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in mid December of this year, I'll be flying for the first time in around 10 years, from Deurne (Antwerp International, ANR) to Alicante (ALC) using Tui Fly, with assisted travel because of my autism. Last time I flew was in 2012 on a comparable trajectory (Brussels to Alicante), which was an entirely different time before the global COVID-19 pandemic. So I'm curious: Have there been any significant evolutions or changes in commercial passenger flight that would impact me as a passenger, whether positive or negative?

Note that last time I flew, I had a decent amount of flight anxiety due to heavy turbulence while landing in an earlier flight, and honestly I kinda feel a bit anxious for this upcoming flight as well. I remember that during the last flight I was tensing up in my seat every time there was even a small amount of turbulence. Any recommendations for preparing/dealing with that are welcome as well.


In case it's relevant: I will be more than fully vaccinated for COVID-19 (first shot in April 2021, second shot in May 2021, generic booster shot in January 2022, then an additional Omicron booster in October 2022 and a yearly renewal booster for at-risk groups later this week), and if required I would be willing to wear a mask, assuming it's mandated. I'd rather not wear a mask if it's not mandated or heavily recommended.

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    Covid hasn't changed much. There were the masks for a while and that's about it. In the USA, 2012 was still pretty high on the "anti-terrorism", so you would have been taking off your shoes and needing lots of extra time for security measures. That's less today, partly because screening tech is greatly improved.
    – user27701
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 18:58
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    When it comes to turbulence, watch the flight attendants. As long as they're moving around the cabin, the turbulence isn't worth worrying about.
    – Mark
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 23:10
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    @funky-future I realize and regret that commercial aviation currently has an excessive impact on the environment. Simultaneously, there is no feasible other method of long-distance travel that doesn't take at least an entire day of travel to get there. If there was a night train between Belgium and the Costa Blanca, I might have chosen that instead, but as it stands currently I'd rather not have to sacrifice 2 days of the 20 or so that I have for my vacation.
    – Nzall
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 14:34
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    What qualifies as "significant"? Personally I would mask, both in the airport as they arrange lines going back and forth (you get exposed to pretty much everyone who will be entering Security, or be on the aircraft), and at least before you are airborne (not sure how much ventilation you get on the tarmac / while taxiing). Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 0:40
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    @toby544 Aircraft have laminar downflow ventilation with an air change every 2-3 minutes. This is way more frequent than large buildings. While there have been superspreaders on flights these cases have been symptomatic and are not currently accepted for travel. A total of 44 documented infections took place between Apr-Sep 2020 with a transmission rate of 1 in 1.3M passengers. The literature is not uniform, but I would think precautions are more consistently applied on board than in a restaurant in the waiting area at the airport.
    – Pekka
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 13:56

7 Answers 7

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A few things may have changed, but it's difficult to say if they apply in your case, as the introduction of such measures depends a lot on the airlines, airports and even specific flights, so it could be that those changes haven't been introduced at all in your case, or that they were already introduced last time you flew. But it's possible they were introduced sometime between the two.

  1. Restrictions on bags: more and more airlines will either restrict baggage sizes/weights (both for carry-on and checked luggage), or make you pay extra. Some airlines may have two different sizes for carry-on: one (small enough to fit under the seat in front of you) remains free, the other one (anything bigger, up to the carry-on limit) to be paid extra.

  2. Self baggage drop: in many airports, instead of queuing to get to an agent to check-in, you will use kiosks to perform check-in, and sometimes even to get your luggage tags, which you then need to stick onto your bag yourself. Details vary quite a bit, and there's always help around, but that's a change.

  3. Online/mobile check-in: it is more and more common that you have to perform check-in online or on your mobile before your flight, to either get a mobile boarding pass on your phone, or to print before departure. Cases where you have to print your boarding pass before departure can be annoying for the return trip, since you have to find a way to print the boarding pass while away from home, but for intra-EU flights that should be rare.

  4. On the other hand, there are more and more digital tools to assist you during your trip, with apps, mobile boarding passes (in app, via e-mail, in phone wallet...), notifications, etc.

  5. In some cases (I would think probably not in yours), ID controls have been temporarily re-introduced at internal Schengen borders. This is more likely on trips from the South and East of Europe to the North and West. Nothing special there, you just have to get into the queue and present your ID. Sometimes checks happen during boarding or right when you exit the aircraft, in most cases they happen at regular passport control booths.

  6. Like for bags, in-flight meal/beverage services are more and more limited or provided as extras, but that trend started quite a bit earlier than 10 years ago I believe.

