I know various people in this area of business who have made the international trek quite a few times in 2020. I’ve watched closely, eyeing all procedures and precautions put into place as they try and salvage their livelihood…their mental health…their career. After moving through these motions recently myself with United Airlines, I know traveling in 2020 can be done safely and responsibly. I’ve only traveled internationally one other time this year back in February with United. My partner proposed and off we went on a celebratory trip to New Zealand aboard the airline. I’m incredibly grateful to have started the year and end the year with them. United has been such an integral part of celebrating some big moments for us in a year full of surrendering and pivoting.
If you follow me on Instagram, you already know how our honeymoon turned into a babymoon instead with some work involved (always!). It was a privilege to be back in the friendly skies and working in foreign lands.
At the beginning of November, my fiancé and I flew from LIT to SFO to PPT with United, ending with an 8 hour flight to the island of Tahiti. From the check-in process to departing the airport in Tahiti, I felt extremely safe due to all measures we had to move through in order to get to our final destination.
Since July 15th, 2020, quarantine measures have been lifted and French Polynesia’s borders are open to travelers from all countries if they abide by the following mandatory conditions.
Upon walking through those automatic airport doors, the many precautions began. We sanitized our hands and walked towards international check-in with masks on. At the counter, a United representative checked our ETIS (Electronic Travel Information System) documents as all travelers are required to register their trip with the government of French Polynesia. We then presented proof of our negative RT-PCR test results (must be carried out within 72 prior to boarding; rapid tests not approved). For me personally, this was my third negative test in a 10 day span, and travelers must also complete another test 4 days after arrival in French Polynesia (provided upon arrival). That made for 4 negative tests in a 14 day timeframe which I felt really good about.
We made our way through security where I forgot about the water in my carry-on because I’m incredibly out of practice at this thing called travel. After exiting and making my way through security a second time, we made our way towards the gate where all travelers were required to get their documents checked again for ETIS registration, proof of a negative RT-PCR test and finally a facial recognition scan for identity verification.
Once aboard the beautiful Boeing 787, masks were required throughout the flight. Comfortable? Not entirely – okay fine, not at all – but it’s a small ask in order to get back to business. Another standout to the flight process was with the crew. I’ve honestly never come across kinder airline employees than on this round-trip ticket. It was evident that everyone was incredibly grateful to be working (us included) and up in the friendly skies again. United’s Polaris business class service never disappoints, and I’ve never been so grateful for their Sunday Riley amenities kit complete with lotions and potions to tend to my tan/sunburn on the way back!
What to Expect with United
United requires that all employees and passengers wear masks while in the airport and throughout the duration of the flight. While the airline doesn’t block middle seats, in cases where more than 70% of passengers have checked in, United will allow travelers to move to another flight free of charge. Perhaps the most shocking and beautiful move of the year happened when the airline was the first to announce the elimination of change fees on all standard economy and premium-cabin tickets for travel within the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This change is permanent even after we’re out of the pandemic. As for international and basic economy flights, United will continue to offer an unlimited change-fee waiver for all tickets issued through Dec. 31, 2020.
That doesn’t even cover all the changes the airline has put into place in order to serve their customers better – impressive to say the very least. Lastly, I want to link to a study conducted by the Department of Defense on the risk of COVID-19 exposure on board planes. Their findings state that thanks to advanced air filtration systems, required mask-wearing and diligent cleaning protocols, the risk of COVID-19 exposure on board a United plane is almost zero.
I’m extremely impressed with how United is keeping travelers in the loop all the way from check-in links to boarding prompts to government requirements during our entire time away.
My intention with this blog post isn’t to encourage people to travel. Instead, it’s to highlight everything that airlines, specifically United Airlines, are doing to keep travelers safe and in the air. The travel industry has taken a massive hit – like many other industries – during the pandemic, and I wanted to showcase that with caution, responsibility and mandates in place, we can hopefully get back to some sense of normalcy soon. For those who don’t feel comfortable traveling right now, take advantage of the airline’s flexible change or cancellation policy. Traveling is a privilege, and we should always look to being the best travelers we can be for the health of humankind. How each individual chooses to move forward is up to them – no travel shame included. Live your life.
Many, many thanks to the kind souls I came in contact with along the flight journey such as Mary, Captain Dan, Jack, Pete, Claudia and everyone else I may have forgotten. Thank you for all you do.