Air Travel with and without Kids during Covid-19

Arianna and I at Jaipur International Airport just before we took our first flight of 2020

Six months ago, little did we realise that one day, we would be fearing for our lives and everyone around us when travelling from one destination to another. Little did we fathom that we would have to push all our travel plans indefinitely and stay locked and as far away from an invisible virus as we could. Having spent most part of the last four months (March-June) under lockdown and indoors at home, it felt like a real challenge when I had to decide to take a flight out to a different city a couple of days ago. I had travelled interstate by road two months earlier, but I was in the comfort of my personal car, and we had home quarantined after arrival. It was much easier a decision than undertaking air travel, thus increasing our chances of exposing ourselves to the virus manifold. With a spouse working in the defence services, our life is often interspersed with travel, but since he was going to leave for his next posting to a different station, my five year old and I had to take a flight to another city while he drove down by road to his location with bag and baggage which included two pet dogs!!

I booked a flight from Jaipur-Bengaluru, and this happened twice as my first flight via Air Asia got cancelled due to operational reasons. The cancelled ticket amount was credited back to my flight account at Air Asia which can be used for any subsequent air travel for the next 730 days on any domestic route, provided it is operational. After the first jolt, I decided to look at another operator and booked the same route via Indigo airlines. I have a very old friend who works with Indigo and she helped me understand why flights are getting cancelled at the moment due to low passenger loads, and routes with no real traffic. Airlines are suffering huge losses at the moment and it is understandable as they want to recover costs at this time by clubbing routes and running fewer but occupied flights. They are also required to follow strict SOP’s and safety measures while running flights at this time, as there have been reports of passengers testing Covid positive after arrival at the destination.

I read through all the State wise guidelines (Rajasthan and Karnataka as I was flying Jaipur-Bengaluru) as well as the airline SOP’s in place and went ahead and booked an Indigo flight for the 15th of June 2020. Luckily, it took off and the journey went off as planned. I am currently safe in Bengaluru as I write this blog for anyone that needs this immediate information about air travel at this time. I am pretty sure that anyone who plans to travel by air is already doing their own research, reading up airline documents and government directives, so I am not going to stress on the official information here, as you will easily find them on https://www.mygov.in/covid-19/ and all domestic Airline websites. This blog is about my personal experience so do spare some reading time and go through some very practical tips regarding flying within India at this time. If short on time, go to the end of this blog for quick view checklists!!

Before the actual flight

Make sure that you have read through updated travel advisories of the State that you will be travelling to or transiting through by air. Keep checking for any updates to the same on the news. Because I was travelling to Bengaluru, I kept checking up on local news through my brother whose place I was travelling to, for any updates I should know of before I land. I also read through the Indigo State wise regulations for Karnataka, and was assured that both my daughter and I were likely to be home quarantined for 14 days upon arrival (if asymptomatic) as we were travelling from Rajasthan. All states except Maharashtra have this rule ongoing currently. I also read that we would need to register ourselves on the Seva Sindhu portal and obtain an acknowledgment of the same from them online. This is a very easy and quick process and needs a basic form fillup with your details as well as destination and flight details. Take a print of this or save the pass on your mobile before you take the flight. It is also recommended to register yourself atleast four days before your flight. Please check up on requirement of similar passes for other Indian States, as well as updated Quarantine rules. Some states have strict Institutional Quarantine rules for passengers as well, which are mandatory so please check up individual guidelines. The above links will work for all States.

Seva Sindhu e-acknowledgment (only for Karnataka) – Carry with you

Download the Aarogya Setu app and check safety status. You will only be allowed to travel by air if the app marks you as ‘You are safe'(Green) and you are currently not residing in any containment zone.

You will need a Safety mark like this in order to book a flight out to the next destination within India

Once you book your flight online, you will need to do a self declaration saying you do not reside in a containment zone and are fit to travel. You will also be asked the address to your destination (I had to fill this up for the Indigo airlines booking). You will then be asked to complete your webcheck in online, and this is mandatory which means that every single passenger boarding the flight will need to check in online as opposed to the optional facility earlier. You will be asked to declare that you are carrying no more than 20kgs (per passenger) in check in, and only one piece of hand baggage that can fit under your seat (they are currently very strict about this as no one is being allowed to store cabin baggage in the overhead compartments. ) After this, you will also be aked to download and print your boarding pass and baggage tags. You have the option of printing the baggage tags and fixing it onto your luggage for the journey, which the airline used to do earlier. Please save a copy of your boarding pass and baggage tags in your phone as well, you can show them digitally at the entry and print them inside at kiosks as well, but its safer to print them at home.

Print your baggage tag and affix it onto your luggage like this or inside a tag holder. I laminated my check-in bags as well.

