Travelling during the Covid-19 pandemic is definitely more stressful than your usual airport experience. Our first overseas trip since February has more than it’s fair share of travel stresses – will the flight cancel due to limited bookings? Will we get quarantined? What will the airport be like? And is it even possible to social distance during travel? Hopefully our experience of what it is like to fly during a pandemic will provide answers to these questions.
Due to the current restrictions in place, we booked flights to Greece. (For the latest information relating to which countries impose quarantines on arrival and your return, read ‘Which countries are safe to fly to this summer?‘ The post has links to all the official sites you need to visit before you book anything. Arm yourself with the latest information to avoid any nasty surprises.
Note also that circumstances can change quickly as we have seen in recent weeks. The UK government originally put Spain on the list of air corridor countries only to remove it a few weeks later when cases started to rise. Malta and Belgium quickly followed suit, and last week France and the Netherlands suffered the same fate. It is essential therefore that you check official sites before booking. All the links are in the article above.
Why we selected Greece?
We selected Greece because it has had much lower numbers of infections than other countries in Europe. Greece reopened to tourists on the 15th July and requires no mandated quarantine on arrival or on your return. It has also been removed from the Foreign Office essential travel only list meaning travel insurance should not be an issue. If you want to see the latest infection numbers for your chosen country, Euronews updates the official statistics every day and provides a death rate per million of population.
Note, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has advised that a country recording above 20 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 people in a week may result in the reintroduction of quarantine on return. Greece has already breached this limit so Greece may soon be on the quarantine list.
We booked our flights using AVIOS and paid just £2 in taxes for business class flights from London Heathrow to Mykonos. The AVIOS price was 106,000. You can opt to pay higher taxes and reduce the AVIOS cost if you would prefer to preserve your AVIOS balance. We knew that if circumstances changed I could cancel the flights and receive a full refund, albeit in the form of a voucher.
Entry requirements for Greece
If you decide to travel this summer, you should check the Foreign Office website first to see the latest entry requirements. These change rapidly. For instance, the island of Paros in Greece was recently put into localised lockdowns with evening curfews. Only a few days before our departure to Mykonos there were reports of a spike in cases in one particular restaurant.
As an aside, I urge you to think carefully about which restaurants you frequent as standards of Covid care vary hugely. Unlike the UK, there seems to be no restrictions on the number of diners. Most patrons (and even some staff) seem entirely incapable of social distancing.
Passenger Locator form
Currently you need to complete a passenger locator form at least 48 hours before departure to Greece. This asks for personal information and your identification details. It also asks you to confirm where you have been in the last 2 weeks.
Upon completion, you receive confirmation but you do not receive the actual QR code until 24 hours prior to departure. We leave at 12.20 on Saturday and the code turns up at 22:02 the Friday evening.
So far so good!
At the airport
We travel on the 8th August. At the time, only two of five Heathrow terminals are open which means it is much busier than expected. We struggle to find a parking space for the meet and greet car park. A first!!
Masks on, we head to hand in our keys and instantly realise, social distancing is definitely a thing of the past in this car park.
Only passengers can enter the terminals currently (although this does not seem to be strictly enforced).
It isn’t any busier or quieter than normal. What is different however is that as we enter the Club world check in, a member of staff takes our temperature with a non contact thermometer. Seemingly satisfied we proceed to check in which is smooth. Note, you need to show details of your passenger locator form at check in. Failure to complete this requirement will result in denied boarding. They check the passport number and other details against your passports. Only then do I realise there’s an error in the spelling of my name but thankfully this does not cause an issue!.
For some reason the fast track lane is not open so we head through security. Screens now protect each loading space and also the security agents from passengers. It’s pretty impressive. There are also plenty of signs on the floor indicating where to stand to wait. We pass through smoothly, grateful for face masks as once again passengers seem oblivious to the concept of social distancing.
The airport terminal 5
It’s definitely quieter than normal but crowds congregate in the central area. My advice, if you want to social distance properly, is to head towards either end of the terminal where the crowds thin considerably.
Signs indicate which seats are out of use to encourage social distancing. Nevertheless, if a person occupied every available seat, it would be impossible to properly social distance.
That said the airport have implemented measures to encourage social distancing. All the stores have one way systems in place and signs on the floor to guide passengers. Shame so few actually take their face out of their phones for long enough to see them!
British Airways lounges
Sadly, the Concorde lounge is closed so if you travel First you will not get to enjoy that experience at the moment. For Club passengers, only the larger south lounge is open. The changes they have made in a short time are really impressive.
They have introduced contactless check in so you simply scan your pass and enter. Staff are safely ensconced behind screens. Markings on the floor encourage flow of traffic (although not many people adhere to them). Protective screens enclose various seating areas and certain seats are out of use for social distancing purposes.
Signs encourage you to download an app which shows a selection of food and drink items. You simply order these from the app and a member of staff delivers them to you. Service was quick and efficient with all staff wearing effective face coverings.
Whilst seated and eating and drinking there is no requirement to continue your mask in the lounge. However announcements remind you to mask up if you plan to move around the lounge. Well done British Airways!
We arrive at the last minute so do not quite follow what is happening. It appears that priority boarding has been abandoned. Instead, staff call forward those seated at the back first. They then call seat rows in order from the back to the front. This makes sense as it limits the amount of contact with other passengers onboard.
The galley to the plane is empty and we board in no time. Club class is around 60% full whilst the remainder of the plane is almost entirely full.
Jonas (a British Airways tik tok sensation apparently), one of our crew tells me that the European flights are busy of late. The long haul flights less so with just 27 people on a flight to Miami recently. Seriously, who would want to go to Miami at the moment?
There’s little they can do to help social distance onboard so the message is to wear your face mask at all times. They also encourage passengers to avoid queuing in the galleys for the toilets. Possibly easier said than done, but this British Airways group of travellers seem well behaved!
In flight service
As in the lounge, the message is to wear your mask at all times, other than when eating and drinking. I don’t see blatant ignorance of this but then the airline staff are very attentive with the wine supply!
The Club food service is a boxed meal with a choice of sandwich to minimise staff preparation. It serves a purpose and includes a chickpea salad, choice of sandwich, chocolate mousse and small bottle of water. Other drinks are served as normal.
The airline crew disembark passengers in small groups to avoid overcrowding. We then line up at appropriate social distances for immigration. Immigration passes smoother than anticipated.
On entry into the terminal a member of staff scans the QR code and we pass without issue. In fact, we don’t see anyone selected for testing. I have no idea what factors indicate whether you will be tested so all I can suggest is that you pray. I suspect which airline you fly with might have a bearing based on some reports in the press but can’t say for certain.
Yay we are in Greece
So hoorah our first post lockdown travel experience passed without incident. Now let’s see how responsible locals and tourists are in Greece!
If you have travelled to Greece since lockdown, I would love for you to share your experience. Did you get tested? How was the process and who did you fly with? Please feel free to share in the comments below.