Queensland has now closed its borders to residents of Sydney.
But right before that I happened, I made a snap decision to buy tickets for myself and my three year old to fly to the Sunshine Coast to visit my mum. Having not seen her since Christmas, we couldn’t wait any longer.
With limited flights to Maroochydore, we booked into Brisbane on Jetstar for $139 each on Tuesday evening.
I kept everything crossed that we would make our 6pm flight three days out from the booking.
See more: A state by state guide to travel restrictions
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I ensured I had a mask for the flight, worded up my mask-phobic toddler that Mummy would be donning a face shield on the aeroplane, and filled out an online declaration form on the QLD Government website.
How did I know to do this? Not because the airline notified me (though Jetstar does have a travel alerts page), but because constant news reports about driver-side tete-a-tetes with police at the Coolangatta border made me think I might need to provide some COVID-free evidence. A swift Google search led me here.
After some basic question answering about health and location, I was emailed a Queensland Border Declaration Pass with a big G (for General) on it that would be valid for seven days. Was I free to fly? I guess so.
Tuesday afternoon we headed for the domestic airport. The cabbie quizzed me on where I was going and then casually mentioned it was only the second time he’d been to the airport in three months. “Usually I’d be back and forth three times a day,” he added.
We arrived 1.5 hours ahead of takeoff. I’d anticipated queues for questioning, ID checks and temperature taking. Nope. The terminal was eerily quiet. Self check-in was as basic as being offered two flight selections on screen, was I flying to Brisbane or the Gold Coast.
Checking in at airports these days can be an eerily quiet experience. Picture: AFPSource:AFP
At bag drop off I was shown a list of about 60 Sydney suburbs. It might’ve been more. “Have you been here?” No, we hadn’t. We were free to move on. We breezed through security and headed for the food court. It was in darkness. But we could smell Maccas. In the food court (where you would otherwise struggle to find a table, and if you did, it would be laden with previous diners leftovers) we slid into a spotless booth with more than enough social distance between us and fellow travellers.
Next stop, the gate. We walked past retail stores in darkness, some that were emptied out, sparse with the odd clothes rack and a few lonely hangers.
At the gate, 90 per cent of passengers were wearing a mask. Maybe when we boarded I’d have to show my declaration, I was ready. Nope, straight onto the plane, no questions asked. Yet.
The plane was as good as full. It was quiet. Cabin crew were wearing masks. They made an announcement to please use the mask and sanitary wipes you were handed in your wellness packs – part of their Fly Well program – but to not leave them onboard. Even if they were unused.
Luckily we had our own, as I missed the handing out or somehow skipped a display of these mystery wellness packs.
The flight itself was uneventful. There was no food and drink on offer. Water if you requested it.
Then we landed.
NSW health workers dressed in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are seen screening passengers at Sydney Airport. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Bianca De MarchiSource:News Corp Australia
All passengers were disembarked onto the runway and ushered to a staircase leading to the arrivals gate. A bottleneck began. We were asked to show our border declaration. Some passengers seemed oblivious and were ordered into a different direction.
That’s when it felt like we were entering a heightened type of immigration. QLD has put a military operation into action to welcome arrivals.
A wall, some 100 metres or more, of 1.5m-distanced uniformed officials including police, army and fire and rescue pointed us in the direction of policed tables to have our declarations and IDs checked.
A passenger commented on the presence of fire and rescue to which he got the reply, “Yeah, we’ve got better things to do.” Well, it did seem like an excessive show of force.
G passholders like us were moved forward. While those with a P or a Q (not sure what this stood for) on their declaration were pointed to a designated area. Of course by now passengers were falling over each other. What social distancing? But then, we had been sitting inches away from each other in a flying tin can.
Passengers were screened as they disembarked the flight.Source:News Corp Australia
It was our turn. A PPE-masked police officer did the questioning.
“So, you’ve come from Coogee?”
“What’s the purpose of your visit?”
I’m visiting my Mum.
“And what have you been doing for the last 14 days?”
Working from home mostly. Or in Surry Hills. We haven’t travelled outside the neighbourhood otherwise.
“Have you been to any of these places in Western Sydney?” Points to a lengthy list.
No, we haven’t.
“Well, it’s creeping up the coast. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t mind you going home, but you never know. The borders might close so you need to be prepared …”
Yes. OK. Umm. We don’t mind getting stuck in Queensland. I laughed.
“I can understand that.”
So, are we free to go?
“Yes. But renew your declaration after seven days.”
At the airport, it felt like a heightened type of immigration. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Bianca De MarchiSource:News Corp Australia
So, we were in. We shuffled past the continuing wall of uniforms and found my mum who had been stopped “by groups of police” from entering any further than the main entrance.
I wouldn’t call it hostile, but it was a confronting experience. Anyone who has been through American immigration will understand what I mean by a military operation. But when you fly to the US, the airline prompts you to fill out your visa details online and won’t let you board without clearance. Currently passengers within Australia need to take responsibility for ensuring they can enter a state and have the correct documentation upon landing or vehicle crossing.
But, are we heading for an overhaul of flying regulations state-to-state? Will taking to the air ever be the experience it once was?
Watch this air space.
– Warning as travellers flood into Queensland
– The $12 mask every traveller should have
– The holiday I wish I’d cancelled
– How face masks have become couture
Originally published asThing that shocked me flying to QLD
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