  7. Some airlines may have changed boarding procedures (mostly the order in which people are called). Some also introduced assigned seating (but airlines which did not have assigned seating were pretty rare anyway).

  8. During security, different types of scanners may have been introduced, both for you and for your carry-on bags. For you, there are now full-body scanners which require you to just stand in the scanner for a few seconds while they get a full "X-Ray type" vision of you and anything you carry. It is imperative that you fully empty your pockets beforehand. For bags, some scanners no longer require you to get liquids and/or electronic devices out of your bag. Whether you have to remove your shoes or not also varies.

  9. If you have any fear of you checked bags getting lost, tracking devices such as AirTags can be helpful.

All in all, most of them are pretty small changes and nothing to worry about, just read carefully everything communicated by the airline. Most of these changes involve the process before and after the flight, rather than during the flight itself.

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    Points 1 and 6 are an effort to extract more money from the passenger's wallet. Points 2 & 3 are to reduce payroll costs. All designed to increase profits. #cynic
    – FreeMan
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 17:14
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    Related to extracting money, in the US the “basic economy” concept seems to have gained traction more and more. Would that be a new concept that might apply here too?
    – steve v
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 18:34
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    Good list +1. They started requiring tablets to be removed as well as notebook computers, and in some places, all power banks. Lithium batteries were identified as a potential hazard in the last decade and you cannot have any in your checked bags. There are (fairly generous) limits on Li battery size. You are not supposed to charge devices in flight. If the batteries can be removed (eg. a drone) you can check the drone and carry on the batteries. International flights usually you just need your passport, but have your 6-character booking reference code just in case. Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 2:44
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    "You are not supposed to charge devices in flight." Err, that's why many airlines provide USB ports and electric plugs...
    – dda
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 14:37
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    @AwkwardWhale Agree wholeheartedly. I’ve come very close to missing flights on multiple occasions because it took more than an hour to get through checkin queues in the bad old days; since the introduction of self-checkin, I’ve never waited more than perhaps five minutes. Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 23:57
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Many "traditional" airlines (e.g. Air Canada, Delta, Lufthansa, KLM, China Southern) now have similar practices to low-cost budget airlines (e.g. Ryanair, Jetstar, Spring Airlines), including:

  • you may need to pay to select a seat (even if not preferred, e.g. exit rows), or you can only select seat for free starting from certain times based on how much you paid for the ticket and your frequent flyer status.
  • checked bags are no longer the standard, even for long-haul international routes.
  • the same applies to drinks and food (especially on domestic flights, even if it takes a few hours, e.g. Montreal - Vancouver), although most full-service airlines would probably still serve water or even soft drink for free.
  • online check-in may be required, failing of which may result in a fee at the airport (still a rare practice for traditional airlines).

The details should be available from the airline's website.

This was already changing 10 years ago, but it is now true for much more airlines now, especially in Europe.

Additionally, while not directly related to air travel and not relevant in your case, more countries have started to require prior electronic authorizations for visa-free nationals.

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    "you may need to pay to select a seat": I've been refusing to do this on principle and I've never been assigned to a particularly bad seat.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 19:56
  • @phoog Depends on particular bad is, someone has to get one of all the seats available if the flight is full. Whether you mind that you are in the rear at the window and may miss your bus home (true story from my last flight) is quite individual, though. Someone will just enjoy the view. Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 11:18
  • The rearmost window seat is one I have chosen several times. But as OP is restricted due to autism and might be travelling with someone, seat choice is likely important.
    – Willeke
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 15:23
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One thing which, as far as I can see, none of the previous good answers has touched on is airports which are an integral part of your journey from Belgium to Spain.

Airports recommend arriving very early for flights partly because they obtain significant revenue from shopping to the extent it can almost be difficult to find your gate because of the retail opportunities. They are therefore quite crowded airside. Seating is therefore also often hard to find. If you find crowds hard to deal with this may be an issue for you and you might want to investigate paying for lounge access although check on-line reviews first as some lounges are not much better.

Antwerp is probably fairly small but Alicante being on a big tourist route will be crowded and busy.

