COVID travel in 2021 suitcases at YVR Airport

Pandemic Travel: Airport Etiquette and My COVID Travel Experience

Truthfully, it’s taken me a few months to really decompress from moving to England during this pandemic. It wasn’t so much about the move itself, but the fact that it was my first time travelling in this cluster**** we are still going through. COVID travel is no joke, and it was a very eye-opening experience. This is my experience from the beginning of May, and some dos and don’ts in the realm of airport etiquette.

COVID Travel in Spring 2021

When I checked into the Fairmont YVR on April 30th, the airport was eerily quiet for two o’clock in the afternoon. I had never seen it so empty. And how clean the terminal was. It made me realize how not clean it had been in pre-COVID times. And it was pretty darn clean then…

COVID travel - YVR airport US terminal in April 2021
The view of the US Terminal at YVR Airport on April 30, 2021.

A couple days later, one thing that was familiar: when I travel, I always seem to be the guinea pig and future training case-study. The fact that I wasn’t a British citizen travelling to Heathrow completely threw the check-in person off her axis. I had to wait an extra 15 minutes while she conferred with her manager about my visa and re-read the UK travel rules. This was a bit annoying and anxiety-inducing because — to me — it was very straightforward. (And I’d already been in line for ages, despite having gotten there early.) But I kept that to myself — she was doing her best. I was super grateful though when she finally started weighing my suitcases and printing my boarding passes. And that Security was a ghost town.

Top-tip: At the check-in counter I learned that if you’re flying Premium Economy with Air Canada you can apparently check-in at the Business Class counter. I wish the airline employee who looked at my itinerary at the start of the line had actually read my document and pointed me in the right direction. It would have saved me about 20 minutes. Alas.

I’m a big people-watcher and this airport lineup didn’t disappoint. It’s always entertaining and shines a light on etiquette (or lack thereof). With that, here are some COVID travel and airport etiquette dos and don’ts.

COVID Travel Airport Dos

  • Know before you go — reasearch the protocols and rules of your departure airport and your destination.
  • Get to the check-in line at least 20-30 minutes before you normally would.
  • Streamline your carry-on items. This will make going through security much quicker and — if you’re like me — less things to worry about sanitizing…
  • Be patient and kind to airport and airline staff.
  • Have your documents ready. It astonishes me that people stroll up to the counter unprepared with their passports, etc.


  • Not a must, but if you can swing it, stay at an airport hotel the night before. I am so happy I stayed at the Fairmont YVR the night before I left the country. Staying at the airport significantly reduced my anxiety and made me feel less rushed.
  • Wear a mask chain. It makes mask life much easier and you’ll be less likely to drop your mask. I have a gold-plated chain from Mila + Paige and two beaded ones from Hartley Bee.
  • Have extra masks and sanitizer. The airlines have been providing COVID kits with these items, but I prefer to have my own. My favourite masks are from Kasi Bamboo and the best hand sanitizer is from Ativo Skincare.

COVID Travel Airport Don’ts

  • Wear your mask just over your mouth. Cover your nose!!
  • Be *that* person who has to open their suitcase because you didn’t bother to weigh it before you left. Either be okay with paying the overweight fee (because you KNOW you overpacked; don’t pretend you didn’t know) or pack accordingly across your suitcases before you get to the airport. And maybe get a luggage scale.
  • Expect people to bend the rules for you — they won’t. They are in place for a reason.
  • Be a jerk. Just don’t. We’re all in this together.

On the Plane & Heathrow Airport Arrivals

As for the actual flight experience, the plane was mostly empty on both my flights, and there was just a lot of waiting. And the planes were exceptionally clean. (Like the airport, I thought they were relatively clean before, so who knows what was lurking…) The airline provided the aforementioned COVID essentials kits and the plane and airport staff were very kind and patient. They are doing so amazing in these weird circumstances. (Elbow bumps and big thank yous to all frontline workers!!!!)

Top tip: It’s recommended to switch masks after four hours, so I’d recommend the mask chain and having those extra masks in your under-seat bag.

The UK travel protocols have changed at least three times since I landed in May, but I’m told the arrivals experience is about the same now:

  • Face masks are mandatory inside the terminal
  • Be prepared to wait
  • Have your documents ready
  • Be prepared to answer many questions
  • Your suitcases will probably be waiting for you in a tidy line by the time you get out of immigration

Have you travelled during the pandemic? I’d love to know your experience.

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