We’re all used to wearing masks now, aren’t we? If it’s the norm for doing the weekly shop or jumping on the bus, then having to wear one at the airport and on a flight shouldn’t be too big an off-put. Really, it felt like the only tangible difference.
But it is worth travel agents stressing to their customers that their masks need to be on all the time, from check in – now predominantly self-service (with staff on hand to help with technical problems) – to landing in destination.
The prevalence of hand sanitiser was noticeable: it’s everywhere, and at no point did I feel unable to sterilise. The only time I felt uncomfortable was when I decided not to at one station because I hadn’t touched anything since the last one, which felt like a bit of a faux pas.
Going through security is largely as before. There appeared to be more confusion about laptops and belts than anything else. Wearing a mask was just another addition to the process that some holidaymakers make a fuss out of anyway, so it didn’t feel any different in that respect. I felt the urge to remove it and put it in my tray to be scanned, before stopping myself.
The media flight was one day before services resumed in earnest – Tui is flying to Ibiza, Palma, Lanzarote and Tenerife from Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham from July 11, and announced today that it is to expand its programme later this month – but Gatwick was eerily quiet with only Boots, Starbucks and the duty free open. Even Wetherspoons was closed. Staff said the opening of pubs and restaurants would depend on footfall, with table seating only (so a bit like going to any other pub at the moment). We waited at the No1 Lounge where, crucially, masks are not obligatory (although they are encouraged) – so lounges could be a decent upsell opportunity for travel agents in the current climate.
The main difference at boarding was being called in rows of five, which made a two-hour hop feel like boarding a long-haul flight in sections. There were screens, and staff didn’t touch your boarding pass or passport – but as long as you can find the picture page, you’re golden.
On board there were subtle changes. You’re asked not to queue in the aisles for the toilet which, while no problem on our flight, will be interesting to see in action on busier flights (Tui is expecting its first proper flights to be about 70% full) and you’re handed a plastic bag in which to dispose of masks and gloves. There’s no hot food for now, but most other snacks and drinks are available – as long as you have a contactless card to pay with. Cabin crew were very accessible despite being recommended to spend as much time outside of the cabin as they possibly could. Announcements urge you to sit down as much as possible and ask you not to use your own hand sanitiser as they prefer you to use the hospital-grade stuff on board.
An arrival form must also be filled out, which can be done online in advance to avoid the faff. Again, it’s comparable with arrival forms on a typical long-haul flight – just with a few Covid-related questions.
On arrival, the bus transfer from the plane to the gate was the same, but with obligatory masks of course. As soon as you enter the airport building you are temperature checked, which felt no more intrusive than those cameras on the side of the road that measure how fast cars are driving. Airport staff also give arriving visitors a ‘visual health assessment’, but it was so subtle I didn’t notice. Then comes normal passport scanning machines, where you have to remove your mask while it takes your picture, but then you’re through with a comparatively short wait for your bag compared to normal.
So minus a few little quirks, travelling abroad is largely the same experience as before Covid – plus a mask. Onwards to the hotel!
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