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    Even here in Belgium, Antwerp is considered a small airport, to the point that the town where I live has a train station that sees more yearly transit than the Antwerp airport. People compare it to a bus stop...
    – Nzall
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 13:55
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    Living in Amsterdam, 20y ago I was booking a flight Schiphol-Japan. But I noticed that the flight was cheaper if my 'home address' was Antwerp! It was substantially cheaper to book Antwerp/Deurne->Schiphol->Osaka than Schiphol->Osaka with KLM (because KLM reckons it was stealing a client from a Brussels/non-KLM flight) and then cancel the first leg. But the point was: There was no actual flight Deurne->Schiphol --- it was the high-speed Thalys Antwerp->Schiphol train!! So yes, ridiculously small airport, smaller than e.g. London City Airport. Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 14:01
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    Related to the shopping aspect: I’m not sure if this has actually changed objectively, but it seems to me that there has been a significant increase in the practice of placing perfume-hawking shops between security and gates in a way that makes it virtually impossible to avoid going through them. The stench of perfume in those places make me want to throw up, so I always take the long way around them if at all possible; if you’re olfactorily sensitive, you may want to do the same, and you may have to ask staff how to manage it. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 0:02
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In flight entertainment has changed.

Cabin-wide TVs and projectors have largely been removed from aircraft. Airlines have replaced this with either individual seat-back screens or have taken a bring-your-own-device approach where you have to connect to Wi-Fi and stream content on your smartphone or tablet. Long-haul flights often have individual screens, but depending on the carrier, it can be either for regional/domestic. If an app is necessary, you should be sure to download it before flight.

In-flight Wi-Fi has become ubiquitous, as airlines charge and make revenue from this.

Supporting both developments, in-seat power and USB charging ports have become much more common. It is useful to pack an easily-accessible charger and cable to avail yourself of this.

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  • Huh, I'm surprised they let people charge devices on-board, considering (rare) incidents with chargers or batteries catching fire.
    – gerrit
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 6:58
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    @gerrit I've been on planes where they give you a USB charging port so I really don't think that's consistent across all airlines.
    – Nelson
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 8:26
  • (1) Airline websites often say what kind of flight entertainment is available on each aircraft (e.g., Tui Fly). (2) You might get a free headphone for the seat-back screen, but they're so crappy it's almost unusable. Make sure to bring your own wired headphone with one-pin jack (3.5mm). There might be a USB port, but it's for charging only. (3) Charging outlets, especially beefier ones for laptops, might be disabled until cruise altitute is reached.
    – BoppreH
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 12:51
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    @BoppreH And it’s still a good idea to bring a two-pin jack converter, because those are still quite common too. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 0:04
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One thing not yet covered in the answers, support because of autism has become more well known and should be available for you in both airports, which will make going through security easier. If you have someone travel with you, make sure they are registered with the airline and airports, likely the airline will do that for you.

You will likely still need to empty all pockets, so if you have a stress reliever (like a small toy) it must go through the scanning machine. If you have one of those, talk it over with your support person.

Having applied for and gotten airport autism support they will likely be able to skip standing in line, but how this is done depends on the airport.

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Just a note on the turbulence as it seems like a big deal for you.

I fly 4-5 times a year from Rotterdam to Alicante and almost never really have a lot of turbulence. Despite Alicante having only one runway the weather in December is usually mild compared to SEP - NOV months. Some tips could be;

  • Don't look out the window and rest head against the seat.
  • Bring noise-cancelling headphones; not hearing the airplane sounds and listening to some music can make you feel more at easy IMO.
  • Pick a seat near the wings as it will provide (a little more) stability.
  • You can use tools to see if turbulence is expected.
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These are 2 questions I'll split up.

Covid and masks: It's not mandatory at all to wear a mask (at this time). You might see people wearing one. That's something that changed since the pandemic, people that are afraid to catch something or people with a normal cold that don't want to infect people around them. (also noticed in people who work from home when they feel a littlebit ill) There are still stickers in the airports (Zaventem) but I think that's because they still didn't remove them.

Anxiety for flying: There are trainings you could follow against flying anxiety. I assume you are afraid of crashing. Know that the chance of beeing in an airplane crash are much lower than beeing in a carcrash on the way to the airport. Planes are very safe and are improved every time. For me it helps to open the airflow over my head, put some music on and try to focus on relaxing. See it as a rollercoaster.

Enjoy your flight! There's nothing to worry about.

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  • So basically flying as a passenger is functionally unchanged compared to 10 years ago?
    – Nzall
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 9:57
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    One diffence I have noticed over the last few years is that autism and the need for special guidance/help is more recognized.
    – Willeke
    Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 10:31
  • I don't think anything big has changed. In some airports you can choose for self-check in instead of with a person. At security there can be a gate now where you scan your boarding pass instead of showing it to a person. There should be someone nearby if you need help with the gates but they usually work fine. Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 11:18

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