What to wear/carry on the flight

There are several online conversations about this on every platform with people talking about personal comfort level, also the unavailability of personal protective gear for everyone. To each his own because there is no current rule regarding full body protective gear while travelling by air and one is free to wear what they wish, but since I was going to be travelling with a child under 10, it meant double the risk and I wanted to try my best to keep exposure to a minimum while travelling. To help achieve this, I started looking for personal protective equipment(PPE) atleast two weeks before we flew out. Now also keep in mind that since air travel is not equal to a hospital environment with active cases and breeding ground for infections, one does not really need to cover themselves as if they are going to a medical facility or containment zone where they will need to handle active Covid-19 cases. The point is to cover every bit of exposed skin and avoid touching the openings of the mucous membranes in our ears, noses and throats, so that the upper respiratory system is not exposed to the virus. This simple logic is enough to make one decide on what to don during air travel. I chose to order two PPE kits online (there are plenty available on Amazon at the moment from local manufacturers but it would be better to do some research on the kind of fabric being used to make the suit, as well as the other components of the PPE kit. Generally made out of high density polyethylene, these PPE coverall suits are composed of non-woven fabric, which are resistant to liquids and aerosols thus providing overall protection to the skin all over the body. It allows heat to escape the body, but is slightly uncomfortable to wear because these are literally like boiler suits that have a single zipper that is used to close the suit completely once you wear it. I ordered my suit as well as an adult size PPE suit for Arianna, which I shall talk about a little later. Besides the suit, I ordered for two face shields which came with the kit, a pair of gloves, disposable shoe covers and two disposable masks. I also ordered for extra pairs of rubber gloves for the both of us, a pair of eye glasses made from highly resistant plastic and polycarbonate which luckily fit Arianna’s eyes like a glove. While Arianna wore disposable masks throughout the journey, I changed between a couple of non surgical N95 masks.

Coming back to a PPE suit for Arianna, I was unable to find any PPE coverall in a kids size and I got in touch more than ten local manufacturers regarding this but was unable to find anything in a child size. I decided to order an adult PPE coverall, and got it altered in her size from my tailor next door. After it came back, I disinfected it completely with a disinfectant spray (its not washable), and left it to air dry for more than 48 hours, so any kind of virus on the surface would be inactive by then. To my utter delight, the suit fit her and covered her perfectly well.

Arianna’s PPE suit – custom made from an adult size. You can do this at home as well with elastic by cutting and sewing the limbs together
If you do not wish to wear a PPE coverall, you could also wear something like this to avoid any kind of exposure to your skin
PPE components along with toilet seat spray, toilet seat covers and germ kill spray. It is essential that you carry these along with or without a child.
Remember to keep sanitizing liquid, wipes and sprays handy at all times. A spray works better when in a rush, as you can just wait ten secs for it to dry and you are good to go! Airlines now allow upto 325 ml liquid on flights but please check this again.
Keep your face masks safe in a ziplock bag, and change after every exposure. Do not store the used mask with an unused one. Reusables can be washed and used again. Keep the mask bags in a handy place in your cabin bag so you dont have to touch more surfaces inside your bag with your gloves.

What happens at the Airport

On the 15th of June Arianna and I flew to Bengaluru from Jaipur.

At the airport. I also carried my phone inside a touch friendly waterproof packet, and used earphones to make and receive calls.

The hardest part was making sure we avoided using the restroom and the toilets as they can be breeding grounds for infections, so I promised myself that I would consume much lesser than I normally did…I also made Arianna wear a toddler sized diaper, and made her practice a couple of days ago. Since she is five and completely potty trained, she winced and refused to wee in the diaper initially, but after explaining that its best to be safe than land up at the hospital because of carelessness, she understood and also gave me a practical demonstration at home. I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to take off her PPE coverall during the entire journey and this was the safest option. I just had to make sure I didn’t use the restroom for those few hours but I carried toilet seat spray and covers just incase.

We made sure to cook for the journey at home itself, and also carried a couple of tetra pack juices with straws and a bottle of water that I kept handy in the outside pocket of my cabin backpack. I knew that the moment I touched anything besides ourselves, I would not be able to feed her with my bare hands, so I kept disposable spoons ready with the food packs, and straws for the juice. Since there is no inflight service anymore and you are not allowed to eat anything inside the flight, you will need to consume food, homecooked or from the outlets at the airport before boarding the flight. Please remember to sanitize your gloves or change them before you consume food and store your masks and face shields in a safe place while you eat. Disinfect or change before you wear them again.

Entry

At the airport, we were made to follow a streamlined process beginning with thermal screening (temperature check), followed by luggage sanitization, followed by id and boarding pass verification at the entry gate. The security personnel now sit behind a glass cubicle and have laser scanners and cameras that are used to scan and identify your pass and you as well. Once you are through this point, you will be asked to scan your baggage first, and if you already have the baggage tag attached to your luggage (refer to pic above), you will be free from any human contact, and they will simply scan it through the machine for you to collect again.

