By Oscar Davis
If you haven’t flown in a while since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020 (or if you’re just starting to get used to it all again), you might need a little refresher on how travel works nowadays.
Or, hey, maybe it’s your first time ever flying. We’ve all had a rough couple of years, and many of us are now finally “seizing the moment.” Priorities have shifted—maybe it’s time you took that trip, or maybe it’s time to visit your family members across the country.
Whatever the case, there are some things you can do to make travel as smooth as possible. Here are some tips for flying in 2021.
1. Review Your Itinerary Well in Advance
Earlier in the year, when travel restrictions started to lift throughout the US, airlines had to dramatically alter their schedules to accommodate all the changes. Increasing travel demands meant that more staff and crew were needed, and tons of flights were altered to make everything work. Things are slightly less hectic now, but plans can change quickly.
You’ll likely receive an email if there are any changes to your flight schedule or itinerary, but it’s still a good idea to review your flight a few days in advance. Your layover might not be as long as you initially thought, or maybe your departure time has moved a few hours behind (or ahead). You’ll want to give yourself enough time to prepare or to call the airline to rebook.
(Side note: wait times for airline customer support are VERY long these days! Settle in for an hour or more of elevator music while you do the dishes.)
2. Wear Your Mask
Although the CDC has said that fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks indoors, you’ll still need to wear yours at the airport and while on your flight (this is true for all travelers age two and older). It’s a federal law, and it’s very strictly enforced in most cases. The only time you can remove your mask is while you’re eating or drinking.
In other words, make sure you have your favorite, most comfortable travel mask handy. Especially if you’re on a long flight and comfort is of the utmost importance. (And no, face coverings like bandanas or shields do not count.)
If you’re not wearing a mask, you may be denied service or even fined. Some airlines take a super hard stance on this, including United Airlines. If you refuse to wear a mask and if you give the staff a bad attitude, you may even be barred from future flights with the airline.
On that note…
3. Read Up on Your Airline’s Policies and Your Destination’s Travel Guidelines
Although the federal government makes up most of the rules about air travel, your airline may do some things differently in some cases. If you have some anxiety about flying, it’s helpful to read up on what your airline is doing to help fight the spread of COVID.
For example, Delta has this handy FAQ section that outlines all its current travel policies, and it’s continuously being updated as things change.
That includes things like flight change fees, what happens if you’re traveling and new travel restrictions are applied, how to travel with small children, and more.
You’ll also need to know what the travel requirements are for your destination, especially if you’re headed to a different state. Not every place has the same travel guidelines. You may require testing (which is especially a great idea if you’re visiting family), or you may need to formulate an isolation plan in case you become ill.
4. Be Prepared for Long Line-Ups
Making your way through TSA security checkpoints is a pain on the best of days…never mind adding all the chaos of a global pandemic. You’ll want to show up early to the airport because you’ll almost certainly be waiting in line for a while.
If you want to make this process as smooth as possible, it’s highly recommended that you get organized beforehand. Don’t put off packing until the last minute. Keep your passport handy, have your laptop within easy reach so you can quickly plonk it down on the conveyor belt, and make sure you’re not carrying anything that you shouldn’t be carrying. Getting searched is no fun when you’re already running behind!
If you’re a smoker and are worried about fighting those cravings while in line, get a Prilla nicotine pouch—smoke-free nicotine products are totally fine on airlines. You simply place the pouch against your gums to allow the nicotine to release and soothe your cravings. (Keep in mind that a nicotine pouch is not the same as snus, which has tobacco!)
Furthermore, pack some snacks because airport restaurants are slammed these days. Make sure your phone, tablet, and e-reader batteries are also fully charged.
5. Make Sure Your Travel Insurance Has COVID Coverage
When the pandemic was relatively new, travel insurance companies were all over the place with their coverage for COVID-related incidences. But now we know that the pandemic is going nowhere fast, so insurance companies have adjusted their policies to keep up.
It’s likely that your credit card has some protections in place for things like flight delays or cancelations but be sure to read the fine print about what happens if you get sick while on the move.
If you decide to opt for more comprehensive travel insurance like World Nomads or Safety Wing (especially if you’re traveling outside the US), you’ll be well-protected. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn the ins and outs of your policy.
This list of tips isn’t meant to discourage you from flying. Knowing all the current realities of air travel will help make the experience more enjoyable for you—and you most definitely deserve this trip!
In other words: show up early, stay organized, and enjoy your flight!
Oscar Davis is a freelance writer and frequent traveler who lives in Leeds, England.