On June 28th, 2020 I was flying from Nikola Tesla airport in Belgrade (Serbia) to Antalya (Turkey) via Istanbul and came back to Belgrade on July 6th. I didn’t book my round-trip through any tour agency, I simply bought the ticket through Turkish Airlines on my own and went to visit a very dear person to me. This article is about the airport procedures I went through, and some important notes I’d like to highlight for all of you who consider traveling abroad during coronavirus.
FLIGHT FROM BELGRADE (SERBIA) TO ANTALYA (TURKEY) VIA ISTANBUL
AIRPORT PROCEDURES AT NIKOLA TESLA BELGRADE AIRPORT
ARRIVAL AT THE AIRPORT
When I came to the airport, there were quite a large number of people in front of the terminal building. Some of them were waiting for their flights, and some of them just came to drop people off. Everyone was allowed to enter the airport building, but airport officials strongly recommend that only passengers with flight go inside and those who came to escort them – stay outside, to avoid crowd inside the building.
As there were only several flights on that day, there were not many passengers at the check-in desk. Everything went quite smoothly.
Everyone at the airport wore a mask, both airport staff and passengers, so if you are having or planning a trip soon, don’t forget to bring your mask! I also brought a pair of gloves (which I didn’t use) and antibacterial gel, which I used every 5-10 minutes.
Once I checked in, I found a seat in the lobby with not many people around, and there I waited for the boarding time. I didn’t want to go through the passport control and to the gate earlier, as I knew there would be more people there. Nikola Tesla Airport is smaller than other international airports, so I tried to stay away from the crowd.
BOARDING TIME AND ARRIVAL AT THE GATE
Ten minutes before the boarding time, I slowly started moving toward passport control, which was empty. Nobody was in front of me, so I continued my way to the gate. At the gate, airport staff did a security and temperature check, after which they announced that the boarding would slowly start.
The first ones to fill the plane were those passengers with seats 25 and above, then 20 and above, etc. So, they were filling the plane by filling back seats first, then middle ones and the first ones the last. The announcements to keep social distancing while entering the plane were constantly given.
The boarding was smooth and completed without any issues.
DURING THE FLIGHT
The aircraft was packed, though. There were no empty seats or social distancing, as all passengers were sitting one next to another.
During the flight, only water in plastic cups was provided. Flight attendants were not pouring water individually as usual, but everyone was given a small covered plastic cup. No coffee or any other drink was provided. There was no food, either.
All passengers got a form to fill, in form of a questionnaire. Questions were related to whether a passenger had contact with Covid-19 infected person and in what country he/she stayed for the past 14 days. We were supposed to hand in that form along with our passport at the passport control in Istanbul airport.
ARRIVAL TO ISTANBUL AIRPORT
Disembarking from the plane went also smoothly.
The first ones to leave the aircraft were the business class passengers and the first 10 seats of economy class. Then the passengers from seats in the middle and the last ones to leave were passengers from the seats in the back.
As Istanbul airport is huge, the passengers from my plane quickly scattered around, so soon I was left on my own and continued my way to domestic transfers. There were hardly any people at the terminal building, I’ve never seen such an image before. It looked impressive and sad at the same time. That was the moment I realized the enormous impact of Covid-19 on world trade and economy.
I kept wearing my mask and sanitizing my hands. Once I passed through passport control, I reached an area with some shops and a few cafes opened. I started getting hungry, so I saw the sign “Food Court” and full of hope, made my way there.
Sadly, the whole area was closed, so the only food I could get was a sandwich from a snack bar.
After my “meal”, I went to the gates. There were not many passengers at the gates, but as the boarding time was approaching, more and more crowded it got.
Airport staff at the Istanbul airport was doing quite a good job, making announcements every few minutes, checking passengers’ temperature, and allowing only several people at the time to hop on the bus driving them to the airplane.
The buses were not full, so people could safely keep social distance between them.
That way the boarding went smoothly without passengers crossing each other.