Check in

Since I had a child and two check-in bags, I used a luggage trolley but sprayed it completely with disinfectant before loading my luggage onto it. I did not let anyone else touch the handle again. After the scanning was done, we were made to check in again with contact less screening, where the laser scanner identified our boarding pass, and I was asked to drop my baggage at the counter. No separate boarding pass was issued ensuring contactless check-in. I was also asked to show my Seva Sindhu pass at check in since I was travelling to Karnataka.

Wait for your turn patiently and follow the markings at every queue

Security check

At this point, there may be a queue lining up, so make sure you stick to the designated markings on the ground to ensure social distancing, and proceed one after the other. Even if you see anyone else breaking these protocols, it would be important to speak up and stick to your position to ensure safety. The airport staff are trying to ensure social distancing but it is upto the passengers to follow it as well. You will still have to put your electronic gadgets in the tray for scanning, and proceed to body scanning. However, the security personnel will not touch you at any point, and they will try their best to not touch your cabin baggage. Once you collect your electronic gadgets back from the tray, remember to disinfectant them before you put them back into your bags. Same goes for your mobile phone but since I used a waterproof mobile pouch, I disinfected the pouch and my earphones again.

Boarding and during the flight

Once you reach the boarding gate, you will be handed over a kit containing a face mask and a face shield. In the event that you are a middle seat passenger, you will also be handed a disposable PP gown with straps to protect yourself from your immediate neighbours. Don the face shield immediately and change into your new face mask if you have to, while remembering to dispose off the old one safely. Finish consuming your food before you board. However, if you have an infant on flight you may be allowed to carry and feed them something on the flight as well. Follow social distancing while sitting at the boarding gate (do not sit on the chairs marked ‘X’) and also while boarding the flight.

While boarding our flight, we ensured a safe distance from the other passengers and sat down in our seats as soon as we reached them.

Although our flight was full to the brim and we both were somewhere in the middle rows, i made my daughter sit on the window seat while I sat in the middle seat. There are ongoing announcements that request you to not spray anything on top of the seats as it would interfere with their cleaning agents and chemicals and maybe cause a negative reaction. I wiped the tray table down and the arm rests, and trusted the airlines with the rest of the cleaning process. I made her change into a face shield for the flight as she would get more space to breathe and took off her eye glasses and mask once she sat down comfortably and the flight was almost about to take off. Parents need to make sure kids are breathing properly through the masks as very tight securing can interfere with their airways. Since everyone faces in front and the seats are aligned in such a way that there is minimal direct contact or face splash, you could choose to take off their face mask and use a face shield so they are more comfortable during the journey. I did this for Arianna and she dozed off for an hour or so after playing a couple of games on the ipad. She did not ask for food or water, or even to pee so we did not have to move from our seats at all. No one was really encouraged to use the restroom except for emergencies. I saw an infant on the flight as well.

My little unicorn and I during the flight. She was in the window seat while I sat in the middle seat.

We reached Bengaluru in time, and deboarded when they called out our rows. I held Arianna’s hand throughout and we managed to not touch the railings and the other seats while we got off the plane. Before we left our seats, I made her wear her eye glasses and mask again and took off her face shield. We were put into a bus and this was where it got crowded so we stood by the door for about 20 long minutes and waited to be let into the airport.

As soon as we stepped into Bengaluru airport, we were asked to doff(take off our PPE suits), and keep our masks on. There is a technique to remove the PPE coverall which is available to learn on youtube or on CDC, so make sure to use the right technique to take off your suit, gloves and mask and discard it or you will risk infecting yourself all over again. Arianna and I were wearing a light shirt and pants which we continued wearing during the entry into Bengaluru airport. The suit can get pretty sweaty and hot, but I chose to wear it for personal safety reasons so if you can bear the journey’s discomfort, you will end up feeling safer atleast. Also remember to disinfect your shoes as ours were exposed during the journey so we disinfected them again.

What happens at arrival

Once we were free of any biohazardous material, we were asked to line up with our Seva Sindhu passes for a pulse-oximeter check. This could also be substituted with thermal screening/throat swabs at different airports across India, so please check before hand. Both Arianna and I had to show our e passes at the screening counter, our hands were sanitized and our pulse readings were taken. After this queue, we were made to line up again for the quarantine checking. Since we were arriving from Rajasthan, we were stamped with ‘Home Quarantine’ for 14 days in indelible ink on our palms and our details were noted down from our passes including our destination in Bengaluru and our mobile phone numbers.

