Flying During the Coronavirus Pandemic – My Scariest Journey Yet

Covid-19 Travel, Coronavirus Travel

Flying during the height of the Coronavirus pandemic wasn’t something I set out to do. In fact, I was petrified about visiting the airport, let alone flying with kids admist the Covid-19 outbreak. At the time of writing there have been over 1,800,791 confirmed cases and 110,891 deaths. It was and still is scary.

And yet we were stuck in the level 4 lockdown in New Zealand and desperate to get home to England. We’d already unexpectedly extended our holiday by three weeks and being trapped in an apartment with two young children had been tough.

My Coronavirus Travel Diaries

If you read this post on how and why we ended up being stuck in New Zealand, you’ll know there was a complete ban on flights from the South Island, as well as no ferry access. We were trapped, so as soon as the government made an exception for travellers to access domestic flights from the South Island (provided they had onward international tickets) we seized our opportunity.

At the time there were talks of the lockdown being extended until at least June and worldwide travel being stopped indefinitely. We didn’t want to risk being away from home for more weeks, let alone months. We were without our home comforts and space. As much as New Zealand felt safe (at the time of writing they only had one Covid-19 related death, compared to thousands and thousands back home), we wanted to be home.

Jay’s job had already been compromised because of the unexpected delay. Our phone bill was into the thousands thanks to calls to our insurers. The kids were starting to feel unsettled, longing for their own bedrooms and belongings. Our mental health and relationship had been tested to the limits. Going home felt right. Not to mention that our insurers had already paid for three weeks of accommodation and we weren’t sure just how long they’d keep doing that or when the pandemic might start to calm down.

Recommended Reading: Surviving Lockdown Away From Home

My Covid-19 Travel Experience

New Zealand is probably the safest place to endure a pandemic. Right from the get go the PM was strict with the measures to control the outbreak. Unlike the tales we heard from back home, the supermarkets never seemed to run out of anything and the longest wait we experienced was 45 minutes. It was a controlled, sensible response to a terrifying, chaotic outbreak. And yet, we chose to travel during the height of the Corona pandemic.

On the last night we put the kids to bed in New Zealand I was a nervous wreck. The thought of taking my precious babies into such a hostile environment frightened me. I felt like I was being led to the slaughter house. It sounds extreme, but I was really worried about how exposed we’d all be during 30+ hours of air travel. I’m not a crier at all – in fact quite the opposite – but that night I sobbed myself to sleep.

Travelling to the Airport in New Zealand

We booked an airport taxi shuttle, paying extra to ensure we had the whole vehicle to ourselves. The cheaper option meant other passengers might be picked up on en route and we didn’t want to risk coming into close contact with anyone.

The driver spoke about the pandemic and repeatedly asked if we would come back to New Zealand, almost pleading with us to not be put off. He explained how the country relies on tourism and how terrified he was of the impact. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that we’d planned this trip as our one and only visit to the country.

At Christchurch Airport

As soon as we arrived at Christchurch airport you could tell something was going on. The drop off area and car park were empty. Outside the terminal, there was a line of mainly backpackers waiting for a German repatriation flight.

Most wore masks, though many were taking them on and off again or just using them as a selfie prop. There seemed to be a two metre distance between people in the queue, but after a while it all seemed to merge a bit.

The terminal was closed until 5am, so we had to wait outside a designated entrance. Others started to join the queue, again wearing masks. I used my bags to create a two metre distance and felt on edge about people coming close to the kids.

Waiting outside Christchurch airport at 4.15am

I’d drummed into my two that they were to stay away from others and to not touch anything. We sanitised the trolley bar and our hands a few times. And I tried not to grit my teeth at the thought of how long our journey home would be.

Once the terminal opened we were ushered inside the door and asked to show proof of our domestic flight and onward international flight, which were also cross-referenced against our passports. The staff stepped close to see the documents, but would step away when they could. They wore masks and gloves and I remember thinking how sad and remarkable it was that my two no longer asked why people had them on.

Christchurch airport during coronavirus pandemic
Christchurch Airport during the Coronavirus pandemic

Inside the terminal, everything was shut and the vending machines were out of order. Security was a breeze, with no queue in sight. Once through we were able to keep loads of distance between the few other passengers. The departures sign showed all flights were cancelled except our one. I don’t think I believed it would actually happen until I was on that plane.

Christchurch airport during coronavirus pandemic

Recommended Reading: The Cost of Our Family Trip to New Zealand

Flying Christchurch to Auckland – via Air New Zealand – 1hr 15m

We had a whole row to ourselves on this flight. However, whilst there was no one sat next to us, we had a whole row directly behind us. A quick glance back suggested the flight was nowhere near full, yet most had been grouped together.

Flying Air New Zealand during coronavirus pandemic
Our empty Air New Zealand flight

Staff wore masks and gloves and service was limited to just water. We sanitized the seat buckles, tables, armrests and anything we could to be honest. The flight was smooth and over in no time at all. Flight 1 of 3 complete.

At Auckland Airport

We landed at Auckland Airport seven hours before our next flight. This was simply because the flights were limited.

On arrival we had to collect our bags and then walk five minutes from the domestic terminal to the international terminal. Staff there stopped us from going inside, explaining they were only letting passengers in four hours before their flight. We had no choice but to sit and wait outside. Thankfully we found a covered spot away from the torrential downpour.

At Auckland airport during coronavirus pandemic
Waiting outside Auckland Airport

I was stressed to say the least. Trying to get two under 5s to not touch anything is hard work. I didn’t even want to sit on the bench, but we did and again, we just sanitized our hands all the time.

