Australia state border openings: Flying into South Australia from NSW a glimpse of the new normal for travel

The future of travel, or at least its most immediate one, is here and on full display on a once routine, banal even, flight between two capital cities.

Get used to it. It's a taste of what we can expect to experience in the months, perhaps, heaven forbid, years, to come, even with the advent of a vaccine and the resumption of international travel.

This latest preview of travel's future begins with a flight yesterday between Sydney and Adelaide, not long since South Australia sensibly decided to open its borders to COVID-safer NSW.

The previous week witnessed yet another flutter of excitement over the inflation of the trans-Tasman bubble, only for any real elation to be largely dashed by the fine print (it's so far only available to Kiwis coming to Australia with a quarantine period awaiting them on their return).

As I pass through the Sydney Airport security screening before my flight to Adelaide, one of the guards is barking instructions at me. But I can't understand him because his voice is muffled by the paper mask he's wearing. Oh, but his eyes, they tell the story.

He's trying to tell me that I've left my laptop in my day pack. In actual fact, it's a large iPad Pro and my laptop, well, that's proceeding in a tray along the belt. (Sorry, Mr Muffles, the last time I flew interstate it was okay to leave your iPad in your carry-on bag - and this is my first interstate flight in eight months). The bag has to go through again. No worries.

Meanwhile, in another "the future of travel is now" moment, I notice that another security guard is charged with cleaning every single plastic red tray that's gone through the screening process, a new and onerous demand for pandemic-cursed airports on top of existing security screening procedures.

On board the flight, the airline distributes COVID-19 safe packs containing sanitiser and masks, though most of the passengers, me included, have admirably come prepared. There's an announcement that the wearing of masks during the flight is recommended by the airline though not mandatory.

However, at least a few of the flight attendants on this service have curiously chosen to not wear them at all for the duration of the trip (what is this? An airborne, so to speak, Republican function down under?), preferring, perhaps, to trust the miracle cabin HEPA filters.


On arrival in Adelaide, passengers, in an orderly manner unrecognisable before the pandemic, disembark the flight seat row by seat row.

Inside the airport there are Australian Protective Service officers scattered all the way along an extended channel created by rows of departure lounge seats linked together to create a somewhat unfriendly, if not intimidating, barrier.

After having earlier this year experienced the Queensland border reopening by car, not plane - which as an event proved as fleeting as Donald Trump's conversion to masks - I should have known that there would be an online border pass to complete.

In it, the South Australians want to know why I'm here, how long I'm here (and, crucially, when I'm going home), where I'm staying, and am I well.

Once, after a few abortive attempts at completing the border pass questionnaire and eventually assisted by a friendly and patient Protective Services officer, I'm issued with an official cross-border entry number and asked to proceed to one of a phalanx of COVID-19 safe marshalls - dragooned South Australian public servants, no doubt - seated at a long line of numbered tables.

They're all wearing masks and at least one is sporting a pair of goggles. My marshall asks to see my phone to check my border pass number and politely questions me, among other things, as to when I intend to go home.

In case there's any doubt, there's also a "Welcome to South Australia: Help keep us COVID-19 free" leaflet to pore over in the taxi to the hotel. Be sure to watch out for symptoms such as...well, you should know by now.

COVID-19 information sheet for people arriving in South Australia. 

Photo: Anthony Dennis

I'm not complaining about any of the above. It's a delight to be in Adelaide again, after such an unexpected and protracted interlude, and all of this "Abundance of Caution", as it's become known, is entirely understandable and acceptable.

But let's not get too excited about border reopenings and bubble inflations. Travel has changed. A little, if not a lot, of the former magic of it has been snuffed out. It may never be the same. Get used to it and do try to still enjoy it.

See also: Think Australia's travel ban is fair? This will change your mind

See also: Four lessons Australia needs to learn from Europe's COVID-19 summer