What to expect when travelling during a time of physical distancing

From the airport to the hotel, there are multiple measures in place to ensure your health and safety.

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As the COVID-19 curve begins to flatten, cities, states and the nation are beginning to open up. But this doesn't mean that we can all relax and return to our regularly scheduled travel programming.

In fact, physical/social distancing and good hygiene are now more important than ever in order to eradicate the virus.

While we understand that physical distancing while travelling can be difficult, rest assured, there are measures in place that do make it easier.

So if you're spending one or a few days away from home, here's what to expect.

Before flying

Pre-departure eligability and health screenings

Before you even check in, airlines could pre-screen you for your eligibility to fly. From 12 June, Virgin Australia is rolling this out as part of its set of healthy and wellbeing measures.

Simiarly, Scoot has introduced pre-flight temperature screenings and health declaration forms.

At the airport

Extra screening time

Those travelling internationally will have to factor extra screening time. This is approximately 15 minutes, a traveller who flew from Sydney to London in April told Finder. During the screening, you'll be asked a number of questions regarding your circumstances. This can include why you're travelling, your citizenship and/or visa status, your future travel plans and your plans for transit.

You're likely to be asked multiple times to show your passport before being allowed into the terminal.

Those travelling domestically may also need to factor in some extra questioning time – though likely not as much.

Distancing at the check-in

Physical distancing rules apply throughout the airport and the check-in queue is no different.

Markers are placed on the ground at 1.5-metre distances to indicate where you must stand in order to stay your distance from others in the queue.

You'll notice all crew are wearing masks and gloves as added protection. You're welcome to as well, though unless the airline tells you it's a requirement, this is optional.

Reduced or no option to pre-select seats before check-in

Singapore budget airline Scoot has removed the ability to pre-select seats prior to check into allow the airline to properly space its passengers.

Families and groups travelling together will allocated seats next to each other, where possible.

This is likely going to be adopted by other airlines to maintain social distancing onboard.

More self check-in and bag drop

Contactless check-in and bag drops are nothing new but these are being strongly encouraged to align with physical distancing.

You may be contacted by your airline prior to your departure date to check-in online.

When you arrive at the airport you may also notice more staff directing you toward the self check-in terminals.

Closed food court areas

The reopening of food courts is the last phase in the government's three-step plan toward a COVIDSafe Australia and airport food courts are no exception.

All have closed up shop which means the airport might feel eerily quiet to you.

Closed lounges

Similar to food courts, many airport lounges have shut up shop for the meantime.

You shouldn't be able to redeem any passes you might have. However, if you do have a pass booked, contact the airline to see if you can save it for later, and confirm that the lounge is planning to open for your flight.

If it is, you may notice extra practices in place such as social distancing and sanitising stations.

Need to bring your own food

As food courts and airport lounges are closed until further notice, you'll be starved for food choices. Some sit-down restaurants may be opened so long as they've been deemed safe. However, they may be limited to a number of patrons.

Your best bet is to pack your own meal if you wish to eat before you board your flight.

At the gate

Distanced seating

At the gate, you'll be encouraged to comply with physical distancing rules, most likely by keeping a seat between your party and the next.

Sequenced boarding

When boarding during the norm, queues are usually broken down by class and then by large chunks of rows.

During a time of social distancing, this is likely to be even further broken down into smaller sets of rows. This works to reduce overcrowding when boarding the plane.

As a result, you may find the plane begin to board earlier to take off on time. Keep an eye on the boards to make sure you're near the gate when your flight begins to board.

On the plane

Distanced seating

In the air, social distancing is also imperative. Some airlines such as Qatar are achieving this by providing customers an entire row to themselves. The exception is when travelling with family or other members of your household.

Other airlines are removing the ability to book the middle seat in order to create distance between one passenger and the next. Or, have removed the ability to pre-book seats all together with seat allocation occuring during check-in to adequately space passengers.

To allow for easy contact tracing, Scoot, for example, is encouraging passengers not to change their seats in-flight.

Sanitisation stations

To reduce the spread of COVID-19, airlines are thoroughly sanitising their aircraft after every flight. This may add time between flights, so please be patient.

Sanitisers for both crew and passengers are available at the airports and on the planes. Regular hand washing is encouraged throughout and toilets are constantly being cleaned.

Face masks available

Many airlines are offering free face masks to passengers. Whether you're required to wear them is dependent on the airline.

In Australia, only Regional Express (Rex) has made mask wearing compulsary. Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar all provide masks but don't force their passengers to wear them. This is because each state and territory has different rules and restrictions. Additionally, the federal Chief Medical Officer hasn't mandated mask wearing yet.

The only circumstances where you will be forced to wear a mask on these airlines is if you are flying to or from Melbourne or are showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Limit on cabin baggage

Boarding is going to be a little slower and to keep the flow of movement as well as reduce high-touch surfaces airlines could limit your cabin baggage.

Scoot has already implemented this. As of 1 June, passengers can only carry a small cabin bag which fits under the seat. On the upside, all other carry-on luggage is being checked in for free.

Limited meal service and no in-flight literature

Depending on the airline, meals may be limited or removed altogether to reduce the amount of face to face interaction.

You should be notified of this before boarding so you can appropriately bring food on board, should you need.

Many airlines have also removed their in-flight literature to reduce shared, high-touch surfaces.

