My experience only occurred at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea and Abu Dhabi International Airport in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates via Etihad Airways. I cannot vouch for the experience you may or may not have at other airports and flying with other airlines. I urge you to do your due diligence when researching airlines and their COVID-19 policies.
My booking to return to the United States was actually the second such booking I had made. My first one with Cathay Pacific was cancelled as the flight from Hong Kong to Washington D.C. was ultimately not returned to service as initially planned.
My flight path took me on Etihad Airways flight 873 from Incheon International Airport to Abu Dhabi International Airport and then a Etihad Airways flight 131 from Abu Dhabi International Airport to Dulles International Airport. Both the 9:32 flight from South Korea to the United Arab Emirates and the 14:13 flight from the UAE to the USA were very enjoyable.
All passengers onboard followed all policies set out by the airline. Some of which included, staying seated unless absolutely necessary (to prevent passerby infections), no queuing at the bathrooms, wearing a mask at all times unless eating or drinking, and not standing in the aisles while deplaning.
The only time there was a lapse in following the rules was deplaning when some passengers got up and stood in the aisles waiting for other passengers ahead of them to get off the plane.
Etihad Airways' flight crew also did a fantastic job making sure people adhered to these policies and they were safely outfitted in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). All crew members wore gowns over their uniforms, protective glasses and gloves.
Etihad Airlines refers to their cabin crews as, "Wellness Ambassadors."
Upon boarding and before taking off, the flight crew went throughout the cabin and passed out the airlines, "Wellness Kit" which can been seen above in photo number four.
Quite honestly, the best thing about the entire experience is the fact that the flights were very lightly trafficked which gave everyone in the cabin the ability to have a row to themselves. Made better by the length of the flights, passengers were able to lay across their row, as seen in the sixth picture above. I do believe this contributed to my lack of jet lag because laying across the row allowed for a more comfortable sleeping experience.
This is the part of the journey that was hard to fathom. In the case of Incheon International Airport, entire hallways of gates were dark due to lack of demand because of inactivity.
Over the years, airports have increasingly become entertainment centers and shopping districts. That is no longer the case in the era of the Coronavirus. Shops have limited hours, limited capacity or remain closed.
At Incheon International Airport it took a bit of a walk to find a place to grab a snack before my flight. I couldn't even find a place that was selling a soda to take on my flight. Only Starbucks in another section of the airport was open at the time. Other open stores included Duty Free stores selling alcohol, cigarettes and expensive watches.
As an avid traveler who has traversed my fair share of world airports, it was hard to wrap my head around. This was the part where I realized the gravity of the situation at hand for the airline and travel industry.
Before going through security, I had to stand in front of a thermal camera and an airport employee checked my temperature with a standard thermometer gun.
When queuing to board the flight, an Etihad Airways employee, again, checks your temperature. It was at this point that passengers lined up too close to each other and the employees stopped the boarding and reminded passengers to "social distance."
At Abu Dhabi International Airport, the same occurred with queuing and having to be reminded to social distance.
Employees at both airports were great when it came to enforcing the rules and guidelines.
After landing at Dulles International Airport in Sterling, Virginia, I spotted groups of United Airlines planes sitting on distant tarmac areas, parked for long term storage. This was something I had heard about being the case from watching aviation videos of Youtube but was still pretty surreal seeing in person.
I also believe there were Etihad Airways planes parked for long term storage at Abu Dhabi International Airport but wasn't 100% certain that was the case since the jets in longterm storage have to have their engines and wheels covered with protective tarps to protect the airliners from the elements.
Honestly this was one of the best flying experiences I've ever had. Quite possibly the best flying experience I've had.
The airports are doing a great job making travelers feel safe by enforcing the rules in place. It's just really eerie seeing once heavily trafficked and large international airports so empty.
As with the airports, Etihad Airways was sticking to the rules and its customers played a major role in following the rules and not making a fuss about them.
Having an entire row to yourself to lay out and sleep makes international travel on such long flights a much easier and pleasant experience. I've never experienced this before and it was a major factor to making this experience one of my top experiences.
That being said, this is still a time to avoid international travel if possible. Only travel if absolutely necessary to continue to keep yourself and those in your communities safe. Planes being mostly empty and having an entire row to yourself isn't reason to book a vacation. There is still a deadly and highly contagious pandemic going on and we all need to do our part to keep each other safe and healthy!