What It’s Like Flying International from Sydney in November 2020

What It's Like Flying International from Sydney in November 2020With Australians still banned from leaving the country without a travel exemption, the international terminal at Sydney Airport is eeriely quiet at the moment. Most shops and lounges are closed, and just a handful of international flights are departing each day during the COVID-19 pandemic. But some people still need to travel, and there are still flights leaving the country. So, what exactly is it like flying out of Australia right now?

Travelling overseas for essential work, AFF member hossein_au recently departed from Terminal 1 at Sydney Airport on an Emirates flight to Dubai. As you can see from these photos he shared with Australian Frequent Flyer, the near-empty international terminal now looks markedly different to the bustling Sydney Airport most of us remember!

Hossein_au was connecting through Sydney on his way from Brisbane to Dubai. Although both flights were booked on the same ticket, Qantas is no longer through-checking baggage from domestic to international flights at Sydney Airport. This meant he had to take a taxi from the domestic to international terminal… but on the plus side, at least traffic wasn’t a problem!

Drop-off area outside Sydney Airport Terminal 1
Drop-off area outside Sydney Airport Terminal 1 in November 2020

With just three commercial flights departing that evening (as well as a military charter), the international terminal at Sydney Airport was a ghost town.

A rather empty departure board at Sydney T1
A rather empty departure board at Sydney T1
International check-in area at Sydney T1
International check-in area at Sydney T1

Clearly, social distancing was not a problem!

Landside at Sydney Airport T1 in November 2020
Landside at Sydney Airport T1 in November 2020

And yes, it was a quiet terminal indeed!

Well, duh? ;)
Well, duh? 😉

The information touch screens have also been disabled, with customers encouraged to visit the airport’s website instead.

Once airside in the international departures area, things were just as eeriely quiet…

Airside in the international departures area at Sydney Airport in November 2020
Airside in the international departures area at Sydney Airport in November 2020

The duty free store was still open…

But most of the other airport shops were shut.

All of the airline lounges in the international terminal were also closed, including the Qantas Business & First Lounges, Emirates Lounge, Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge, Air New Zealand Lounge and Etihad’s “The House” Lounge. The Amex, Plaza Premium and SkyTeam lounges too are temporarily shuttered.

"Lounge closed due to covid-19"
“Lounge closed due to covid-19”

In normal times, the “Maccas Lounge” is at least available as a last resort when you can’t get into any of the airline lounges. But you know things are dire when even McDonald’s is closed!

Even McDonald's is closed at Sydney Airport T1
Even McDonald’s is closed at Sydney Airport T1

With a few hours to spare and no crowds to contend with, hossein_au walked around the entire terminal area. This was the south of Pier B, where you’d find gates 30-37:

And Pier C, around gates 50-61:

Most of the planes visible out the window are in long-term parking
Most of the planes visible out the window are in long-term parking

Once on board the flight, there were around 80-100 passengers in total on the Emirates Boeing 777-300ER service from Sydney to Dubai. The cabin crew wore full-length PPE, and there were enough empty seats for every passenger to claim a whole row.

In normal times, Emirates would fly 3 times per day from Sydney to Dubai using Airbus A380s. Emirates has now cust back its Sydney services to just 4 flights per week on smaller Boeing 777s.

For the sake of comparison, Dubai International Airport was busier than Sydney Airport. The UAE has fewer international travel restrictions than Australia, and Dubai is still being used as a transit hub. But by Dubai’s standards, this airport too is currently much quieter than usual.

Dubai Airport in November 2020
Dubai Airport in November 2020

The Emirates lounges in Concoure B of Dubai’s Terminal 3 are currently closed, as is the First Lounge in Concourse B. But the Emirates Business Lounge in Concourse B remains open, with a separate section available for First class passengers and Platinum members (a bit like Qantas used to have in Singapore before it opened a dedicated First Lounge).

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]

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