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Flying to Korea During Pandemic

written by CPOHealth - Aug 31, 2020
medically reviewed by Dr. Christine Bishara, MD - Jan 11, 2022


This content is based on my own experience, which should not be used as advice for your travel routine. Each country and quarantine facility may have different travel rules and protocols.

08/21/2020 Departure

At 8:30 am, we left our Surrey home and headed to the Vancouver airport (YVR) for our flight departure at 12 pm. The airport is very quiet these days with only a few check-in lines open. Check-in can be done earlier and faster by using YVR's self-service kiosks. Passengers must undergo a mandatory temperature screening before entering the security screening. The next screening was the pre-boarding screening checkpoint. Here we needed to take out all our electronic devices (laptop, iPad, phone) to be scanned separately. Always plan ahead and find out what you can take in your carry-on luggage; it will make the trip go smoothly.

We were fully equipped with all kinds of masks as well as a health kit for traveling in our carry-on backpacks. It included 3M NIOSH N95 masks, KN95 (FDA-approved) masks, surgical masks, face shields, a face cover hat, goggles, hygienic hand wipes, hand sanitizer gel, hand sanitizer spray (with 70% alcohol), BD antiseptic alcohol swabs, and disposable gloves. We even had disposable protective gowns and shoe covers but never used them. Wearing the gown would have raised our body temperature and we were not sure if we needed to take it off at the security screening checkpoint.

Photo Credit: Self-health travel kit, @tiffany.ironfan’s Instagram
Photo Credit: Self-health travel kit, @tiffany.ironfan’s Instagram

I joked with my husband before we left that we shouldn’t eat and drink on the plane. The airplane looked like a ghost plane with all its empty seats. There were only about 40-50 people aboard, including the crew. Our seats, A40 and A41, were both window seats, and there was nobody in our row nor the rows in front of us and behind us. This was the best “social distancing” we practiced during our trip! During the flight, we were served two cold meals and a sandwich. At 3:45 pm, we arrived at Incheon airport.

Check out the following steps when it comes to check-in and immigration entry to Korea:

1. Submission of health questionnaire form (the yellow one) and temperature checkup to confirm that we had no coronavirus symptoms. Then there were two very long lines, one for foreign passports and the other for Korean passports. Mandatory quarantine instructions and a quarantine certificate were provided to foreigners.

2. Download the app “Self-Quarantine Safety Protection” – we needed to provide them with a local contact number.

3. The staff confirmed whether or not we had installed the app correctly.

4. Fill out the “Arrival Card” and proceeded to “Issuing Documents for Covid-19” – all foreigners have to sign the agreement for the government-mandated two-week quarantine program.

5. Immigration check – officers checked why we were visiting Korea and gave out a lanyard with a badge that contained a card in a plastic sleeve to indicate that we were going to a randomly assigned government-designated quarantine facility.

6. We got our luggage and waited at the arrival gate. A police officer guarded the foreigners who wore the badge to the exit, where we waited for the bus.

Photo Credit: Plane in the sky, @tiffany.ironfan’s Instagram
Photo Credit: Plane in the sky, @tiffany.ironfan’s Instagram

Photo Credit: Empty seats, @tiffany.ironfan’s Instagram
Photo Credit: Empty seats, @tiffany.ironfan’s Instagram

Photo Credit: Window seat, @tiffany.ironfan’s Instagram
Photo Credit: Window seat, @tiffany.ironfan’s Instagram

Photo Credit: Quiet flight, @tiffany.ironfan’s Instagram
Photo Credit: Quiet flight, @tiffany.ironfan’s Instagram

Photo Credit: Plane meal, @tiffany.ironfan’s Instagram
Photo Credit: Plane meal, @tiffany.ironfan’s Instagram

Photo Credit: Quarantine instructions and quarantine certificates, @tiffany.ironfan’s Instagram
Photo Credit: Quarantine instructions and quarantine certificates, @tiffany.ironfan’s Instagram

Photo Credit: Incheon Airport quarantine inspection, @tiffany.ironfan’s Instagram
Photo Credit: Incheon Airport quarantine inspection, @tiffany.ironfan’s Instagram

Questions and Answers:

Question: Do I need a visa to visit Korea? What other documents are required?

Answer: Check the Korea Consulate Webpage for the required documents before you apply for the visa. Due to COVID-19, all foreigners need to apply for a special short-term visa to enter Korea. All applicants should also submit a medical certificate issued by a doctor or hospital and sign an agreement for the government quarantine program.

Question: Do we have to wear masks in the airport and on the airplane?

Answer: You must wear masks anywhere in the airport to protect the safety of other passengers and airport staff. On the airplane, passengers are encouraged to wear masks or face coverings. You can take it off to eat and drink. Complimentary personal hygiene kits including a snack, hand sanitizer gel, a mask, and a few antiseptic cleansing wipes are given to every passenger before boarding with Air Canada (and on most airlines).

Question: Should I eat and drink on the airplane? And is the washroom safe to use?Answer: Yes, you can eat and drink on the airplane to maintain a good immune system. Just make sure that any passengers who are close to you don’t take their masks off at the same time that you are eating and drinking. You can also go to the washroom when you need to; just make sure you are wearing a face mask, and wash your hands thoroughly. Avoid touching any unnecessary surfaces in the washroom.

Question: Do I need to wear an N95 mask and safety goggles?Answer: That might depend on how full the flight is. If it’s a crowded flight, the best mask options would be N95, KN95, and 3-level medical masks, which have shown to be effective in preventing virus transmission. A face shield and protective goggles are also recommended.

Question: Is it safe to travel now during the COVID-19 pandemic? And how do you travel safely?

Answer: No, there is no travel that’s completely safe during a pandemic. Avoid any leisure trips or non-essential travel visits. You also need to assess the risks when it comes to domestic or foreign travel.

(To be continued…)


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