Have you wondered if you will ever get on an international flight again? And if you do, how will the experience be different from before COVID-19 entered our lives? We take a look at the upcoming changes to international travel and how they will affect you and your loved ones overseas.

It has been almost a year since the Coronavirus pandemic upended the planet and freedom to travel was severely disrupted. On 27 March 2020, the borders of South Africa were closed. Only cargo flights and a handful of repatriation flights were allowed in and out, land and sea borders were closed to all but essential transport. At the stroke of a pen, South Africa’s borders were shut.

The Current Position on International Travel

Recognising the link between international travel and the survival of economic activity, most countries have tried to keep air corridors open. Airlines have put new rules in place to make flying safer.

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Under current Level 3 restrictions, here’s how international travel has been affected:

  • Proof of a negative COVID-19 test conducted less than 72 hours before departure must be produced.
  • At the airport, check-in is more controlled with temperature checks upon entering the airport. 
  • A mask must be worn at all times.
  • A medical questionnaire must be completed after passport control.
  • International departures take about 15 to 20 minutes longer than before COVID-19.
  • Each airline has its own health and safety protocols and each country will have its own rules of entry.
  • Most countries have online applications to be completed.

Business Travel

Business travelers can expect new health and safety protocols in airports and on board.

Currently, travel is restricted to essential travel only. International leisure travel is almost completely non-existent; thus business travel has become the lifeblood of airlines.  According to IATA statistics, approximately 50% of all travel between Africa and Europe was business travel pre-COVID. 

“The levels of business travel will increase but will only do so slowly. For now, airlines will work with their trickle of passengers which will mean restricted numbers of flights for most carriers,” says Ryan Rennison, managing director of UK visa company, Move Up.

“It’s interesting to note that Emirates Airline and Qatar Airlines, two major carriers into and out of South Africa, reduced flight capacity significantly in late 2020 and into 2021. However, it’s impossible to say when they will increase their flight capacities again,” adds Rennison.

What Can Be Expected for International Travelers?

Tourists will need to prepare for stricter health monitoring and safety protocols.

Over and above the extended airport processes, protocols and reduced flight frequency there are a handful of changes that the international traveller can expect.

  • Airlines have taken the pandemic seriously, closing some routes entirely. 
  • The biggest change is to be found in the boarding and onboard experience.
  • Passenger and crew health and safety has become an absolute priority over and above that of security and terrorism. 
  • Most airlines have adopted similar onboard levels of health and safety with the wearing of a mask and visor compulsory, at all times, on board.
  • Meals and trolley services may be restricted, and crew will be wearing hazmat suits when serving customers. The same rules apply in all classes of travel from economy up to first class.

Collaboration at All Levels

While every country has its own rules around access to and from their country, international governments are working closely together to control the spread of COVID-19. 

This collaboration has extended beyond just governmental matters and into industries such as travel. Travel industry players are working together rather than in opposition to keep their industry alive and safe.  Every player from air travel to hotel accommodation, on-the-ground access and transportation is contributing to help improve international travel and make it safer for all.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) Travel Pass Coming Soon

Soon international travellers may need to apply for the IATA travel pass.

“A passport may no longer be enough documentation to monitor international passengers’ health and travel movements in the COVID-19 era,” says Rennison.

“In an attempt to make access into and out of countries easier and to trace infections, IATA is developing a travel pass,” he reports.

While aimed at passengers, the IATA travel pass also communicates traveller information to governments and authorities of different countries. Using technology, people’s movement will be able to be tracked and traced along with vaccination information that can help is controlling where and even when a person can or cannot travel.

Middle Eastern Airlines are wanting to be the first in using this technology that has been designed with the passenger in mind. The IATA travel pass could become as compulsory as a passport in the near future.

Contactless Travel

Airports and airlines are working on minimising touch points to improve safety.

Many frequent travellers will already be used to contactless or digital travel solutions.  Online check-in and digital boarding cards have been around for some years, but technology does not stop here.

Airports, airlines, and hotels are looking to a not-so-distant future where contactless transactions are the norm rather than the exception.  Already there are hotels, even in South Africa, that have contactless check-in, but futurists envision sensory technology that avoids the need to touch a handle to open a door or press a button to summon a flight attendant. The future we once only dreamed of is now very much closer thanks to the coronavirus.

Travel Insurance

One of the bigger changes in international travel will be that of travel insurance. Many frequent travellers rely on the cover provided when they book with their credit card.

This limited protection is generally considered enough, but with little end in sight for the current pandemic, full travel insurance will be essential if not compulsory.

If you are a frequent traveller, it makes sense to keep up with the developing situation around international travel – not only to ensure you can travel but also ensure your complete safety.

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