Traveling Internationally During the COVID-19 Pandemic

    Aug 19, 2020 @ 12:03 AM / by Eugene Kobiako

    Hong Kong Flight 5

    Photo of AIRINC Client Engagement Representative Eugene Kobiako during his flight from Hong Kong to the United States in June.

    Twice delayed: What happens when your flights cease to exist?

    Air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic is unique and full of odd experiences. A few weeks ago, I was lucky (or unlucky?) to experience international air travel for the first time in months. My journey started in Hong Kong but was cancelled on two separate occasions because the flights and layovers simply stopped existing. This was an emotional hassle as I had to call my family and fiancée to let them know that I may not make it.

    When my flights were finally confirmed, I had the longest and most inconvenient itinerary of my life, and I’ve traveled internationally for both business and pleasure for many, many years. But, fine. Home and family await, I thought. I can do this.


    Online check-in replaced by pre-boarding-pass health inspections

    Upon arrival to the airport in Hong Kong, the first stark difference was the emptiness: no cars or buses in the loading zones, no one waiting at the airline stands, and no overhead announcements; it felt like a dystopian science fiction film. All entrance doors were closed except for one, and the guards at that door conducted a thorough check of itineraries and documents to make sure all entrants were traveling that day.

   felt like a dystopian science fiction film.


    Although online check-in was not available due to strict health requirements, the lack of travelers did play in my favor as I went through security in less than a minute.


    Hong Kong Airport Empty - 900

    The emptiness of Hong Kong International Airport. Photo taken by AIRINC Client Engagement Representative Eugene Kobiako.


    Arriving at my gate, I found a few individuals scattered around and no restaurants or shops open. All passengers lined up once seating was announced and maintained the obligatory six feet (two meters). Some individuals were wearing full-body PPE (photo below), and others wore gloves and face shields. Face masks were the minimum requirement and remained on except when eating and drinking.

    As I boarded, I noticed nobody sat next to me, and we followed strict social distancing protocols. Once we took off, there was a limited meal service, which meant there were no options; everyone was served the same thing regardless of dietary preferences. There was also a reduced drink menu. The entertainment selection remained diverse, though dated, with most films having been released in late 2019 or early 2020. Some films were from when I moved to Hong Kong earlier in the year.


    LAX Hazmat Suits - 900

    Travelers walking in full PPE. Photo taken by AIRINC Client Engagement Representative Eugene Kobiako.


    Landing in Los Angeles [LAX]

    During the flight, the attendants distributed a mandatory health form from the U.S. government. It had questions about my travel history and asked if I was experiencing any flu-like symptoms. Upon landing in Los Angeles and passing through immigration, customs, and baggage claim, I realized nobody asked me for this form and there was no place to turn it in. 

    LAX was also eerily empty. There were signs and placards all over with tips on how to social distance and noted that face masks were required. It was immediately clear that not everyone followed these recommendations. There were many employees of the airport who did not wear masks, or wore them incorrectly by exposing their nose. I also noticed that the few travelers who were around often had their masks around their necks or used alternatives, like bandanas, which was very rare – if non-existent – in Hong Kong.


    LAX 9

    The emptiness of LAX. Photo taken by AIRINC Client Engagement Representative Eugene Kobiako.


    I transited through Los Angeles to Philadelphia and finally arrived in Boston. Along the way, I noticed that only the international leg of my trip followed social distancing rules. Although the flight to Philadelphia made an announcement that “attempts are being made to socially distance,” the flight was packed and all middle seats were taken. 


    ...the flight was packed and all middle seats were taken.


    Upon arrival to Boston, an unremarkable sign greeted me, stating “Massachusetts Expects: Self-quarantine for 14 days as you monitor your health” and included a list of symptoms and what to do if you have symptoms. Nobody was checking temperatures or ensuring that new arrivals were aware of the self-quarantine rule. COVID-19 safety guidelines came across as suggestions that could be, and were, ignored by many of those who arrived with me in Boston.


    Airplane Snacks - 900

    Snacks served on flight to Seattle WA, U.S.A. Photo taken by AIRINC Client Engagement Representative Eugene Kobiako.


    Later in my trip, I flew to Seattle via Detroit and noticed more of the same, though those flights spaced passengers with at least one open seat between them.

    Throughout my trip, I thought about my clients and the impact of COVID-19 on them and on their assignees. Global Mobility is being tasked with unique and unprecedented challenges, and will need to face these head-on to lead the business into a future full of change. But what are the best strategies to meet this change in a post-COVID world and how do you develop a successful COVID recovery plan?


    How to adapt in a post-COVID world 

    As companies adapt to the future of Global Mobility, the Mobility function is tasked with driving and implementing the change that best suits the business needs. If you're like most companies, you want to implement calculated change, and you value the assistance of a strategic advisor. AIRINC is here to listen, partner, and deliver on what you need.

    Contact us today to start a conversation about the future of your Mobility program:

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    Topics: Hardship, Mobility Policy, Global Mobility, Hong Kong, United States, Boston, Coronavirus, COVID-19, COVID-19 Recovery, Philadelphia, Los Angeles

    Eugene Kobiako

    Written by Eugene Kobiako

    Eugene joined AIRINC in 2016 as a surveyor and analyst in the Cambridge office, and is currently a client engagement representative for the Asia-Pacific region. A native of Seattle, he received his B.A. in European Studies and B.S. in Biology from the University of Washington in 2012. During his studies he spent two semesters abroad: one in Copenhagen, Denmark and one in Ottawa, Canada. Prior to AIRINC he has worked for the governments of Mexico and the European Union. He has been to over 80 countries for both business and pleasure. In addition to English he speaks Russian and Spanish fluently as well as some French, Danish, German, Swedish, and some basics in a few other languages. In his free time he plays the guitar and bass guitar, enjoys football (soccer) and hockey, studies foreign languages, and is an avid vexillologist. He is based in Hong Kong as of February 2020.