Jun 23, 2020
Higher fares, fewer routes, eerily empty airports, pre-flight temperature checks, stacks of forms, testing, waiting, tracking bracelet and 14-days quarantine: This would be my brief description of the new era of air travel during the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, I flew 18 hours from New York to Hong Kong, transited in Seoul, Korea. Covid-19 had made this long flight a painful yet unique experience. At the JFK airport in New York, most places were empty except a few boarding gates. Everyone was wearing masks as it was required by airlines; some went few steps further and fully geared up with hazmat suits, goggles, gloves, and N95 masks.
The cabins on both of my flights were fully booked. While the airplane uses HEPA filters to scrub the air every few minutes and everyone was wearing masks, a packed cabin is not completely safe. For example, during dining time, everyone takes off their masks at the same time; the coronavirus could still transmit without sufficient distancing within the cabin.
While the flight experiences did not change that much, everything I knew about leaving the airport changed when I landed in Hong Kong. As soon as the passengers walked out of the airplane, everyone was required to fill in an online form regarding contact information and travel history. Afterward, the travelers were asked to download the “Stay Home Safe” app, which tracks your locations during the 14-days mandatory quarantine period. Next, the officials from the Hong Kong Department of Health gave me more paperwork to do and a bracelet (also tracks locations) that I was required to wear for the next 14 days.
Once I have signed all the papers and activate the bracelet, I was sent on a bus and it took me to the AsiaWorld-EXPO near the airport. The gigantic EXPO hall has been repurposed for testing. In the hall, each of us was given a kit to collect deep throat saliva samples for COVID-19 testing. Since my flights landed in the evening, all samples would be analyzed in the next day. Therefore, we were sent to an old, dusty hotel in Kowloon (can’t really complain because it was free of charge) and wait for the testing results. Finally, my result came in around 1 pm the next day, and luckily, it was negative. Soon after, I was required to go to my hotel directly and began my 14-days mandatory quarantine.
The 18 hours flight and 16 hours of checking out of the airport was an adventurous experience just as I had anticipated. Most of all, I gained first-hand information on a complicated multi-party response system that amassed manpower, economics, and technology. Given that it was designed and put together in such a short period of time, I am relatively convinced with this prevention system for travelers landing in Hong Kong.
But would I do it again? Hell no.