I recently flew to New York and this was my experience
By Jordan Tan
“Dami ba tao sa airport?”
“Hassle ba lumipad ngayon?”
“Did you have to wear a mask throughout the flight?”
“May face shield requirement pa ba sa airport?”
“How did you eat on the plane?”
These were some of the questions I got from my friends about my recent flight.
It goes without saying that a lot of people miss flying, but with new variants, resurgence of cases, and COVID restrictions and lockdowns happening all around the globe, flying has become more an uncertain and troublesome experience than an enjoyable one. I recently flew to New York to attend a fall semester exchange program and this was my experience.
I arrived at NAIA Terminal 1 three hours before my flight. Anticipating long queues at the entrance and check-in counters, I was surprised that the terminal was empty when I entered. Aside from a Korean Air flight, my Japan Airlines (JAL) flight to Tokyo was the only other flight departing in that three-hour window. Checking in as well as going through immigration and security was fast and smooth. I believe that this is mainly due to the fact that only two flights were departing. In better times, even at that hour of the night (10 p.m-ish), you’d see long check-in, immigration, and security check queues.
Because I got through those processes quickly, I had time to kill. After sitting for about an hour at one of the benches beside the Duty Free store to catch up with my social media feed, I decided to snoop around and see what had changed at NAIA. The airport’s emptiness felt eerie. Hallways where multitudes of travelers once strolled through on their way to their flights were now empty, shops where you’d see travelers crowded to buy last-minute pasalubong were now closed, and coffee shops where you’d see busy travelers catching up with work or just simply passing time before their flights were now as empty as could be. It was truly a very saddening sight to see.
Narita was an equally saddening sight as NAIA was. It was joyless and lifeless, compared to how everything inside once was.
Boarding the plane and the onboard experience felt very much like how they used to be. The only difference now being the mandatory masks and face shields. I don’t know if the policy differs depending on the airline, but on JAL, face shields aren’t mandatory (which was very liberating, by the way). I was very fortunate that on the Manila to Tokyo leg of my flight, I had no seatmates so I had the whole row to myself. Needless to say, the flight was kind of packed, in economy class at least. Business class was empty.
In true Japanese fashion, everything went like clockwork. JAL did not hesitate to try to make everything feel like how they once were. Of course, passengers were often reminded to keep their masks on and wash their hands, but aside from that, I’d say it was a pretty normal flight. Food was, as was always the case, excellent. And yes, that was the only time we were allowed to take our masks off (apart from being inside the toilet, of course).
Narita was an equally saddening sight as NAIA was. It was joyless and lifeless, compared to how everything inside once was. Save for a few duty-free shops and some big brand outlets, everything was closed. Thankfully, I had access to JAL’s Sakura Lounge (pro tip: flying premium economy on JAL flights gives you access to the Sakura Lounge, but only for the segment of your flight that’s premium economy), so I spent my whole five-hour layover there.
On my Tokyo-New York flight, everything was just about the same as they were on the Manila-Tokyo flight. Service and food were excellent. The seats, cabin, and toilets were clean. I would like to especially mention that the toilet was kept clean throughout the duration of the flight. It was an enjoyable and comfortable flight. I took the opportunity to align my body clock with my new timezone (to help with the jet lag too).
Overall, flying in the time of COVID is still an enjoyable affair, despite the mask requirement. Airlines are trying their best to make everything as normal as possible and I commend their efforts. Here’s hoping that this pandemic will soon end and that we could go back to normal.
- Travel only with purpose. It’s still a troublesome affair to fly out—COVID testing, buying insurance, anxiety with the latest developments, etc.
- Get your travel documents in order, including other documents that have become necessary because of COVID. This changes country to country, though, which brings us to the next point.
- Make sure you always check the latest news and information about your destination, including entry and quarantine requirements.
- Lastly, don’t be too praning. Everyone onboard is just as concerned with the situation as you are. Savor the moment and enjoy your flight.