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COVID-19: Review – Qantas domestic economy SYD-ADL

COVID-19: Review – Qantas domestic economy SYD-ADL
Series: COVID-19 Adelaide

It’s very strange. Not having caught a plane for more than 6 months has thrown out my whole travel routine.

Discombobulation

I used to have it down. I had a separate travel pack of all my toiletries, populated with travel size and gift-with-purchase miniatures, from toothpaste to shaving cream. I knew what to pack precisely for a 3 night trip to Adelaide, whatever the weather and I could fit it all into my carry-on.

Ok, this is a 4-day trip at the end of September, with weather from below 20°C and rainy, through to 28°C and clear. Oh, and I am doing everything from regular runs and long walks, clearing a house, to going out for dinners with friends – so diversity of clothes is required. Still, pre-COVID-19, this wouldn’t have phased me.

Despite my organisational skills, I usually manage to leave something behind. This time it was my iPad Pro. I had my mini, and computer and phone, so this was no biggy. It’s not like I left my passport or my keys or essential medication at home.

Masking up

Knowing that mask-wearing is required by Uber T&C’s and that the gap in mask protocols is between the Uber and boarding when Qantas distributes a ‘Feel Well’ pack with a face mask, I decided to ‘Mask-up’ before leaving home, through until I reached my hotel room. The only time I removed it was to eat or drink.

My Uber came in record time, which made me nearly forget my face mask. The trip to the airport was unusually fast – because, no one is using air travel!

Sydney Terminal 3, Qantas Domestic

Terminal 3 at Sydney Airport is deserted. All the Qantas service desks are closed, and only a smattering of unmasked attendants are assisting with self-check-in.

Now I don’t want to sound dizzy – but I never use the self-service booths. It’s one of the perks of frequent flyer status that you can go to the service desk for check-in and someone tags your bag and issues you with a ticket. I also like dealing with real people rather than machines.

Today, it was self-service or nothing. The first machine I approached refused to work. It didn’t matter how many times I punched the selection, it would just not select it. I switched machines and it wasn’t my incompetance, but a faulty machine.

Bag-tag, digital or paper, but not both

For a moment, I did think – do I need to tag my checked-in luggage? Yes, I normally go with just carry on, but I had presents to take on the way there, and family heirlooms to transport on the way back. The answer is – no you don’t need separate paper bag-tags if you already have digital ones. In fact, as the attendant advised me when I was checking my bag – it confuses the machines. In future if, god help me, I have to self check-in, I’ll no to go straight to bag drop-off with my electronically tagged bags if I need to check-in luggage.

In a chat with the check-in supervisor I discovered that normally at this time on a Monday, she would have 40 staff to supervise. Today, in the time of COVID-19 – just 4. That tallies with Qantas claim that they are only running 10% of the pre-COVID-19 level of domestic flights.

Security was no waiting, no fuss. Only one line was operating, and it was a short wait with only 4 or 5 travellers in front of me. Most security staff were not masked, but gloved, and also more than the regulated 1.5 metres away from travellers. Security staff who do inspections and wand or physical pat-downs were gloved and masked.

Qantas Business Lounge

Through security – turn left, and left again, and enter the Qantas Business Lounge. The lounge is deserted, and littered with signage reminding you about distancing and protocols for food and coffee service.

There are sanitising stations everywhere and signage hinting at the new service arrangements.

I set myself up in my preferred desk position – no fighting for a space – and then headed off to get coffee, and some breakfast.

No more self-service, and no more ceramics. Paper cup only, everything disposables. When requesting sugar and a stirrer, the attendant asked me to put out my hand flat and turned up, and then he placed a napkin with sugar and stirer on it. It was a way of stopping any skin to skin contact between me and him. An advisable protocol when you are dealing with hundreds of club visitors each say.

An attendant stands by the usual food self-service station – asking what would you like, and then getting it and passing it to you. My choice was some passion fruit and yoghurt topped muesli. She then asked if there was any hot food I wanted. Too much for me at this breakfast time, so I declined.

You can see how empty it is. This is just after 8am. Pre-COVID-19 this lounge would still have been heaving with activity.

Instead, just nothing.

The upside is you didn’t need to wait for anything.

The call to the gate came as advertised at 8:55 am, and I headed towards Gate 7.

