I travelled from Halifax to St. John’s in July. While I was nervous about what it would be like, things were not that different. The airport was really quiet, and there were clear walking routes and floor signage to ensure social distancing at the airport. Masks are required at all times in the airport and on the airplane (apart from when you’re eating or drinking). The check-in, bag drop and boarding process were very similar to normal, with the exception of having your temperature checked when you board the plane. The airport was very quiet. Lots of shops were closed, but some food and drink places were still open. I arrived earlier than usual, but it wasn’t necessary as the airport was so quiet it was quick to get through.

Lora Pope, Newfoundland Canada

A lot has changed in the last few months for the travel industry, and the aviation industry in particular has had to make many changes to ensure the health and safety of travellers and employees. We hope this article could help prepare you for what to expect at airports during coronavirus when you’re ready to travel again. Before booking a trip, always check official government advice and airport website for the latest guidelines.

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