What it’s Like to Travel Abroad During the Covid-19 Pandemic?

What it’s Like to Travel Abroad During the Covid-19 Pandemic?

Last week I travelled abroad for the first time since February, and the first time since Covid-19 became a part of our lives. I’m not one for writing negative posts or having a moan, and like my blog to be a positive space, but I also like to be informative and, above all, honest. So I’m going to share my experience of what it’s like to travel abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic, but I must warn you it’s a bit of a moan!

what it's like to travel abroad during the covid-19 pandemic: a Ryanair plane on tarmac

Before I tell you what it was like to travel internationally in the post-lockdown, Covid-19 era that is 2020 part two, let me explain why I was doing as such.

As with all kinds travel, I’m a strong believer that it should be done responsibly. And is travel abroad responsible at the moment? Probably not, and it look a long time to make the decision to go.

Billy’s (my boyfriend) parents live in Lanzarote, and I know how tough it was for him not being able to see them. They own a bar so their business was shut down for several months and they’ve had a really strict lockdown over there meaning that they weren’t allowed to step foot outside for weeks on end without good reason.

Travel restrictions were eased, things seemed like they were getting better, and we knew that there was little risk in Lanzarote (they had hardly any cases, and actually had no cases when we booked), and we’d stuck to all of the rules at home which would hopefully minimise our risk of taking anything over there. We discussed it at length, and decided that travelling was the right thing to do.

When it was announced that travel to Spain & Spanish islands wasn’t recommended and that we would have to quarantine on return, we looked into changing our flights or cancelling.

But as it was only a few days before departure, we wouldn’t get our money back and the fees to change flights were expensive. Given that we might not be able to rebook for anytime in the near future, and that there were still no cases in Lanzarote, it still felt like the right thing to do.

And it was! It was lovely to see family and spend time (socially distanced) in the sunshine, especially as we don’t know when we’ll be able to see them again. Better to go now than potentially not see them for a year due to a second wave, if there is one.

what it's like to travel abroad during the covid-19 pandemic: Nell on the beach in Lanzarote

So, What’s it Like to Travel Abroad During the Covid-19 Pandemic?

Although this contradicts what I’ve actually done and may sound hypocritical, I wouldn’t recommend travelling abroad at the moment. Staycations can be just as much fun, and no one wants to risk taking Covid into another country, or bringing it back. If possible, I think it’s better to wait it out until it’s safe to travel again.

But you might have good reason to go abroad. You might also have family in another country, or you might be stuck in a country that isn’t home to you and want to get back. Maybe you’ve saved up for a really long time for a holiday and have no chance of a refund or rearranging, and actually where you’re going is pretty safe.

So if you are travelling abroad or just want to know what it’s like (in my own experience), keep reading. My experience was quite negative in terms of how Covid-safe it was, but that’s just my own, narrow experience, and it doesn’t mean that all airports and airlines will be the same.

What’s it Like at Manchester Airport During Covid-19?

I travelled from Manchester Airport to Lanzarote, and then from Lanzarote to Stansted. To be honest, apart from a few signs about social distancing and wearing a mask, you wouldn’t really know that it was any different to normal at either airport.

what it's like to travel abroad during the covid-19 pandemic: inside Manchester airport

Even though we went through airport security pre-5am (I promised myself years ago that I’d never get these horrible early morning flights again, but here we are), it was still busy.

There was no social distancing queuing for security, and even less as people gathered around waiting for bags to be checked. If you’ve ever flown from Manchester airport, you’ll know that almost every bag gets stopped after the scanner and it’s rather chaotic! Honestly, I didn’t see a single person making an effort to stay apart from others at this point.

There were hand sanitiser stations around the airport, but they were too far apart. From leaving the train station to getting through security, duty free and into the airport, I didn’t come across any chance to sanitise my hands – although I must admit I was still half asleep at this point so may have missed them.

In the airport its mandatory to wear a face covering, and everyone seemed to be doing so (although a lot were covering their mouth but not their nose, something that I really don’t understand!). The exception is sitting in a café, bar or restaurant.

Sat in the airport was all fine, but when we were called to board the plane all Covid concerns seemed to go out the window again. No social distancing in the queue, and everyone crammed into the stairwell down to the tarmac in the usual way too.

The worst bit was the boarding gate. A member of staff was checking passports and boarding passes by taking them from your hand, checking them and handing them straight back, before going on to the next one. They weren’t wearing gloves, and there was no sanitising of hands between handling boarding passes/passports.

This means that if someone ahead of me in the queue had the virus, it could easily have been passed down the line. Especially as most people have their boarding pass on their phone, which they are clutching most of the time with sweaty palms.

There wasn’t any hand sanitiser after this or on boarding the plane, so I didn’t actually clean my hands until I went to the loo half way through the flight). I didn’t clean my phone until I found some hand sanitiser on leaving the airport on the other side.

Flying with Ryanair During Covid-19

The flights both ways were pretty empty, which meant that both times I was able to move to an empty row, but I hope you don’t mind another moan anyway (I promise all of my other blog posts are a lot more fun!).

