What will air travel look like when travel resumes?  Not normal, that's for sure. But just how different will things be?  Our most compelling answers come from Asia, where countries are weeks or even months ahead in their recoveries. We tuned in to reports from award-winning freelance visual journalist Laurel Chor about her journey to her home in Hong Kong. What she experienced can only be described as "one dystopian scene to another."  

The journey started at Charles Du Gaul airport in Paris, France.  Would you expect masks everywhere?  They were mandatory inside the airport but British Airways staff were not wearing masks on the plane.  But the "fun" really begins when arriving in Hong Kong.

Chor wrote,

With station after station, Honk Kong authorities have fully invested on keeping the discretion and safety of its arrivals to the best of its power. As of now, only residents of Honk Kong are allowed inside the region, with the notion that they must quarantine at home or in a hotel for 14 days, or risk being "jailed for up to 6 months and fined up to $25,000 HK ($3,225 USD)." After clearing multiple stations that entail instructions, such as downloading a tracking app, having authorities record her phone number, and other tasks, Chor finally went through immigration, where she was able to pick up her luggage and clear customs. To what seemingly has been a long, yet cautious obstacle, Chor was ready to leave the confines of this dystopian space and finally head to her final destination, home, or so she thought.

One major difference we see from Laurel's experience and our experiences in the US is how paramount contact tracing have become in Asian countries.  It may make some Westerners uncomfortable, but the practices are proving highly effective.  For more on contact tracing, see The Atlantic's How Hong Kong is Beating Coronavirus and The New Yorker's Seoul's Radical Experiment on Contact Tracing.

One thing for certain is that Covid19 will make air travel much slower that in was before.  This is especially when crossing international borders and similar to what 9/11 did to air travel.  The added travel time at airports will make other forms of transportation, such as car, bus, or train, even more competitive in terms of hassle and travel time.

Under normal circumstances, it should take about an hour to leave the airport after arriving at a destination. For Chor and other Hong Kong residents, arriving passengers were herded onto a bus that would take them on yet another journey to a testing facility. Here, Chor was assigned a testing booth, where she was able to complete her own COVID-19 saliva test. An alien in her own home, it took more than eight hours for Chor to get her COVID-19 results.

If tested negative, Chor would be directed to spend two week in home quarantine, where her whereabouts would be tracked via an app, and the device on her wrist, as well as performing a second COVID-19, after 12 days. If tested positive, Chor would immediately be sent to a hospital. Luckily, Chor was free to go home, where she spent the next two weeks in quarantine.

To see a full account of Chor's experience, see her tweets here or read her article in the Guardian, Flying long haul during Covid-19: air travel has never been stranger.

Since the widespread scale of COVID-19, most countries throughout the world have imposed travel restrictions. In many places, especially in Asia, where the pandemic was first to hit, travelers must quarantine for 14 days to ensure that they are virus-free. As Eastern Asia begins to bring the coronavirus outbreak under control, some regions are experimenting with reopening their borders to select travelers and allowing a form of travel that is crucial to the global economy.

In the semi-autonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong, a city of more than 7 million people has only had four known deaths from coronavirus over the past months. Despite the small amount of deaths, and less than 2,000 confirmed cases, Hong Kong authorities are taking no chances on the toll that this virus can wreak on its city.

Similarly to Hong Kong, other Asia-Pacific regions are planning on easing restriction on travel. In Australia and New Zealand, where the virus seems to be contained, leaders are discussing a 'trans-Tasman bubble,' a reference to the sea that separates the two nations that could allow for free travel to resume once the virus is brought under further control. Experts seem to agree that small-scale place-or state-specific agreements could be the first step towards a return to global travel, such as the proposed New Zealand-Australia travel bubble. In the future, this bubble may expand towards those living in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea, according to Michael Baker, a lead authoritative figure towards New Zealand's COVID-19 response team.    

For those living in the western hemisphere, loosening travel restrictions are likely to be concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region for the time being, until a vaccine can be widely distributed across the world for global travel to fully return to normal. Until then, the safest way to travel outside borders would be for COVID-19 testing to be widely accessible, as well as integrated into travel arrangements, where all arriving passengers into a certain nation are tested for the virus. Hong Kong airports are not the only spaces where testing is widely accessible. The South Korean capital of Seoul is beginning to test all international arrivals from its airports, too. Although Hong Kong and Seoul airports are finding solutions to allow residents to come home without endangering the lives of their communities, there seems to be no scaleable size on how this can be implemented towards those who arrive as travelers, without having to pay the high costs of self-quarantining in a hotel or having the luxury of affording their own living space.

Tourists wearing masks during COVID 19 pandemic in Singapore.
Photo by Victor He / Unsplash

As of May, 2020, life in this region of the world seems inching steadily towards a sense of a new normal. In Hong Kong, the limit on public gatherings has been raised to eight, with pubs, restaurants, retail stores, hair salons, and other non-essential businesses open. In South Korea, the case is very much the same, but after a COVID-19 outbreak at a nightclub, Seoul's mayor ordered that all bars and nightclubs were to be closed, indefinitely. In the future, as countries begin to ease restrictions, it is highly likely that the public will see cycles of easing restrictions, then tightening again, until durable immunity across the population or a vaccine is reached.

Pubs reopened in Hong Kong in May after a monthlong shutdown.
Pubs reopened in Hong Kong in May. Photo Credit: Lam Yik Fei

Until a sense of 'normalcy,' or whatever that word accounts for (or doesn't) is reached, dreams of getting up and buying a plane ticket anywhere will still likely be a dream, for now. Until that dream comes to fruition, there is an array of things one can do at the comfort of their own home or outside. In the United States, governors are forming regional alliances to work together on safely reopening their economies, allowing for National Parks, beaches, and other travel-affiliated spaces to open to the wider public. In France, bars, cafes, restaurants, and other non-essential businesses are open, along with the reopening of Italy's beaches, too. As for Denmark, the case is very much the same, adding to the reopening of schools in the country.

Taking temperatures at an outdoor bar at a beach club in Giugliano in Campania on Sunday.
Taking temperatures at an outdoor bar at a beach club in Giugliano in Campania, Italy. Photo Credit: Nadia Shira Cohen

Although it might take a while longer for global travel to resume, your dreams of becoming a cultured cook or ice cream aficionado are still on the table! Hopefully, once you master one or both, you will be able to bring those acquired skills everywhere you go, filling your RoadGoat travel map to the brim!