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I Flew (with a Child) During a Pandemic and it was OK…ish!

In August 2020, the state of Queensland was *Good to Go* so my 13 year old son and I decided to fly from Brisbane to Cairns for a long weekend – and it was OK…ish!

Here is our experience of flying during a pandemic with Qantas on that particular flight!

Checking-in at the airport

So, my biggest worry, before I even got to the airport was: Did I have to allow extra time for any additional checks to be able to fly?

Short answer: No!

Long answer: I checked in online just like I usually do via the Qantas app and saved the electronic boarding passes to my phone.  Our flight was due to depart at 7.30am. We arrived at the airport at around 6.20am and went straight to the self-check-in machines.

I used the self-check-in machines to confirm our flight details and print our bag tags. Then we dropped our bags at the bag drop.

All completely the same as I usually would do.

Security screening

We lined up at the security screening area – most people did not stay 1.5 metres away from each other… it was early and there were not very many people in the line. All of the bag scanners were in operation. It took about the same length of time that it normally takes.

I was called out after I passed through for that thing they do when they wipe a cloth over your bag to see if it gets a reading for drugs or any other contraband … it didn’t and I said to the women doing that test ‘Wouldn’t it be good if that could test for Covid?’… she just smiled and said ‘you’d be surprised’. I am not actually sure what she meant, but I assumed she thought I was being a smart a$$ (which I wasn’t, I genuinely think it would be awesome if they could test for Covid at the airport) so I just smiled. :-/

Airport cafes and restaurants

All the Brisbane domestic airport cafes and restaurants were operating as normal as far as I could tell. We bought bacon and egg sandwiches and juice/coffee. I didn’t have to fill in the ‘dining-in’ register – I didn’t see one there.

We used the bathroom facilities in the eatery area – it was all as it always is, soap, hand-driers. Perhaps there were signs to remind you to wash your hands for 20 seconds… I cant remember.

Departure lounges

flying during a pandemic - departure lounges

After our breakfast we went and waited at our gate. Here it seemed people were better at social distancing. People that were close to each other seemed to be family groups. Everywhere else they seemed to be giving each other space when they were sitting down or standing around waiting for boarding.

The Qantas staff at the check-in desk at our gate were all wearing masks.


flying during a pandemic - getting on the plane

Again, it seems that when people have to line up, they forget about the 1.5 metre rule. We waited until just about last to board when the line was very short and we could be assured of more space. We went outside onto the tarmac to board through the back doors of the plane and it felt like because WE gave the people in front of us the required 1.5 meters, then the people BEHIND us noticed this and gave us the 1.5 metres.

Also, as you scanned your boarding pass in the airport, you were encouraged to collect a ‘fly well’ pack. These consisted of a surgical/single use face mask and two hand and surface wipes. These wipes are alcohol free… so not entirely sure how useful they are… flying during a pandemic - fly well pack

On the plane

So this is the sucky part! There was NO SOCIAL DISTANCING possible on the plane. The pilot announced that it was a full flight and for everyone to take their seats as quickly as possible. LOOK at my photo… it was ‘business as usual’ in terms of seating and putting things in the overhead locker… people on top of people. I felt very uncomfortable.

flying during a pandemic - no social distancing

However, everyone (the staff and the passengers) were all very nice about everything – we really were ‘all in this together’… so everyone just ‘got on with settling in for the flight.’

Food and beverage service

There was a food and beverage service which surprised me! We were given a bottle of water and an individually wrapped slice of banana cake. The cabin crew served with masks on, and collected the rubbish with masks on, but strangely later in the flight did not wear them!

Toilets on the plane

I didn’t ask about the toilets or indeed use them during our 2 hour flight. I will check when we fly back to Brisbane and update this section of the article for you.

EDIT: So, I remembered to check on the way back. The rules around using the toilets is that yes, they certainly can be used as normal BUT you can only have one person waiting outside the toilet to use it. So if you need to go, you need to keep an eye out to make sure no one is standing outside the toilet door before you get up to head down the aisle.   

Are masks compulsory when flying?

flying during a pandemic - masks are not compulsory

When we arrived at the airport, I asked a staff member near check-in if masks were compulsory – he said no but you are welcome to wear them.

When I got on the plane I asked again if masks were compulsory ON the plane – the crew member said no, not compulsory.

About 60% of the passengers wore a mask on our flight!

(Yes, I realise my mask is on upside down in this photo – I DID rectify this!)

What happens when you arrive at your destination?

So, we flew to Cairns. After we landed and parked up and before the cabin doors were opened, the cabin crew manager read out a series of criteria that you had to identify yourself if you said ‘yes’ to any of the questions from a list of Covid related questions around health and having been near anyone who has tested positive for Covid in the past.

You also had to identify yourself if you were from Victoria, NSW or the ACT. They asked these people to make themselves known to Australian and Queensland Police at the arrivals hall.

Everyone had to show their identification to the police who were meeting you as you walked into the arrivals section of the airport. I showed my Queensland drivers license (as suggested in the cabin crew announcement) and I guess because my son was with me and a child, he was exempt. You could show other ID, but a license, I guess helps prove place of residence.

Despite announcements from the cabin crew about social distancing, I found getting off the same as getting on… not much social distancing, so we waited until the end. People were polite, just a bit too close for me! 

Baggage collection

After that, it was all normal as we collected our bags and left. Again, most people were social distancing while waiting at the carousel.  

I am flying from Cairns back to Brisbane on Monday afternoon, so I will update this article if anything else comes up that I think you may like to know about.

Remember, this is just MY experience, on ONE flight from Brisbane to Cairns in August. Do feel free to ask any questions on the Facebook post if you like. I will try to answer if I know!

Thanks for reading – I hope this was informative and helpful!

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Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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