Travel for leisure is on hold right now, but for some getting on an airplane is still unavoidable. This could be to get home to loved ones, be repatriated from a country they got stuck in, or like me, due to visa requirements.
This month I had to travel from London to Los Angeles. Here’s why: the past few years I have been going through a spousal visa process to move to the United States (I am British and my husband is American).
After a long 2 year process, we finally received the visa approval, but I had to enter the United States within a specified period or my entry visa would expire. In addition, my husband was nearing the limit on days he could remain in England.
So midway through a pandemic, we had to organise to move countries and board a flight that had only 18 other passengers on it!
To help other people who are forced into a situation where they need to fly right now, I wanted to share my experience to help know what to expect, how to plan for the flight and to ease any nervousness. I have seen a number of articles and news reports showing the bad side of flying right now which is very different from my experience so I hope this helps alleviate some fears.
To see my experience in real-time check out my Instagram story highlight.
Disclaimer: We do not recommend anyone travels, flies or breaks quarantine right now. We only travelled because it was absolutely necessary and would not have done so if it could have been avoided.
Our Route And Airline
We flew from London Heathrow Terminal 5 to LAX on British Airways flight BA 283. When we were flying, British Airways was running this route once a day with an early morning departure out of Heathrow.
Every flight route and airline may be different, but some of the procedures will likely be the same.
Preparing For Your Flight
Preparing for your flight is essential, especially right now. Taking an international flight is completely different at present and you will have to pack accordingly.
- Your own food: Most likely all the shops and restaurants at the airport will be closed (except Boots pharmacy) and you will not be served the usual meals onboard your flight so bring your own meals and snacks with you.
- On our 11 hour flight, we were given a plastic bag with a small cheese sandwich, a bottle of water and a cracker. The second meal was a small slice of pizza.
- There is no trolley service and no alcohol on board. You will only receive water, tea, coffee and orange juice.
- Mask and gloves: Depending on the airline and rules at the time of flying you may be required to wear your mask onboard. Even if not required I would recommend wearing this.
- Antibacterial wipes and hand gel: Bring a large pack of wipes to clean down your chair, tray table, etc on the flight. Although it is quite likely the plane will have been thoroughly cleaned thoroughly before you fly.
The Airport Procedures & Check In
Arrival at the airport was normal with no checks to enter the terminal. There is no longer a self check-in machine for the flight and instead you will check in directly with a person so they can verify your documents and visas. There are social distancing measures in place so you need to stand around 1 meter away from the person checking you in.
Depending on where you are flying to, and if you are flying internationally, there may be some additional checks at this stage to ensure you are allowed to travel to the destination country.
For me, this was additional checks on my visa for entering the US and calls to Homeland Security to approve me to fly. The agent asked to see a copy of my marriage certificate along with the valid spousal visa in my passport. After a few tense moments on the phone, the check in agent was able to verify my spousal visa with US Homeland Security and I was allowed to get my boarding pass.
Allow yourself extra time for check-in and expect to wait a while whilst you are approved to travel if you are travelling to another country on a visa as there are more checks in place. Also remember to be patient with the check in agent, as you are likely more knowledgeable about your specific exemption and reason for flying than they are!
Once we were checked in to the flight going through security was totally normal and no different to the usual inspections. You will have to remove the normal items like liquids and large electronics.
Obviously there are only a handful of people flying and from Heathrow, and on the day we departed there were only 9 flights all day so there were no lines at security (and everyone seemed to be in a very good mood!).
In The Terminal
In Heathrow Terminal 5 every single shop, restaurant and lounge were closed. The only shop open was a Boots pharmacy after you pass through security. If you need to get anything such as snacks or water you will need to get it here as there was nothing else open at all.
This may differ from country to country, or at different airports and terminals. On arrival at LAX several cafes and coffee shops were open as usual in the arrivals hall. This seemed totally unnecessary, but each country has its own rules on what is an essential business to be open.
Boarding Your Flight
Before boarding is called your tickets and passport will be checked again in the waiting area. If you are travelling on a visa this will also be checked again, in my case by a Homeland Security representative.
There are strict boarding procedures in place and you are not permitted to stand up or queue until your group is called up to ensure passengers remain at a distance from one another.
On Board and During The Flight
Our flight only had 19 passengers total and a full crew. When we boarded we went to our assigned seats and the air stewardess then rearranged the group to ensure we were all a good distance apart from one another – ensuring good social distancing.
There was a longer announcement about what to expect when we landed in LAX. However, some of this changed upon landing so I would listen but anticipate that you may get new instructions on arrival.
You will be giving an official health form to complete that you will need to have ready upon arrival to give to the health professionals when you land – more information about that in the next section.
As mentioned earlier, there was no food or alcohol service on board. We were each given a bag with a sandwich and water at the beginning of the flight, a slice of pizza near the end and some biscuits and soft drinks throughout. Bring your own food!
The stewardess did come by regularly with a tray of drinks like water and orange juice. We were specifically told to not go to the back galley area where the air crew was and instead ring our call button if we needed anything like water.
One upside of traveling on an empty flight was I was able to talk to our stewardess for a long time because the flight was so quiet and she didn’t have too much to do! I have a fear of flying, so it was great to be able to spend some time chatting to her about different techniques, and talking to her made me feel more comfortable when we hit a bit of turbulence.
Other than that it was a normal flight, I felt totally safe and felt that the airline had taken all the best precautions to ensure passenger safety on board.
Exiting Your Flight
Once we landed at LAX we were told not to leave our seats whilst the ground crew informed the flight crew of the exact procedures. We waited around 15 minutes before we were permitted to leave the plane in groups of 4. We were again told to stay in our seats until our group was called to disembark.
As we exited the plane we were immediately met by the health team who asked a few questions about our general health, if we had a cough or fever and then took the health questionnaire form we completed on the plane. After this, we were sent to speak with a second person who gave instructions about 14 day quarantine and a card to bring to immigration to say we had been cleared by the health team.
Entering The United States
Next up, immigration. For the first time ever no lines at LAX and we were welcomed by very friendly and helpful staff!
The border agent processing my CR1 (conditional spousal visa) asked me a couple of questions. He confirmed that since I have been married over 2 years I would be issued an IR1 visa removing conditions and getting a 10 year Green Card. He gave me a temporary I-551 stamp in my passport which will function as a temporary Green Card until I get my permanent Green Card in the mail in a few months.
My husband was able to use the regular Global Entry kiosk for American citizens, though he came with me to speak to the immigration officer at the desk.
The process took around 5-7 minutes and we were done!
Overall my experience travelling during coronavirus was as good as it could be. The media shows the worst cases of travel, packed planes with no social distancing and airports filled with passengers, and while I am sure this is happening on some flights, our experience was very good.
The Future Of Air Travel
I certainly cannot predict what the future of air travel will look like and exactly when more domestic and international flights will resume. In the UK there are reports that airlines such as Ryanair and British Airways will be targeting to run 50% of the usual flights starting in July.
There have been various comments about what the new standards of safety will be. Talk of temperature checks before entering the terminal, blocked out middle seats, having to ask the flight attendant to use the bathroom on the flight to avoid queues and masks being required at the airport and onboard. But until governments around the world and aviation authorities issue guidelines, it’s anyone’s guess exactly what taking a flight will be like.
For now, I hope that by sharing my experience it will alleviate any worry that people might have if they need to travel during this time until we have more insight into the future of plane travel.
I hope that this article has helped some of you who may need to travel right now. If you have questions or have your own experience to share please leave them in the comments.
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