Boarding

Boarding was in process when I got to the gate. There was no priority queue – just one queue with calls to premium travellers and by row numbers. The floor was marked for social distancing and in general all passengers complied.

Boarding was efficient – from both front and back of the plane, and was completed in the allocated 20 minutes.

The cabin looks deceptively empty here, but that was at the beginning of boarding. It would soon fill, but fortunately the middle seat beside me stayed vacant.

Notice anything different about the seat backs? Nothing but safety cards and a sick bag. No magazine or any other reading material.

Fly Well packs are available for collection on boarding, and are actively distributed on boards by cabin staff – in the same way that headphones used to be distributed. The kits contain a mask, and two sachet’s of hand and surface sanitising alcohol-free wipes.

Mask wearing

I would estimate about 80 to 90% of passengers wore masks during the flight. I observed that at the end of the flight. Interestingly no-one in business class wore a mask. All cabin staff seemed to wear a mask, except the one servicing business class, who I think was the flight supervisor.

The Flight

We left the gate 3 or 4 minutes late, and taxied for about 14 minutes, before hitting the runway. No queuing – we arrived, engines full throttle and we were off.

The flight was pretty uneventful and other than the lack of entertainment, seemed fairly close to normal. I would say that cabin staff moved through the cabin less frequently, but for Economy passengers, the service wasn’t that much different.

We didn’t get a choice of snack – sort of tasteless overly moist plastic wrapped muffin for everyone! Minature bottled water for everyone too. You could choose other beverages, juice for example, but I don’t think there was coffee or tea.

There was one garbage run – which would not take anything from you Fly Well pack, as that needed to be put back in its plastic bag, sealed and deposited on disembarkation at your arrival airport. Another water bottle run again towards the end of the flight.

Arrival

I had some slight anxiety on arrival, as I knew there would be a police checking process. Why is it that despite innocence, any interaction with the police causes anxiety? Or is that just me?

My brother had travelled from Queensland a few weeks earlier as there was no border closure between that state and South Australia, so I had forewarning of the permit and entry proceedures.

I had pre-registered online with the South Australian Police and so had a print out with my approval number name etc. My brother had told me it was pretty well organised, and that certainly was the case.

We were funnelled in one path from the arrival pier through to a central check-in point in the area of the airport usually used for international boarding. The ‘channel’ was achieved by re-arranging the waiting departure lounge chairs to form a barrier.

You can see the barriers and usual crowd control devices so that police can allocate each passenger to an officer to have their ID and registration checked. Documents were copied and held in a COVID-19 safe way (they were placed in numbered plastic bags). The area was extremely well staffed (better than the usual security to get into the airport), and was super efficient. The whole process took only 2 or 3 minutes, and I was on my way.

The image above shows part of the entry check area and the exit from the police check.

Large parts of Adelaide Airport are still undergoing re-development and are blocked off. The image below shows the security area to the left, with the usual Virgin gates entrance in the centre and with what were various food and beverage outlets and shops to the right.

I was downstairs collecting my baggage from the conveyer belt (it was circulating when I got to baggage claim) in no time at all. Outside was a perfect Adelaide spring day.

The Intercontinental Level 22 Club – emptied of furniture and all goods – closed for the duration

2PAXfly Takeout

It seemed strange to get into a cab with a driver without a mask.

The Intercontinental Adelaide was in full COVID-19 mode, with sneeze guards, sanitiser dispensers everywhere, distancing signs and indicators on the floor, not to mention framed signs everywhere presenting the IHG branded hygiene promise. Strangely, no commissionaire or bellboys to meet cars and arrivals.

Adelaide is largely COVID-19 free, and is almost operating in a pre-COVID state. Well that’s my feeling after being here for a day. Social distancing is not practiced by the populace – at least not in Rundle Mall, or on my walk around the Torrnes this morning.

If you forget about the masks, and the hand sanitiser, then domestic travel, at least on Qantas, is not as different as I was expecting. I think Qantas is slowly returning some of the service on flights it reduced initially, although there is still no alcohol in economy.

The Business lounge in Sydney was nicer than usual, mainly because it was almost empty. Service, with someone asking what they can get you, is actually better than normal if you discount the firm instruction about how to receive your sugar stick and coffee server.

In a week I’ll give you my impressions of the Qantas Club in Adelaide and my return flight.

Other Posts in the Series
COVID-19: Experience – Intercontinental Adelaide >>

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