There’s nothing more ‘normal’ than your first business trip

7 min read

For most business people, working from home and connecting with clients on Zoom has become second nature.  We’ve learned to connect and communicate on virtual platforms without having to jump on a plane and travel across the country (or even the world). 

While our frequent-flier cards are gathering dust, most of us will be quick to admit, however, that connecting with people in ‘real-life’ remains essential to our businesses. Although it can feel daunting to take that first trip, the Flight Centre team recently found out on a management trip to Cape Town that there’s nothing more ‘normal’ than hopping back onto the plane. 

Oz Desai, GM Corporate Traveller

Take the plunge

“The prospect of hopping on a plane for the first time may cause some anxiety, which is understandable considering what we have all been through over the past year. However, all that it takes is that first flight to help you shed those pressing concerns and realise that absolutely everything has been done to prioritise your health and safety above all else,” says Oz Desai, GM Corporate Traveller. 

Just like many international airlines, South Africa’s domestic airlines have gone above and beyond in terms of implementing the recommended safety protocols as per the World Health Organization.

South African airlines have also implemented no-touch policies, making it possible for travellers to avoid touching anything until the time that they settle down into their seats and need to fasten their seatbelts. No-touch solutions include:

  • Easy-to-scan mobile or WhatsApp boarding passes
  • Digital downloads of in-flight magazines
  • Elimination of catering on-board

Along with the protocols mentioned above, airlines have also introduced High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters within its aeroplanes. These filters are designed to capture 99% of airborne microbes in filtered air.

Time is of the essence

We have all gotten used to regular daily activities taking a bit longer due to the implementation of safety precautions such as temperature checks, standing in long queues to adhere to social distancing requirements, and answering health-related questionnaires. These precautions are significantly more stringent at the airport, for obvious reasons. Airlines have advised that travellers should arrive 90 minutes ahead of their flights, even when flying domestically.

“The process of boarding a domestic flight is much simpler than boarding an international flight (no period of quarantine or COVID test is required). Disembarkation is more seamless than ever before with only three rows of passengers allowed to disembark at the same time to ensure social distancing. This process eliminates the long and uncomfortable queues that tend to form in the airplane when landing,” explains Desai, adding that passengers will still be obligated to complete a health declaration document as compiled by the Department of Health, which needs to be printed out before arriving at the airport (return flight passengers will require two copies).

In conjunction with making your way to the airport with plenty of time to spare, there are various other ways that you can streamline and speed up your domestic travel experience:

Avoid airport parking

Not only are you likely to lose a lot of time driving around in search of long-term airport parking as the travel industry revives, but you are also probably going to wind up paying significantly more for your parking space. Based on complaints on social media and an article published on the Daily Maverick, a number of travellers have been slapped with exorbitant parking tickets in recent times. These tickets have wound up costing them thousands of rand, despite parking where they always did only to discover retrospectively that ACSA (Airports Company South Africa) has reshuffled all available short- and long-term parking since lockdown restrictions were lifted. According to travellers, there has been minimal signage placed to indicate this change.

“Avoid taking the risk of experiencing the same shock to the system, and save time in the process, by opting to make use of airport transfers instead. Transfer services are affordable and convenient,” says Desai. Furthermore, these drivers know their way around the airport roads, so they will manage to get you to where you need to be faster and more efficiently. Of course, you also always have Uber as a viable solution to get you to the airport. Just be sure to compare costs when it comes to using an airport shuttle vs calling an Uber.

If you must park at the airport, Desai suggests the following:

  • DO consider adding an extra 30 minutes to the time that it will take you to get into the airport, just in case. 
  • DO put your parking ticket away in a safe place immediately.
  • DO look out for signage indicating parking tariffs.
  • DON’T park in your usual ‘parking spot’ unless you have double-checked that it is still indeed situated in the long-term parking area.
  • DON’T leave any valuables in the car.

Pay extra for priority boarding

Most domestic airlines offer priority boarding as an extra when booking your flight, and for an exceedingly small fee. This benefit is relatively self-explanatory, but it essentially means that you will be one of the very first travellers to board the plane, dramatically reducing your waiting and queuing time. Keep in mind that priority boarding is limited to a few travellers, so book your tickets well in advance, if possible, to avoid disappointment.

Explore workspaces at the airport

For many business travellers, the airport lounge is their ticket to sanity. It’s a quiet space with comfortable chairs and free Wi-Fi, where you can catch up on work, prepare for that important meeting ahead or just clear your head.

Unfortunately, most lounges are still closed as a result of COVID-19 and will only ‘gradually’ reopen. That doesn’t mean, however, that you won’t be able to find a good spot to drink a coffee and catch up on work. Most South African airports have a variety of coffee shops and eateries at the airport, where you can sit down with your laptop and make your time as productive as possible. Do your research in advance to know which restaurants are open.

Dress right and pack light

Remember that you will be required to wear a mask at all times during your flight. It is therefore advised to wear a mask made from a light fabric or a disposable mask that fits comfortably.

If you want to avoid any lengthy delays, it’s also important to wear the right clothing and pack light. The fewer luggage and carry-ons that you have, the simpler and faster the process will be.

“There are plenty of changes to expect, but if you know how best to approach the situation, it doesn’t have to be nearly as daunting or time-consuming as anticipated,” concludes Desai. “Just go ahead and ask us to book your first flight since the start of lockdown and see for yourself!”