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Travel tips

What to expect next time you travel: How airports and airlines have changed in 2021

Jan 16, 2021 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

As 2020 wraps up and we look toward the future of travel in 2021, you might be wondering what travel’s like now, what it’s like to fly, and how airports have changed.

“I asked myself these same questions back in July when I suddenly needed to travel within the U.S.,” said traveler Fiona. “I was nervous and unsure about navigating multiple airports, not to mention what to expect on the plane.”

“But as soon as I walked through the terminal doors, I breathed a sigh of relief. There were very few crowds and airport representatives strictly enforced the mask policy throughout the airport. I felt even better when I saw the sections of blocked off seats at the gate and representatives in the boarding queue reminding passengers to social distance. With plenty of space between passengers on the plane and amped up sanitation measures, I felt more comfortable than I could have imagined. Thanks to all these cautionary measures, I had a successful and stress-free trip.”

You have some real questions about your next trip and even about the future of air travel in general. That’s why we’ve created this guide to help set expectations, lay out what it’s like to fly in today’s world, and help you plan your next trip with confidence. So get on board. Let’s do this.


How should I prepare for my trip?

We all know the more prepared you are for your flight, the smoother the journey. That’s never been more true. Here are a few things to remember before you board.

  • Pack all the documents the airlines needs in your carry-on. This might include anything from a negative COVID-19 test to a contact information form. Check your arriving and departing airport websites to make sure you have it all.
  • Review the latest health, safety, and travel guidelines on your airline’s webpage, too.
  • Download your airline’s mobile app so you don’t have to touch as many buttons and screens.
  • Don’t forget your hand sanitizer. TSA lets you carry 12 ounces in your carry-on right now, so don’t skimp.
  • Bring a couple of your most comfortable face masks for backup. We recommend wearing a mask without super tight elastic straps. After hours of constant mask-wearing, your ears will thank you.
  • Plan to arrive at the airport earlier than normal. With additional protocol and reduced staff, things can move even slower than normal. “I felt more relaxed knowing I had plenty of time to work my way through each process,” said traveler Fiona.


What should I expect at the airport?

You’ll probably notice some new stuff and small modifications when you enter the airport. Here’s how airports have changed, and some of the new things you’ll need to do.

  • Wear your mask throughout the duration of your trip. Masks are mandatory everywhere in the airport, as well as on the plane. However, you can take your mask off briefly to eat or drink.
  • Keep the plexiglass barriers between you and the check-in agents, TSA officers, and store clerks and much as possible. Yes, it’s hard to hear and it takes longer to understand each other, but that’s why you arrived early!
  • Don’t travel on an empty stomach. Dining and shopping options in the terminal are limited. “I couldn’t even find a cup of coffee in my departure airport,” said traveler Fiona. Bottom line: Bring snacks and caffeinate at home.
  • Comply with social distancing. Blocked off areas and limited seating options in the terminals make this easy to do.
  • Look for the floor stickers. They remind you to keep six feet or more between other groups of travelers.
  • Download a map of the airport to find the pop-up hand sanitizer stations.

How has security changed?

You may be curious about what to expect at airport security. TSA has updated some of their TSA procedures to limit contact and avoid exposure risks, but nothing feels overly complicated. Follow these simple steps and you’ll be good to go!

  • Wash your hands before and after you pass through security.
  • Hold onto your boarding pass and scan it yourself, then hold it up so the TSA agent can check it.
  • Take your 12 ounce bottle of hand sanitizer out of your carry-on and place it in the bin with your other liquids.
  • Pay extra attention to security regulations. TSA follows a “hands off” policy, so if you forget to take out your oversized liquids or your laptop, you’re going to be digging through your own carry-on for the restricted items at the back of the line.
  • Don’t be shy about asking TSA agents to changes their gloves if you need a pat down as you go through security. They’re required to switch them, so remind your agent if they forget.


What’s it like on the plane?

There are a bunch of updated in-flight protocols to keep you safe, but you probably won’t notice most of them. Here’s what you will see.

  • Some airlines limit the total number of passengers onboard or purposefully leave the middle seat empty.
  • Prepare to board the plane from back to front to make social distancing easier. “I hope this rule sticks around, it’s so much more efficient!” said traveler Fiona.
  • Expect slim pickings during food service. A lot of airlines are offering peanuts—literally. You’ll get mostly pre-packaged food and drinks. This is where your extra snacks come in handy.
  • A state-of-the-art filtration system will circulate the cabin air and remove 99.9% of airborne particles, including viruses.
  • Be patient if you experience boarding delays—it’s probably due to the strict airplane sanitation protocols between each flight.
  • Try to relax. A recent Harvard University study showed that, when it comes to contacting COVID-19, flying is now as safe or safer than grocery shopping.


What happens after arrival?

Landing procedures are about the same as you remember. Here are a few tweaks airports have made to help your arrival run smoothly.

  • Like always, you’ll deplane from front to back.
  • Depending on the rules and regulations of the arrival country, you may have your temperature taken when you land.
  • Pull out those documents from your carry-on. Local authorities may need to see anything from a contact information form to health declaration or even a negative COVID-19 test.

Yes, travel looks a little different in 2021, but it’s still our all-time favorite thing to do. We’re so excited to see the world again and can’t wait to help you get back out there, too. We’re here to walk you through every step of your next trip and help you book and travel with confidence!

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About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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