The airplane was full and the same cup of water was provided to everyone, with no food or any other drink included.
ARRIVAL TO ANTALYA AND BAGGAGE CLAIM
Arrival at Antalya went without any issues. Passengers’ temperature was checked once again before being directed to the baggage claim area. Those who didn’t have a temperature weren’t requested to go to self-isolation or anything similar. We were free to go and enjoy our time in Antalya.
FROM ANTALYA (TURKEY) TO BELGRADE (SERBIA) VIA ISTANBUL
Eight days later, on the 6th of July to be more precise, I had a return flight to Serbia. Everything went the same, airport procedures didn’t include more than just a temperature check and social distancing.
Both airplanes left on time and flights went smoothly.
Once I landed at the Nikola Tesla airport, there was a long line in front of passport control and, at my huge disappointment, none of the airport staff members were reminding passengers to keep social distancing.
Two planes landed at the same time – one was ours from Istanbul, and another one was from Zurich. I was shocked to see that only one conveyor belt was used to drop off passengers’ luggage in the baggage claim area for both flights!
It created a massive crowd and people didn’t really care, they just wanted to collect their luggage and find their way out.
Also, there was a very long line in front of the Customs desk which I didn’t understand (I’ve never seen a line there). I skipped the line and made my way out. Nobody stopped me or told me to wait.
Anyway, the bottom line here was that NONE OF THE AIRPORT STAFF was there to direct people and prevent them from making unnecessary lines. Very poor crowd management at Nikola Tesla airport.
Upon my arrival home, I wasn’t required to submit myself to self-isolation.
DO ALL NECESSARY PREPARATION FOR THE TRIP
This means that wherever you plan to travel during coronavirus crisis, first check with the embassy of the country you are traveling to if they have any measures you should be aware of when entering their country.
If you booked through a tour agency, call the agency and double-check their cancellation policy and all information regarding the flight.
In my case, before I booked the flight I checked with Turkish Airlines twice, as well as with the Turkish Embassy in Belgrade (e-mail: email@example.com) where they assured me there would be no isolation required when I come to Turkey.
GET A TRAVEL INSURANCE
This is, I’d say, one of the most important things. In times of Covid-19 you never know what can happen, so to be safe and sure, I bought Dunav osiguranje travel health insurance. It cost me only 10 EUR for eight days, but it didn’t apply to Covid-19. There was an option to include the treatment from Covid-19 also, and that cost 15 EUR, but I didn’t take that one as Turkish government said whoever gets Covid-19 in Turkey – would be treated at the cost of the state.
BRING YOUR MASK AND ANTIBACTERIAL WIPES OR GEL
Wearing a mask at the airport at all times is a must. Once you board the plane, you will be provided with mask and antibacterial wipes, but it’s always good to have your ones as they are required in the airport terminal building as well.
BRING YOUR FOOD AND SNACKS
I mentioned that there was no food at the airplanes. If your flight is long, they will provide you with a meal, but if your flight is short like mine was (1h30 min) not even snacks will be provided.
Also, in the duty-free area, there are no restaurants open. Only two or three snack bars where you can buy snacks are open, and they are quite expensive, so if you have a long layover better think of bringing some proper food with yourself.
AVOID UNNECESSARY CROWDS
To avoid crowds, follow the orders and announcements given by airport staff. Don’t go to the gate if you still have time before boarding because it’s the most crowded area. Keep your social distancing and mask at all times!
BEWARE THAT SHOPS AND SUPERMARKETS ARE CLOSED
I saw only one duty-free shop open at the Istanbul airport, as well as the one at Nikola Tesla airport. Most of the other shops are closed, and I didn’t see any supermarket open, either.
Even though we live in difficult times, life hasn’t stopped! I encourage all people to travel, but before you decide to do so, check all information on your destination’s country as the situation is changing on daily basis. Do all necessary preparation, stick to the rules, and hit the road! I’d like to hear about your experience, so feel free to write to me in the comment box below.