What it was like travelling with Ryanair during the coronavirus pandemic
The whole world is going through something together for the first time in my lifetime, and it’s a strange and scary time. So how did I come to be flying during COVID-19?
I am based in Ireland, my partner in Italy, and my family in Canada. When my company asked everyone to work from home, earlier than the country-wide lockdown in Ireland, I didn’t see past the 2-3 weeks that we thought we’d be away. By the time I realised it would be nice to quarantine with family, it was too late to travel.
By June, the situations in both Ireland and Italy had greatly improved. The countries were at advanced stages of their reopening plans, flights across Europe began to resume, and I made the decision to travel to Italy to see my partner after five months apart. After making the trip, I wouldn’t recommend flying to anyone unless you’re really comfortable with the idea. It feels strange to say that on a travel blog.
What was it like flying during COVID-19? And in particular, flying with Ryanair during COVID-19? Here is my experience. At the end I outline how it felt overall and how I might have travelled differently.
Arrival & Check-in at Dublin Airport
I flew from Dublin to Milan on Ryanair the second week in July. I used the FreeNow taxi app to pre-book a taxi with a screen partition to take me to the airport. I wore a mask. My driver was helpful, he used disposable gloves to load my bags into the car, and said I was his first airport drop-off since March.
The airport was quieter than I’m used to, especially on a Friday afternoon. Most people were wearing masks. I was expecting someone to be standing at the door checking my temperature, but that didn’t happen.
Ryanair has a very large self check-in area in Dublin. It’s usually full of people milling about, looking for an open check-in kiosk. The chaos was replaced with a maze of blue stantions guiding passengers around, and stickers on the floor indicating what two meters really is. I still needed to print my boarding pass to get Ryanair’s annoying visa check, but a recent change doesn’t allow the online boarding pass to be used at the self check-in kiosks. I stood in the line for the ticketing desk, where I’d been directed for visa check on previous trips, and when I got to the front the agent told me to get in the ‘flights closing’ line instead.
All the desks had large plexiglass barriers set up along the desks. I saw one staff member get up, perhaps to go on her break, and remove her mask just after she emerged from behind the protective barrier. I thought that was a bit ironic.
Security & Amenities at Dublin Airport
I booked into Dublin’s fast track security to ensure I didn’t wait too long in a security line up. The process at security was the same, but they’d blocked off every other space to put your items. This would cause quite a security delay if there were more flights departing. When I got to the other side I took all my items and wiped them down individually with household cleaning wipes I’d brought with me.
Most shops and restaurants were open in Terminal 1. Many tables were blocked off to ensure groups didn’t sit too close together. I kept running into two young girls who looked like they were live streaming their spring break trip online rather than travelling during a pandemic.
I wasn’t sure what the food situation would be, so I brought a wrap with me to eat before boarding the flight. Once I saw the set up though, I would have been comfortable purchasing something at the airport. I found a section of chairs down a side walkway and sat alone to remove my mask and eat my dinner. It felt strange to be without the mask at this point.
Boarding my Ryanair Flight
I’m not a fan of Ryanair’s boarding process in general. People panic and line up the minute they see a staff member in a blue suit jacket, then you’re herded into the stairwell for a while, and often stand outside in the rain waiting to board a plane. Don’t get me started on getting stuck on the buses that take you between the terminal and the plane in some countries!
This time was very different. I was on my way to the bathroom 15 minutes before boarding was due to start, and I saw on the departure screen that my flight was listed as ‘final call.’ Yikes! I went rushing down to the gate, which was (for the first time ever) one of the closest ones, and saw a small line of maybe 15 people boarding. I joined the queue and in two minutes was in my seat on the plane. The desks where they were checking passports and boarding cards had plexiglass screens like ones at the check-in area. No one asked me to remove my mask.
Onboard my Ryanair Flight
I didn’t need to show the flight attendant my boarding card as I boarded the plane, as you normally would on Ryanair. I paid extra to sit in seat 3A, and was glad to board near the end so I didn’t have everyone walking by me. I noticed that most middle seats were empty but that the flight was much busier than I thought it would be.
I pulled out my bag of antibacterial wipes and cleaned my leather seat, the arm rests, the seat belt and buckle, the window area, and the back of the seat in front of me. Nobody looked at me funny, and I heard others walking each other through the same process.
There was still food and drink available to purchase on board, as well as duty free shopping. They didn’t hand out the magazines, and the food was all pre-packaged. They asked that you did not queue for the bathroom, and that people remain in their seats. I was thankful for a smooth flight, I don’t know if I’d have been able to deal with turbulence and coronavirus at the same time.
There was a request that people did not storm the exit when we landed, but social distancing went out the window pretty quickly as people jumped up. At the airport I landed at, we needed to board a bus to take us to passport control, and that got cramped pretty quickly. Thankfully you could see that they were limiting passenger numbers more than usual.
On Arrival in Milan
When I landed, I pulled out a travel size bottle of aerosol disinfectant and sprayed down all my bags and backpack. I wore loose sweatpants over some lululemons during the flight, and put those and my jacket into a black bin bag before getting in the car. I also wiped down all zippers and bag handles with antibacterial wipes, and stopped in the bathroom to wash my hands with soap.
Too much? Perhaps. But it made me feel calm knowing I’d done everything possible to protect myself and my partner after my flight. You should do whatever you need to do to reassure yourself that you’re safe.
My Thoughts on Flying During COVID-19
It’s always good to prepare for any eventuality when you’re not sure what the situation will be. This was my first flight experience in five months, and when I got to the airport and on to the plane, I could see where I had gone overboard. I was very happy to have my hand sanitisers, several face masks, and disinfectant wipes, but I would have been fine purchasing a sandwich or a drink at the airport.
While I was away, Ireland published a “green list” of countries that you could return from without needing to restrict movements for 14 days. Thankfully, Italy was on that list. On return I did stay close to home and got my groceries delivered, to be on the safe side, but it helped my anxiety to know that I was visiting a country that was seeing success in the battle against COVID-19.
It is very hard to social distance on an airplane. I was lucky that the middle seat of my row was empty on both flights, but I don’t know how long that will last as air travel picks up. When I was flying back, I noticed the first batch of passengers boarding were moved into a smaller area, but couldn’t board the flight yet. They were stuck there for 5 minutes, all squished together. Similarly, we were all standing on the jet bridge for 15 minutes waiting to get on the plane. As things get busier, I think distance and space will get smaller.
I could see that the airport and airline staff were doing everything they could to keep us safe. With the lower numbers in the airport during my July travels, it wasn’t too hard to social distance as you made your way through. However, I wouldn’t recommend booking travel just because you can. Had I not been separated from my partner and family for so long, I would not have taken that journey at that time. The longer we can hold off on our non-essential movement, the sooner we can (hopefully) get back to normal.
Please remember that the pandemic situation is changing daily and my experience flying during COVID-19 may be very different to yours depending on your travel dates. Make sure you seek guidance from your local health authority and review guidelines on airport and airline websites before you travel. Stay safe!
If you’re looking for my general tips for booking and flying with Ryanair, check out this blog post!
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