When we were allowed inside it was hard to keep away from others. Everyone was gathering for the one and only flight going around that time. The check-in desks weren’t open. People were anxious – in the FB groups there were tales of people being bumped off overbooked flights, so I spose everyone was keen to make sure they got their seat. Many, including us, had already experienced cancelled flights. This was to be our third attempt at getting home.

When the desks finally opened everyone sped forward. Most kept the respectful social distancing, but once the line started zig-zagging it became apparent that whilst you can keep a safe distance from someone in front, you can’t really do that from the side too. This was the same in the busy security line. It was stressful, especially as the kids were keen to run about and play.

At Auckland airport during coronavirus pandemic
The queues at Auckland Airport

Once through security it was similar to Christchurch Airport in that everything was closed. We’d got the heads up from others who had travelled earlier, so we’d brought lunch with us. We just had to wait for our flight. And even sat there I still didn’t believe it would really happen.

Recommended Reading: Coronavirus Lockdown in NZ – How We Got Stuck

Flying Auckland to Doha via Qatar Airways – 17hrs

Next, the biggie. I’m a pretty optimistic person and have travelled loads with children, but even I was worried about this flight.

The thought of 17 hours on a plane made me feel claustrophobic. Coupled with the Coronavirus I felt extremely nervous and as though I was awaiting a seat on death row. And then the idea of parenting on such a long flight almost tipped me over the edge. I didn’t want to do it.

However, we absolutely lucked out because we had business class seats (through our insurance – more on this soon). It made the whole flight, dare I say, enjoyable. Sure it was laced with guilt at gaining from such a horrible situation, but there’s no pretending that it didn’t help and then some.

The time went by so quickly, largely due to the fact we all slept for 10 hours. Hello lie-flat beds.

Flying Qatar Airways during coronavirus pandemic
Travelling with Qatar Airways

The staff wore masks and gloves, but we experienced full service – drinks, 5-course meals and more. We opted for two side by side seats and are what as known as QSuites. This meant we had closing doors and could effectively make a private suite onboard the flight.

It was a huge blessing, both physically and mentally. Once I’d sprayed it all with sanitzer it felt like a safe bubble away from the Covid-19 anxiety. There were no announcements about the outbreak and it was a blissful way to escape the worry.

Travel during coronavirus pandemic
My trusty companion

At Doha Airport

Once we left the plane we were instantly reminded of the Coronavirus pandemic. Most of the other passengers wore masks and gloves, and some even had full visors and protective suits on. The sound of a cough or sneeze was enough to make me flinch and the sheer volume of people, after not really seeing anyone for so long, made me feel uneasy.

The security check was stressful as there was no space to keep away from others in the queue. I left Jay with all the bags, so that I could whip the kids through and wait away from everyone. My 4yr old was hesitant at walking through the security gate on his own towards a serious guy in a mask with gloves and my 2yr old clinged on me for dear life.

Once Jay joined us we headed straight for the airport lounge thanks to our business class tickets. There was a family room at the rear of the lounge, so we camped out in the playroom. In an ideal world we would have sat for the full six hours not touching anything, but that’s just not viable with a 2 and 4 yr old in my opinion. So, we sprayed everything, closed the door and let them have fun.

Family room in the Business class lounge at Doha airport
The playroom

We had it all to ourselves, but after four hours we’d exhausted it so reverted to the airport terminal. We let them run about in the empty spaces, but avoided the playgrounds. Most of the shops and restaurants were closed, but we were surprised how many were still open.

Doha airport during coronavirus pandemic

Flying Doha to London Heathrow via Qatar Airways – 7hrs

Again, we were so, so fortunate to enjoy business class seats in the QSuites. After the previous 17 hours, these seven hours went by so quickly.

It was a similar experience in that there was full service, and staff wore masks and gloves.

Traveling during coronavirus pandemic

At London Heathrow

We practically ran from that plane and through London Heathrow. Passport control took minutes, with the officer waving us off with a ‘keep safe’. Most gathered round the luggage carousel, talking to loved ones to let them know they’d made it back to the other side of the world. Luckily our cases were first off – perks of business class – so we sped to the short stay to collect our car.

The delay home had racked up an extra £200 bill, which we had to pay there and then. At the barrier there was a queue to get out – I guess because the machine was having trouble processing the updated tickets. But we were back in our car – one that again, we’d sanitized into a slippery, clean mess.

The roads home were quiet, but there was still traffic. Nobody stopped us at any point and as we got nearer to our home we were surprised at just how many people were out and about.

Home

And so we’re back at home in England. We’ve put ourselves into a 14-day quarantine just to be safe, but even after that period I’m not sure I want to be out. We’ve been home for three days now and seem well, so I’m crossing my fingers that we haven’t caught anything from flying back home.

Home to this letter from Boris

It makes me sad to think that others might not be ok and that statistically at least a few will no doubt have got infected. I’m incredibly grateful for the kind staff who risked their health to work at the airports and on the planes so that we could get home. It feels like a surreal journey and one that I’m in no rush to do again.

Flying During the Coronavirus Pandemic - My Scariest Journey Yet
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1 Comment

  • […] Travelling across the world during peak coronavirus times has also made me re-think my plans for the next few years. I don’t really comfortable flying at the moment and instead my interest has turned to local adventures. I’m starting to build up quite the list of local sights and activities. Sure, I’ve already enjoyed a lot of them with my two babas, and some even with my dad all those years ago, but I’m getting joy from them. […]

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