At the hotel

Digital check-in

Online check-in is nothing new but now more than ever, hotels are utilising it to remove the need for face-to-face contact.

Depending on your hotel, you may be able to check-in on your phone upon arrival or via a kiosk at the lobby entrance.

For phone check-ins such as with Hilton, you'll be given a digital card on your phone which you can use to open your room. If this is an option at your hotel, you'll be emailed a QR code prior to your stay.

For kiosk check-ins, a card may be generated for you on the spot.

If you feel uncomfortable or unsure about using this tech, lobby staff are still available to help.

Closed restaurants, gyms and pools

Depending on the restrictions at your destination, social and recreational spaces such as restaurants, gyms and pools may be closed or restricted.

In the case that these aren't open, there may be alternatives available.

For example, the restaurant may deliver your buffet breakfast dishes of choice to your room and there may be virtual gym classes you can tune into from your TV or phone.

Contact your hotel prior to your stay for details on what's open and what's available so you can plan accordingly.

No-contact amenities

In line with social distancing rules, food orders may be delivered to your door and left for you to pick up instead of a porter setting it up in your room.

Likewise with cleaners, they may be restricted to entering only when you're outside your room.

Out and about

Digital ordering and payments

To reduce any physical interaction, ordering at the counter or with the waitstaff may no longer be available at restaurants and cafes.

Instead, a digital ordering system could be in place either at the front of the restaurant, on your table itself or even via an app.

For example, in Australia Zomato has rolled out a contactless dining option that lets you access the restaurant's menu, order your meal and pay for it from your table.

Alternatively, the restaurant might require you to pre-order and pay over the phone, on its website or via an app.

Before you head out, call the venue in case you need to make early arrangements or download any specific apps on Wi-Fi to make the process seamless.

Contactless payments

The use of contactless payments over cash was adopted by many during the height of the pandemic. And it's likely going to continue.

When travelling, remember to bring digital forms of payment such as a tap-and-go credit card or digital wallet app such as Google Pay in case cash is denied.

Distanced tables or sectioned restaurants

As restaurants reopen across Australia, a four-square-metre per person space rule is being enforced.

This means that tables will be heavily spaced out in venues or sectioning may occur.

Due to these spatial rules, restaurants are restricting the number of patrons at any one time. So if you're thinking of rocking up in the hopes of getting a table, odds are probably going to be against you.

A better idea is to call up and make a booking. This will ensure there's a table waiting for you and not a waiting line of disappointment.


Rideshare passenger limits

Uber, Ola, DiDi and Shebah have all enforced strict measures to keep passengers and drivers safe.

One of the blanket rules across all is that passengers may no longer occupy the passenger seat. Instead, they must sit in the back.

Depending on the rideshare, you may be further limited by the number of passengers per journey. For example, DiDi and Uber allow up to three passengers per vehicle and all must ride in the back seat.

This means that those travelling in large groups may have to book multiple rides to comply with the rules.

Another thing to note is that riders may also be required to handle their own bags, particularly when coming from or going to the airport.

In general/in destination

Distanced greetings

Wherever you are in Australia, a 1.5-metre physical distancing rule with anyone outside of your household is enforced.

It might sound impolite when meeting and greeting others on holiday, but avoiding physical contact is a surefire way to respect this rule.

So instead of a handshake or a hug, you should expect to be greeted at your hotel or tour with a verbal hello or a physical wave. And out of respect for their health and safety, it's acceptable to return a similarly physically removed gesture, at least during this time.

Markers on the ground to indicate distance

Airports, hotels, entertainment venues, supermarkets and stores have adopted placing markers on the ground to remind you of distancing rules.

These are 1.5 metres apart and indicate where you should stand in relation to others, particularly when waiting in line to be served.

They may make lines seem long but trust us, the waiting time probably won't be any longer than usual. It just feels that way because you're further from the counter.

Limits on the number of people inside an establishment

Stores and restaurants that have reopened have been given strict guidelines on how many people may be allowed in at any one time. Generally, the rule is one person per four square metres.

Due to this, you may find yourself waiting outside stores and cafes until you can go in.

For cafes and restaurants, it's a good idea to call ahead and book a table if you've got your heart set on eating there. Otherwise, you may be in for a long wait.

Plastic screens and sneeze guards

Multiple stores, supermarkets and even rideshares have installed plastic screens to separate you from your server/driver.

These are see-through so it won't stop you from physically seeing or communicating with each other, but is more of an added measure to keep both of you safe and healthy.

Beach and park patrols

Australia's beaches have made headlines around the world for beach goers' lack of compliance with social distancing. In the past, you might have been inclined to wedge yourself between towels but this isn't an option when social distancing.

Instead, you may have to walk further along the beach to drop your towel where there's ample room between you and your sunbaking neighbour.

The same goes if you're having a picnic in the park.

Many beaches are actively being patrolled by lifeguards and the police to adhere to these rules. If you fail to comply you may cop a fine.

Sanitisation stations

Good hygiene is imperative to stopping the spread of COVID-19 and should be continued, even when on holiday.

Sanitisation stations have cropped up everywhere, particularly in high-traffic spaces like supermarkets, to help you out.

Otherwise, it's a good idea to pop a bottle of hand sanitiser in your luggage.

You should also remember to wash your hands for 20 seconds regularly. This is particularly important if you've been to a public place or have blown your nose, coughed or sneezed.

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