I recently experienced traveling and performing an audit during our current Covid-19 pandemic. As a million-mile+ traveler over the course of my career, I cannot remember a more stressful time since when I traveled the week after 9/11, when flights were almost empty, and safety and security concerns were heightened for a completely different reason.
This trip was a challenge. During the planning, traveling, and performance of the audit, I realized that a whole new set of key precautions were needed to stay safe for myself, my family, my colleagues and for the protection of others during travel and audits. Here are a few things I learned from my experience.
- Start the communication process between Auditors and audited entities early. No longer can you just make a call and jump on an airplane.
- Flights have been scaled back such that for some destinations, there is only one reasonable flight a day. One of my colleagues had to fly from Indiana through Dallas to get back to Philadelphia.
- Determine masking and service requirements for airports, hotels, restaurants, etc. I noted that a larger percentage of travelers in one airport did not wear masks, and social distancing upon boarding at a gate was non-existent. There is no way to stay 6 feet from anyone inside a flying sardine can. Expect full flights, all my flights were over 90+% occupied. As far as surface contamination, almost no one has changed any habits. Travelers grabbed escalator and walkway railings, poles in trains were grabbed for support (which we have been always taught to do) for safety. Plan to carry plenty of supplies like gloves or wipes, etc.
- Make sure to pack extra masks and sanitizer with you during travels. You can find yourself in a bind if you do not have enough personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Most airlines are no longer serving snacks or beverages on the plane, so plan to purchase those items before boarding.
- Restaurants may or may not be open, which requires additional planning. Expect that in many locations, you will not be able to just stop and sit down at a table. Hotels, in some cases, have discontinued food service, and breakfasts were limited to a bag with a couple granola bars and a banana in my experience. Coffee was not even available in the hotel lobby. We ended up going to a drive-thru or ordering takeout from local restaurants over a phone app and returning to the hotel room to eat. Plan wisely – that four-star restaurant you wanted to try may not be open. The internet is a great place to pre-plan meals, etc.
- Communicate with facilities about company Covid-specific protocols for both the Auditors and Auditee. Requirements can vary greatly in different locations, but knowing them upfront assists in planning and compliance.
- Although many personnel in the laboratory did not wear masks because social distancing could be maintained, I found that wearing a mask and distancing myself from the laboratory personnel was not difficult and hopefully appreciated by personnel.
- Segregate worn clothing from clean clothing during packing – pack a trash bag to segregate.
- Of course, washing and sanitizing hands frequently is important no matter what.
- Limit the number of people in a single room during discussions and conference them in if necessary.
- One interesting thing I noticed was that the planes were eerily quiet. No one talked to each other during the flights. When I wanted to just sleep, that was a pleasant surprise.
As a final thought, we are all adjusting to a new way of living and coexisting. Some may find these adjustments more difficult than others. We need to keep that in mind when we are interacting with others during these challenging times. I know that we should not physically shake hands, but we should always remember to be courteous, responsible for our actions, and respectful to everyone during this time. Remembering the manners our parents taught us would be very wise at this time. Looking forward to seeing more of you on upcoming travels. Stay well and travel safely.e