I flew for the first time since restrictions were lifted: 7 things you should know
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Monday was a great day. I was finally back in the air after not stepping foot in an airport or on a plane since February.
Thanks to the much of the U.K. opening up again for domestic travel as of 4 July, I was able to travel to London to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday and combine it with a return flight home to the northeast of England on the first-ever commercial flight between London City (LCY) and Teesside Airport (MME) with Eastern Airways.
It’s no shock that travel — and more specifically, air travel — is different right now. We’ve all seen the images of cabin crew dressed in full PPE and eerily quiet major airports around the world. And because of the still-looming threat of coronavirus, I was a little more anxious than usual before I got to the airport, as I had no idea what to expect.
Once inside the airport, I was comforted by the measures that were in place for passenger and staff safety — including temperature checks. While the whole experience was very different from what I’m used to, I didn’t once feel unsafe.
But if you’re planning on travelling soon, here are a few things you should know, based on my experience.
1. Bring your own mask
Wearing a mask is compulsory on all forms of public transport in the U.K. This is also the case while in airport buildings and was introduced by some airports back in May. Every member of staff I saw was either wearing a mask, a visor or both.
At one point during the security screening process, I had removed my mask. Two passengers behind me had done the same thing, and we were all asked politely to put them back on before we went through the security scanners.
While some airports are providing masks for passengers who forget, I didn’t see any signs at London City (LCY) advising that masks were available. To make for a smooth travel experience, I highly recommend ensuring that you take your mask — and even a spare just in case. If you’re travelling on a longer-haul flight, you’ll want to bring enough to change your mask every four hours.
On board the Eastern Airways Saab 2000, we were informed that masks were mandatory throughout the flight unless you had a valid reason not to wear one.
2. Bring your own food
While flight schedules are slowly increasing, most U.K. airports are still operating with only the bare minimum passenger facilities open. On Monday morning, London City airport only had a single, tiny Boots shop open.
There was also a very strict and clearly signposted one-way system in place with only one entrance and exit.
Shelves were fully stacked and I had only seen around three other passengers in the terminal, so there wasn’t likely to be a shortage of food. If you’re travelling from a larger airport like Heathrow (LHR), then I’d highly recommend bringing your own food to avoid any potential hunger issues.
Every other shop, restaurant and bar was closed — including Pret.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
We’re all learning to adapt to this new flying experience, including staff. For many of the airport staff I spoke to, Monday was their first day back working since London City Airport closed in March. The airport officially reopened on 21 June, and there are plans for flights to gradually resume. For members of the staff I spoke with at LCY, they seemed happy to be there and keen to help if I had any questions.
The same can be said on board the aircraft. The cabin crew lead announced at the start of the flight that the inflight service was currently suspended due to COVID-19. Once airborne, I spoke to a member of the crew about the usual service, which he said will “hopefully be back soon”, but that there were bottles of water for those who asked.
If you’re travelling by air, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Several airlines have announced that they’re suspending inflight meal and drink service in an effort to cut down on passenger and crew interaction. While you should probably bring your own food and drink on board, if you forget or are very thirsty, there’s a chance you’ll still be served.
4. Pay attention to signage
Even in a pre-coronavirus world, airports were already places with strict rules and guidelines to follow. But flying now, the signage and guidelines are even more so.
In my experience at LCY on Monday, there was a strict one-way system for entering and exiting the main terminal building.
There were floor markings throughout the airport, including at check-in and while queueing to board the plane.
Several areas where people are usually packed tight together are now partly closed off to ensure that passengers can keep as far apart from each other as possible — including before, during and after security.
As more people are starting to take back to the skies, it might be worth allowing yourself more time, as passing through these areas could take longer at larger, busier airports.
Other safety measures included several hand sanitising stations at London City as well as on arrival at Teesside. Plastic screens had also been installed at check-in and other places where staff and passengers would come into close contact like information desks and the boarding gate.
5. You’re likely to get a social distanced seating assignment
To help with social distancing, some airlines around the world have introduced new seating policies such as blocking out the middle seat — especially in the U.S. — or automatic allocation by the airline.
As I was flying Eastern Airways, I wasn’t able to reserve a seat on its website and was told I’d get allocated a seat at check-in. This wasn’t the case, either. My boarding pass just showed “seat free”, and the agent told me I’d be assigned a seat when I boarded. As I entered the aircraft I was asked if I was travelling alone, then told to head to the back and sit in the single-seat row — the Saab 2000 is arranged in a 1-2 configuration — on the port side of the plane.
Head of TPG U.K. Video Jean Arnas also flew recently, and both Ryanair and British Airways didn’t allow seat selection online before flying. Instead, he was allocated an empty row on each of the three flights he took.
6. Once the plane lands, stay seated
Before we landed at Teesside, there was a PA advising that passengers were to remain seated on landing and that the plane would be deboarded in rows. Gone are the days of rushing out of your seat to stand in the aisle waiting for the jet bridge to be connected.
At the end of the day, the move isn’t to slow down the deplaning process. Instead, it’s to keep passengers and crew as safe as possible. The policy is meant to help keep passengers a safe distance apart from one another.
7. Research your airline’s policy
To save yourself hassle at the airport or on the plane, it’s advisable to spend a couple of minutes to check over your airline’s latest COVID-19 policy. Some airlines require passengers to wear masks, while some only encourage it.
Changes have also been made to some baggage policies. For example, Emirates has banned hand luggage from the overhead bins, and for flights to or from Italy, overhead bins have been completely taken out of use. In the latter instance, since it’s a government-imposed mandate, passengers don’t have to pay for checked baggage fees — as long as they’re within the airline’s size requirements for carry-on baggage.
You can’t see it, but I have a massive smile on my face behind that mask.
Before restrictions were lifted, I was nervous about what the whole airport and flying experience would be like, but I didn’t feel at all apprehensive during my journey on Monday. The only negatives were that I was quite rudely told by a policeman that I wasn’t allowed to take photos in the terminal building and that I couldn’t have a proper pre-flight coffee.
Everything else went smoothly. I felt safe and I’ve never experienced a cleaner airport. It was so nice to be back in the air with that view above the clouds.
Featured photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy
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