The reality of travel in the post-lockdown era

As the UK eases travel restrictions to certain countries, and destinations start reopening for business, we answer your questions about bookings, flights, hotels and attractions. What’s the reality of travel as coronavirus lockdowns are lifted?

Friday, July 3, 2020,
By Sarah Barrell
Peace of mind is an emerging consumer priority for travellers in the post-Covid 19 era. 

Peace of mind is an emerging consumer priority for travellers in the post-Covid 19 era. 

Photograph by Getty Images

For travellers who buck this summer’s predicted trend for short domestic trips, things look set to be more conformist than escapist. International travel will involve a lot of falling in line, either physically, for quarantine and health check queues at airports, or digitally, to file your health credentials or seek pre-registration approval to enter your destination of choice. Immunity passports and health status apps are in the pipeline, while, for businesses and destinations, safe tourism certificates look to become the norm. From bookings to beaches, it’s a brave new world for travellers. We answer your questions.

Will my booking be secure?

Peace of mind is an emerging consumer priority. Reputable operators with great customer service and flexible booking and cancellation terms will trump cheap seats. The upside to the predicted rising costs? We may be about to enter an era with some of the most flexible booking conditions ever seen, including short-notice cancellations and full refunds. Not so for travel insurance. For now, pandemic-related coverage will be punitively priced or impossible to get, and if the Foreign Commonwealth Office advises ‘against all but essential travel’ to your destination, most policies won’t cover you. Check the latest advice on its website.

Destinations including Iceland, Spain and certain regions of Italy currently require pre-registration for travel with local government or tourism authorities.

Following passenger guidance from the UK Department for Transport, all flight bookings should include checked luggage. Airport retailers will be largely cashless, with customer numbers limited and self-service options made available. So: pack plastic, or BYO snacks.

Read our short guide to cancelled trips: refunds, rebooking and your rights

What new measures are in place at airports?

No-touch temperature checks, disinfection tunnels and socially distanced arrival halls will define the airport experience — at least some airports; a global standard is still a distant hope. Government advice is guiding most UK airports to implement mandatory face coverings within terminal buildings for passengers aged six and older. Most airports have introduced hand sanitising stations, Perspex screens, and social distancing signage; in Dublin and at some US airports, PPE can be purchased at vending machines.

Select Heathrow terminals are trialling temperature screening (thermal imaging cameras), along with UV sanitisation to clean security trays; measures already in place in airports in destinations such as Canada, Dubai and Spain. Passengers displaying high temperatures may be refused boarding. Some countries, including Iceland, are swab-testing passengers for coronavirus on arrival (ISK 15,000/ £89 per test). Those who refuse will be asked to quarantine for two weeks (children under five exempt).

Expect limited public transport to and from the airport. And with one-way systems in place inside most airports, and checked luggage encouraged, allow more time to get to the departure gate. Or choose fast track; if current trials at Manchester Airport for passengers to pre-book a 15-minute security-clearance slot prove successful, other UK airports may follow. For government guidance of safer air travel, visit gov.uk/guidance

No-touch temperature checks, disinfection tunnels and socially distanced arrival halls will likely define the airport experience in the months following the travel lockdown. 

Photograph by Alamy

How will planes be kept clean?

When it comes to sanitising that metal tube in the sky, industry standardisation doesn’t apply. Mooted adaptations have involved neighbouring seats facing in opposite directions, blocking certain seats or entire rows, or selling significantly fewer tickets per flight. But with airline business models based on maximum occupancy, the reality is sure to be less far-reaching. Most have simply introduced a mandatory mask policy that exempts small children and those with medical issues.

Rather than limiting passenger numbers, the focus will be on cleanliness. Virgin and British Airways have retired some older planes; many carriers will be deep-cleaning cabins. This might include the use of electrostatic sprayers pre-flight, and HEPA-grade filters that recirculate air every two to three minutes, said to remove 99.9% of viral particles.

How will hotels & restaurants cater to customers?

Accommodation where social distancing is easier to achieve is the hot ticket — think private villas, self-catering rentals, campsites and hotels with self-contained cottages. In hotels, high-contact areas like spas, gyms and reception will be subject to a go-slow of social distancing and regular cleaning; self-service or no-contact check-in will become the norm.

The bigger accommodation players who can afford such sanitising bells and whistles as electrostatic sprayers and hospital-grade disinfectant could in theory be more attractive to skittish travellers than that potentially grimy Airbnb. Although check-in health screenings (temperature checks, questionnaires) currently being employed by the likes of Millennium Hotels & Resorts, Dusit Hotels & Resorts, and Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts might, on the other hand, be off-putting for some.

When it comes to dining, outdoors options, social distanced tables, PPE-clad waiters, plexiglass dividers and staggered dining times will become the norm. The buffet breakfast is out; pre-packaged or al la carte meals, and no-contact room service is in.

How will visiting museums and other places of interest change?

This is where, for now, the consumer seems to be winning. Timed entrances, pre-booked tickets and generous social distancing are transforming previously packed tourist sights into places of wonder and quiet contemplation. Residents of Rome have been championing staggered entry times at the once-crammed Colosseum, with many reporting that it’s the first time they’ve seen ancient Rome’s largest amphitheatre in its full glory. Meanwhile, in the UK, restricted visitor numbers are allowing honeypot National Trust, Royal Horticultural Society and English Heritage gardens and estates to be seen in uncrowded splendour.

Can I go the beach as normal?

Measures to social distance on the sands differ wildly from place to place. Some Spanish and US beaches have drones monitoring roped-off or distanced sunbathing zones (some of which can be pre-reserved). British coastal authorities, meanwhile, have mainly been asking people to use common sense, and the Portuguese Agency for the Environment is due to release a smartphone app offering alerts and data on crowded beaches. Food, drink, and contact sports, including ball games, are banned on many Mediterranean beaches, and some coastal access is curfew controlled.

Will I have to quarantine on my return?

From 10 July, the UK  Foreign & Commonwealth Office will allow non-essential travel to a number of destinations deemed ‘safe’ — that is, with a low risk of coronavirus infection. Passengers (returning Brits and international tourists) arriving from these countries won’t face quarantine. However, many of the nations listed will impose different regulations on arrivals from the UK, including mandatory quarantine. If you decide to make non-essential travel to a country not on the FCO’s safe list, you could be turned away at the airport, or face quarantine either at your destination or on your return to the UK.

The list of quarantine-exempt nations can be found on gov.uk. With the situation changing weekly, it’s worth checking what’s current both before booking a trip and before setting off.

In the case of destinations that require quarantine, you may be required to fill in online forms with contact details, including your proposed isolation address, before departing the UK and/or arriving at your destination. Additionally, travellers exhibiting coronavirus symptoms on arrival at most destinations, or thereafter, will be required to self-isolate, in some cases at allocated accommodation.

There are substantial fines for not adhering to quarantine, although how this will be enforced remains to be seen. What is certain: you’ll need extra time at the airport to deal with the digital paperwork and checks upon leaving and entering destinations.

More info

gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus
gov.uk/uk-border-control

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