I probably should have known this before flying, and actually it may well have prevented me from going, but Ryanair are selling all of their seats.

what it's like to travel abroad during the covid-19 pandemic: inside a Ryanair plane

This means that whilst restaurants are run at half capacity, music venues have only just reopened and businesses across the globe are struggling because of social distancing, Ryanair can place you in a middle seat, touching shoulders with two complete strangers.

My boarding pass sat me between strangers in this way, despite there being completely empty rows (which I moved to) in front and across the aisle. I’m guessing this is to encourage you to pay to reserve a seat. This not only made me feel extremely anxious, but also upset me that they could operate in this way when the rest of the world is sticking to social distancing guidelines.

Masks. It is mandatory to wear a mask on a plane, for your entire journey (I think you can remove it to eat and drink!). I fully appreciate and understand that there are exemptions and I’m not looking for a mask debate here. As everyone I saw boarded the plane with a mask on, I’m assuming (maybe incorrectly) that they weren’t exempt.

Wearing a mask for four hours on a plane isn’t fun, but those are the rules and if you don’t want to follow them (unless exempt), then don’t fly. People all around me were removing their masks just minutes into the flight, and the staff on board weren’t making any attempt to enforce mask wearing. There were people leaning across the aisle and walking to the toilets, with masks around their necks instead of on their faces.

The flight home was slightly better, although my phone was handled by airline staff at boarding again, with no gloves or hand sanitising. The improvement on-board was that there was an announcement at the beginning of the flight on the importance of wearing a mask. However, I noticed passengers taking masks off again and no enforcement by staff.

what it's like to travel abroad during the covid-19 pandemic: a pile of medical masks

The other thing to note was that we were told at the start of the flight that if you needed the toilet you should press the assistance button and be escorted, to avoid queuing in the aisle. Pretty sensible I thought!

Billy was on a different flight home, and he said that there was an announcement from the pilot half way through the flight to remind passengers to wear a mask, so I’m glad it was being enforced a little more then.

Returning to the UK During the Covid-19 Pandemic

There’s not much point in me telling you what it was like abroad from a covid point of view, as it will be so different everywhere. The airport in Lanzarote was so empty that social distancing happened naturally, and almost everyone was wearing a mask in the airport.

I returned to Stansted airport and got through so quickly that I didn’t have the chance to notice much, although I will say that there was no social distancing in the queue for passport control.

What I will say is make sure you fill out this form if you’re landing in the UK, before you arrive! As I was travelling from a Spanish Island I had to give permission to contact me to make sure I was quarantining, but regardless of where you’re flying from you will have to fill this out as part of track & trace.

It wasn’t checked on arrival, but I think they were doing spot checks as Billy said that he had to show his form at the airport before passport control.

Travelling With National Express During the Covid-19 Pandemic

The reason I flew into Stansted was that I was originally going to spend some time in London with my sister before going back to Leeds (plus the flight to London was much much cheaper!). I couldn’t do that with the quarantine, but I was stuck with flying into London.

I’d already booked a National Express coach from Stansted into London, and it was my first time travelling by coach since the Covid-19 pandemic. This was a much better experience than flying! The queue for the coach wasn’t socially distanced, but at least it was outside.

Everyone who got on the coach had to have a quick temperature check before embarking, which was done by holding a beep-y thing to your forehead for less than a second.

what it's like to travel abroad during the covid-19 pandemic: Nell in front of a National Express coach
Last year when I travelled from Leeds to Liverpool on National Express!

Depending on whether you are travelling alone or with other people, you are told to sit on the right or left of the coach. This is because you can only sit next to someone from your household, so on one side of the coach there is a ‘don’t sit here’ sign on every other seat.

Before we set off, the driver highlighted that everyone should wear a mask, and there was a sign on the back of every seat, but again not everyone followed this.

The couple sat across the aisle from me wore their masks around their necks for most of the journey. However, I do appreciate that unlike flying when there are airline staff walking up and down the aisle, there was only the coach driver on board, so it wasn’t possible to enforce this.

It was also nice to know on boarding that National Express coaches have an additional air filter using three types of technology to reduce bacteria and viruses, and block 99% of airborne particles.

Is it Safe to Travel Abroad During the Covid-19 Pandemic?

Time for a summary. When I was actually abroad, I felt totally safe. I can’t speak for other places, but Lanzarote was quiet, people were distanced, everywhere we went had hand sanitiser, and mask wearing was enforced. I felt completely safe there.

But travelling by plane? I won’t be doing that again for a long time – it’s staycations for the rest of the year for me! Especially if I’m going to be seated shoulder-to-shoulder with other passengers, most of whom don’t seem to be wearing a mask. It was the most anxiety-inducing experience I’ve had in a while.

Travelling by National Express coach? Yep, I’d do that! People still weren’t sticking to the mask rule, but at least I was a couple of metres away from them, and safe in the knowledge that the filtration systems were reducing the risk.

I have since read on the Ryanair website that they also use filtration systems, which operate to hospital standards, but as this wasn’t announced at any point on the flight it didn’t help to ease my anxiety or stop me moaning in this blog post.

So, staycations it is! Here are a few of my favourite staycations (there’s no moaning in these blog posts) over the last couple of years, and I’d love to hear yours.

Nell xx

What's it like to travel abroad during covid-19? Here's my experience of coronavirus international travel to Lanzarote with Ryanair. Flying in lockdown, is it safe to travel in a pandemic?

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