Thinking of flying? What do I need to know?
My first flight since March 2020...17 months!! Like many of us, I wasn't really sure what to expect, huge changes, problems etc. So based on my experiences from last week. Here is a quick pointer into what to expect, what you need to know and perhaps a little reassurance before you fly.
Before you go.
This will vary depending on which "light colour" you are visiting. But also you current status regards jabs and full vaccination. For me I was off to Germany which had recently been put on the UK green list. I have also been fully vaccinated and it was a simple case of downloading my FV Covid Pass from my NHS app as a PDF to my phone.
Each country you visit you will need to complete a passenger locator form. These are easy to obtain, in fact when I was checking in online for my flight, there were links there enabling me to access and complete. You must do this before you leave, you won't be allowed on your flight without this.
The German version was very neat, efficient and simple to access and complete. It will literally take you a couple of minutes to do, much better than having to do this at check in.
At the airport.
Without getting all sentimental, arriving at Heathrow T5 early morning brought back a sense of nostalgia. It really felt like being welcomed back by an old friend. With the times as they are, it wasn't an airport at full tilt. It was more like travelling in winter than summer in terms of numbers of people there.
Arriving surprisingly early for me (those who have made that M25 trip from Kent will know how painstaking it generally is). It it all went pretty smoothly. No real issues with check in. BA staff were actively helpful in getting me in and through security as early and quickly as possible. Even before my flight had opened for check in! I had to show my FV Covid Pass and my passenger locator form with my actual passport. This didn't really add any time or problems with check in.
Security did take a little longer with searches. Although again nothing that would take up too much of your time. Just a few extra checks and swabs for safety and hygiene.
In the airport itself you could visibly see staff at Heathrow constantly cleaning and sanitising. Which in the new era has become just a normal thing to see. However, to me it still gives a sense of reassurance, especially in such a hub of people. Face coverings were required throughout the airport, except when seated with any food or beverages.
Onboard the flight.
The flight was 75% capacity, left on time and arrived early. Before take off the pilot reminded us all that for some of the staff and crew, this was one of their first flights back after a long lay off, so to be kind and considerate would be appreciated. I thought this was a really nice touch and maybe something we all need to take into all staff coming back into hospitality again.
Again, masks or coverings were needed throughout the flight except when eating or drinking.
One thing to consider for groups coming in from the UK is a longer time getting through passport control. Remember us Brits are now "All Passports" rather than EU. You should definitely advise any groups to expect some added time here. Logistically when planning transfers you will need to factor in more time to account for this.
It's always hard to tell if it takes time generally to get through this part of the journey. Or have you landed with about 5 other planes and it's just a mad influx of people...sheer bad luck? The snake queue may have been long, but everybody regardless of where they had come in from were respectful of social distancing. At no point was I concerned at this checkpoint. A quick look at my FV Covid Pass and my passport and I was on my way again.
Here's the real issue and one that is likely to change continually. Especially with the UK traffic light system and changes with rules in other countries moving forward. Within 72 hours of arriving in destination, I had to have a PCR test. This itself is not too much of a problem, pretty easy to get this set up. But it does add to your itinerary for the trip. I must admit, all I could and those of the group I was with could think about for the next couple of hours - the result - thankfully negative (huge sigh of relief).
My point I guess here is don't book too much in on the your test morning. Until you get that all important result you'll likely have your focus elsewhere.
Passenger locator forms...! Of course after the relative ease of completing the German equivalent. Obviously the UK Gov version has to be difficult. It took what felt like an age and seemingly answering the same questions over again for each section.
Key point here though is to ensure you have pre booked your PCR test in advance for your return. They need the reference for this to complete the form, don't just wait and go for a test when you get back.
With this all in hand, airport, check in, security, passport control were all straight forward enough. My return flight was pretty much full and it does initially make you question things. But this is more out of a social distancing mindset from the past 17 months. Within a few minutes of being on board it was like muscle memory from before had kicked in and all was fine.
Heathrow on return were efficient in keeping groups from different "lights" separated through arrivals. You can never avoid a snake queue, but getting through passport control went relatively quickly.
Overall, it's fantastic to be back travelling internationally. At no point have I felt anxious or unsafe. I'm still getting used to the continual mask wearing. There were times it became an irritation after hours of wearing. But when you really think about it, is it too much to ask and cope with to be back travelling again?
I think it's worth it. Oh and yes, that relief when my PCR test came back negative from my return on Monday! Start of a new era, a few more hoops to jump, maybe more tolerance (never a bad thing) but great to be back travelling and in reflection, it was not anywhere near as problematic as I had built it up to be beforehand.