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Insights: Wheels Up! First Flight Since February and What to Expect...

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

Travel is more complicated now than it was in the past and everyone assesses their individual comfort level. Every decision made carries a risk/reward evaluation and is a personal decision.

Every decision people make these days is a very individual decision, and everyone’s comfort level is unique and should be respected and tolerated without judgement. The comfort spectrum is wide; some are uncomfortable sharing a supermarket aisle with another consumer and others are willing to hop on an elliptical machine at Equinox and head back to their fitness routine. 2020 has challenged everyone.

Like many travelers pre-Covid, the concept of packing up and hopping on a plane every few weeks or months was a welcome and refreshing part of life, whether it was for work or for leisure. Then the world posted its "We're Closed" sign in March and most of us have remained home since then, safe within our backyards, and interacting with our “pods” of close friends and family.

Recently, I dusted off my roller board and cracked open my passport for the first travel journey on an airplane and outside of the USA after seven months on the ground.

Hopefully my experience is a helpful glimpse that will answer some curiosities.

Where Can I Go?

Travel decisions in 2020 are more complicated than simply checking off destinations from your travel bucket list. These days it is critical to understand the entry requirements for your international destination AS WELL AS the re-entry requirements upon arrival back to your home state. Destinations like Europe still restrict entry for most American leisure travel. And some states require self-quarantine upon return from various destinations. While a destination may be "open" and accepting US travelers, your home state may not welcome you with open arms upon return, and a self-quarantine or return Covid test may be required.

Tip: Be sure to check your state's website regarding Covid-19 travel guidelines, often drafted by the state's Department of Health. Cross reference this with the CDC's Covid-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination.

What is Required to Visit Another Country?

Nearly every international destination accepting Americans has declared some form of Covid testing requirement. Testing requirements are typically found on the local government’s website. Most counties require a negative Covid test 48 hours to 7 days in advance of your arrival, depending on destination.

Before determining your length of stay, also understand if further testing is required during your stay? Some places require a second round of Covid testing if you stay more than 7 or 8 days, for example. And some destinations allow travelers to roam more freely after 14 days, causing long term stays to be ever popular.

What Type of Covid Test is Required?

Most countries seek documentation of a negative rt-PCR test and most US Covid testing facilities offer these tests readily and without cost. It is important to understand whether the test must be a nasal test? Or is a saliva test sufficient? And clarify if the rt-PCR test must be the pharyngeal test (“high test”) or can it be the molecular test (“low test”)? Not sure what any of this means? Contact your medical professional, since they know best!

Guaranteeing test results can be challenging and most testing facilities will not guarantee your results by a deadline. Many people have found test results are returned faster from their local hospital, where tests are processed periodically throughout the day vs. an end of day pick up. A few concierge test services will guarantee test results within 24-48 hours but often come with an out of pocket expense for that convenience.

Tip: If you are traveling early in the week, remember to take into account Saturday and Sunday. Not all labs process results on the weekend and weekend shipping services may delay your test submission.

Texts, Reminders, More Texts, and More Reminders

In the three days leading up to my departure, I received several airline texts and reminders.

First was a text informing me that my flight would be fairly full and would I like to change to a less full option, at no change fee?

Then came my reminder to check in for my flight.

Followed by a text reminding me that face coverings are mandatory on the duration of the flight.

Next was a text encouraging extra time at the airport to allow for verification of all Covid test results.

Then I received notice that travelers may need to complete a Travel Declaration form or possibly self-quarantine for 14 days.

More reminders about testing and producing results.

More reminders about gate assignment and early arrival to the airport.

Texts sharing how the airline cleans and sanitizes the aircraft for safety.

Texts sharing the entertainment options onboard.

Texts sharing the revised food and beverage service onboard.

Lots of texts and lots of reminders!

At the Airport

A silver lining to travel right now? Fewer travelers means less traffic and easier airport parking!

On my inaugural journey, I parked in Newark Airport’s Terminal C garage about 15 spaces from the crosswalk, directly into the terminal. Voila! Cross the street and I was in the United terminal in about 2 minutes.

TSA Security lines were mostly non-existent and if you have TSA Pre-Check you have an even higher probability of no line. With less people to process, people seemed genuinely happier and they moved a little more thoughtfully and intentionally. Lots of happy faces, who seem excited to be there vs. days in the past where there could be some grumpiness and hostility. Another silver lining!

Boarding and Flying

I flew United Airlines and they have embraced the “you are more apt to get struck by lightning than get Covid on an airplane” theory. Every seat was occupied and the flight was 100% full. If you are skiddish about sitting hip to hip in this environment, you may want to reconsider the concept of airplane travel...and you DEFINITELY may want to consider Delta or JetBlue, who apparently still leave middle seats vacant.

Boarding the aircraft was very organized and travelers seemed to have regained patience and the ability to follow the rules they learned in kindergarten. United now boards from the rear of the plane forward, five rows at a time and no longer by group number. And United deplanes from the front of the plane back, five rows at a time. Passengers wait for their row to be called and then proceed boarding or exiting.

Tip: If you have connecting flights, keep this process in mind because you may have to wait a bit longer to exit the plane.

Business/First Class still receive priority boarding. And United also provides advanced boarding for military personnel.

When you enter the aircraft, a United flight attendant hands you a packaged sanitizing wipe. Food service is distributed in a plastic snack bag, with pretzels, cookies, a bottle of water, and another wipe. No food is sold on the plane, so travelers should pack food and snacks if they want more nourishment.

Other than the fact that everyone was in a mask, the United flight felt like any other flight in 2019. Keep in mind, if 6’ of social distancing is a priority, another airline may offer greater comfort.

And Then You Are There

If you can navigate the travel segment with a sense of personal comfort, there is no doubt the vacation feeling overcomes you when you settle at your hotel. Most vacationers travel to be pampered and find a break from daily responsibilities. Having someone else plan, shop, and cook meals is a luxury. Sleeping in a comfy bed, with refreshed towels, and a fresh bowl of fruit waiting for your arrival is a luxury. Warm weather during cold temperatures is a luxury. Swimming in turquoise waters and sitting on white sand is a luxury. Taking a walk in a new environment is a luxury.

Travel is more complicated now than it was in the past and everyone assesses their individual comfort level. Every decision made carries a risk/reward evaluation and is a personal decision. Airlines and hotels are working hard to create a thoughtful environment for guests to feel safe and healthy in the existing Covid climate. Some people are ready to embrace a change of scenery and a break from their routine, and some people understandably prefer to wait. Everyone will define their own personal “travel comfort” and we are here to help if and when you are ready.

As a luxury travel agency, our business is solely supported and based on travel. For me personally, when following all the rules, I felt safe.

Have questions? Need travel planning assistance? Contact your preferred Elli Travel Advisor, or


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