Slowly and steadily, travel restrictions are beginning to ease – which in turn will put domestic flights back on the radar for more and more people, beyond those who are already flying for 'essential reasons'.
However, for at least the short-to-medium term, you can expect a very different experience compared to how domestic flights used to be.
Research border restrictions before you book
At the time of writing, several Australian states and territories have some degree of border restrictions in place.
While New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT remain open, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory will non-essential travellers through but impose a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
And while South Australia lets you choose where to spend that quarantine period, the NT specifies a designated quarantine location nearest to your point of arrival, and at your own expense. Tasmania let residents confine themselves at their home, but non-residents must spend 14 days at a government-provided accommodation.
The strictest states are Queensland and Western Australia – only residents and essential travellers are allowed past the border, with special exemptions required.
Queensland residents and essential travellers need to apply for the Queensland Entry Pass; those heading to WA should apply for the G2G Pass. 14-day quarantine requirements may still apply in both states, depending on your purpose of travel.
The Department of Health provides the latest information on all state and territory closures.
What to expect before the flight
Once you're clear on the border rules and good to travel, it's time to book the flights.
This might be easier said than done, as both Qantas and Virgin Australia have trimmed their flights to a skeleton schedule. There are still direct flights between most mainland capital cities, but at nowhere near the frequency they used to be – and some cities have no direct flights at all.
One example is travel between Brisbane and Perth. The border closures of both states has reduced travel to such an extent that neither Qantas or Virgin Australia offer direct flights between the two cities until mid-June at the earliest, so you'll need to find a one-stop connection via Sydney or Melbourne.
It's advisable to have your most up-to-date contact details included in the booking in case your flight details change or someone on your flight later tests positive for coronavirus.
In that regard, the Australian Government also advises everyone to download the COVIDSafe app. It doesn't require your address and doesn't track your location. Instead, it uses Bluetooth to note when you come into contact with other users of the COVIDSafe app.
If an app user eventually tests positive for coronavirus, then it'll be much easier for health authorities to also inform you, so you can take appropriate measures to stay safe.
What to expect at the airport
One thing you probably shouldn't expect are crowds – airports are almost empty, which certainly helps when it comes to keeping your distance from others.
With the aim of minimising human interaction, airlines are encouraging passengers to check-in online or through their app before reaching the airport, and to use self-serve luggage drop facilities.
Some airports will have temperature screening at checkpoints. If your temperature is noted to be too high, you'll be directed to a nurse for a more accurate reading. If you do happen to have a fever, your operating airline will have the final say on whether you travel today or not.
What to expect at the airport lounge
Airport lounges are currently closed, but are expected to reopen shortly in states and territories where lockdown laws have loosened.
In the early days, Qantas is likely to open only one class of lounge – either a Qantas Club or a Qantas Business lounge – in any mainland capital city, and all eligible travellers will be directed to that lounge. But social distancing measures will mean those lounges will have less furniture and reduced capacity, meaning that some lounge-worthy passengers could be turned away.
Self-serve food and drink, including buffets and DIY toasted sandwiches, will be replaced by boxed meals and packaged, pre-wrapped snacks.
For example, prior to the current close-down, Virgin Australia's domestic lounges had moved to a ‘no touch’ dining set-up: rather than helping themselves, guests seeking hot food would ask a staff member manning the counter to serve them their choice, which avoided passengers handling any shared utensils.
If lounge access isn't an option but you'd like a snack before flying, consult your airport's COVID-19 updates page to see which retail f&b outlets are operating. This will be particularly important on longer flights, as onboard catering will be limited.
What to expect during the flight
Head to the departure gate a little earlier than usual and allow more time for boarding, as social distancing will slow up the boarding process – passengers won't be allowed to queue so closely together, and will probably be called for boarding sequentially based on their seat numbers.
Qantas and Virgin Australia have cut down their inflight food and drink service. Snacks and water will be offered in economy, although business class guests may enjoy a wider range of food and beverage options. We strongly suggest making BYO your new inflight meal strategy.
With inflight magazines and WiFi discontinued for now, bring your own reading material and entertainment.
Cabin crew may be wearing some form of personal protective equipment and reduce contact with passengers. Masks and sanitising wipes (or gel) are available on request with both airlines.
In terms of seating, Virgin Australia has a 'middle seat free' policy which is in action until further notice. Family groups may still request the middle seat if wanted, but it will otherwise be blocked out during online check-in.
For the record, Qantas doesn't plan to block middle seats on domestic flights, arguing that 'the data shows that actual risk of catching coronavirus on an aircraft is already extremely low.'
"That’s due to a combination of factors, including the cabin air filtration system, the fact people don’t sit face-to-face and the high backs of aircraft seats acting as a physical barrier," explained Qantas Group Medical Director Dr Ian Hosegood.
What to expect after the flight
The arrivals process will depend on which state or territory you're flying into. There will be an increased police presence at most terminals.
If you're flying into a place with border restrictions, such as Brisbane or Perth, then there will be a checkpoint before you can leave the airport.
If you need to go into quarantine for 14 days, then you'll be transferred to the government accommodation or directed to proceed straight to your designated location for home quarantine, depending on the state/territory and your reason for entry.
Otherwise, you'll be simply free to leave the airport and carry on with your day. But be sure to check entry requirements before flying back, as border restrictions can change while you're on a trip.