Waiting in queue for Quarantine protocols after doffing our PPE suits, getting our pulse oximeter readings and hand sanitization

After this was done, we were finally allowed to go to the baggage claim area and collect our luggage. I used the restroom at this point to change our tee shirts and wear a fresh pair from our cabin bags, wash our hands with soap and water, change our face masks and wear a fresh pair of gloves. I collected a luggage trolley after disinfecting it again, picked up our luggage, sprayed it all over with disinfectant and we finally walked out of the luggage area. I had asked a personal contact to come pick me up, as I wanted to avoid the cab ride. As soon as we reached home, we left our shoes outside and walked straight into the washroom for a hot bath, and some heavy duty cleaning up. We also got our clothes washed immediately with disinfectant liquid and detergent and disinfected every single thing that I had used at the airport. I didnt open my luggage immediately as I had asked my family to keep clothes ready for the both of us so we could keep our check-in luggage closed for an entire day.

So, this was the entire journey with my little one in detail. I really hope you find this useful when taking a flight in the near future. There are passengers who will probably not follow even half of these steps while flying and also come out safe without infecting themselves. However, it is better to be safe than sorry, and I wanted to ensure the safety of my child so she is not unnecessarily exposed to the virus because we had to travel on an emergency basis. I would like to request everyone to postpone all non essential travel, because things are really unsafe and different right now. However, if you do have to travel please be safe and ensure those around you are safe as well!

Here are two quick view checklists for travellers who need to ensure they have everything in place before taking that flight!

Checklist for travellers with kids

  1. Download Aarogya Setu app and cross check that you are green ‘You are safe’
  2. Check for Central and State wise guidelines and Quarantine rules. Prepare for both IQ and HQ.
  3. While booking flight, ensure that you are booking atleast two weeks in advance.
  4. Open flight account while booking for any cancelled credits later.
  5. If first flight is cancelled, follow up with airline for subsequent credit into your airline account.
  6. Prebook seats online. Keep child’s seat towards the window to ensure minimum human contact
  7. Order PPE kit online (Amazon delivers promptly). PPE suit can be altered to kids size.
  8. Disposable diaper if possible to avoid using airplane toilets
  9. Keep 2-3 sets of PP gear (face mask, gloves, face shield, head cover)in ziplock bags for interchanging
  10. Laminate luggage to minimise exposure to germs
  11. Carry cabin baggage that fits under seat
  12. Fill up any state wise e-pass and keep handy
  13. Complete webcheck in 48hrs before flight
  14. Print boarding pass, baggage tag and affix onto luggage
  15. Mobile inside a waterproof touchscreen pouch, use earphones
  16. Download movies/games for kids for journey(optional)
  17. Wrap kids carry toy in waterproof layer.
  18. Cook for journey, carry disposable packs, juices with straw and disposable cutlery
  19. Carry bottled water separately and keep handy.
  20. Carry Germ kill spray/wipes/sanitizer for all surfaces
  21. Carry Toilet covers/spray
  22. Carry change of clothes in cabin bag. Discard kids and your PPE safely in biohazard bins, wash hands and change at airport washroom
  23. Carry in-flight medication for kids and self in cabin bag.
  24. Carry disinfectant liquid/bleach for clothes on arrival.
  25. Dont touch your child’s face and teach them not to as well.
  26. Have someone pick you up if possible.

Checklist for all other travellers :

  1. Download Aarogya Setu app and cross check that you are green (‘You are safe’)
  2. Check for Central and State wise guidelines and Quarantine rules. Prepare for both IQ and HQ.
  3. While booking flight, ensure that you are booking atleast two weeks in advance.
  4. Open flight account while booking for any cancelled credits later. Follow up if cancelled
  5. Prebook seats online. Window seat preferable.
  6. Order PPE kit online (Amazon delivers promptly).(optional)
  7. If no PPE suit, wear full sleeves and full length pants. Minimise skin exposure.
  8. Keep 2-3 sets of PP gear (face mask, gloves, face shield, head cover)in ziplock bags for interchanging
  9. Laminate luggage to minimise exposure to germs
  10. Carry cabin baggage that fits under seat
  11. Fill up any state wise e-pass and keep digital/hardcopy
  12. Complete webcheck in 48 hours before flight
  13. Print boarding pass, baggage tag and affix onto luggage
  14. Mobile inside a waterproof touchscreen pouch, use earphones
  15. Download movies/games for journey or keep book handy(optional)
  16. Cook for journey, carry disposable packs and cutlery.Eat at airport.
  17. Carry Germ kill spray/wipes/sanitizer for all surfaces including toilet seats
  18. Avoid using luggage trolley. Only one check-in bag allowed (20kg)
  19. Carry change of clothes in cabin bag. Discard PPE safely in biohazard bins, wash hands and change at airport washroom
  20. Carry disinfectant liquid/bleach for clothes on arrival.
  21. Dont touch anything but yourself!

HAPPY FLYING 🙂

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