As a travel professional, who prides themselves and their business as being one that provides first-hand experience to our clients, it was extremely important for me to travel overseas, once the restrictions on travel had been lifted. I wanted to be able to tell clients, that wished to travel, exactly what the airport experience was like, how our national carrier, British Airways, was operating with new regulations and what it was like to once again be on holiday.
I had originally booked to go to Seville for the weekend of 7thto 10thAugust, staying just outside the city at Hacienda de San Rafael, a firm favourite with our clients. Like many who were booked to travel to Spain, I was also affected by the governments U-turn on Spain, so quickly rearranged my trip to travel to Italy, keeping everything crossed that this would go ahead.
On Friday 7thAugust, we (my daughter and I) left home at the crack of dawn, to arrive at Heathrow terminal 5 at 05:00, where I had booked ‘Meet & Greet’ airport parking with our preferred partner, Holiday Extras. The instructions on where to park were precise and the small counter, within the entrance to the terminal, was manned with an agent wearing a mask. There was a spit screen on the desk and plenty of hand sanitizer. It was at this point that we put on our own masks. The process to hand over the car keys was as swift as it has always been and within minutes we were walking into Terminal 5, to check-in.
The terminal was quiet, but it was still exceptionally early. Depending on where you were flying to, depended on which area of the airport that you checked-in, but this was readily available on the flight information boards and there were plenty of (mask wearing) staff to help – we were at check-in, within minutes. Prior to reaching the check in desk, we had our temperatures taken by an overhead, non-invasive body scanner. To be honest, if it wasn’t pointed out to you, you wouldn’t have known it was there. There were plenty of hand sanitizer stations throughout the terminal, both land side and air side.
The check-in process was exactly the same as always (we weren’t able to check-in online). The BA staff at the desks were behind screens, so did not wear masks. We were asked to remove our masks, just to confirm our identity with our passport pictures. Italy does not have an online ‘Passenger Locator Form’ (PLF) like some other countries including the UK & Greece. We were given a paper form at check-in and asked to complete this and hand to the crew on board.
We entered the security areas, using the automated barriers and then queued to have our bags and ourselves scanned. Social distancing was observed and each area at the scanning belt was sectioned off by a small plastic booth, ensuring that you weren’t shoulder to shoulder with the next person.
As mentioned, it was still very early, so some shops in the terminal weren’t yet open. By the time we boarded, most were. All shops had clear notices about social distancing. Starbucks and Pret were open, but only to take food and drinks away. The Wetherspoons was however open to eat in and on arrival you had to complete a track and trace form. The full duty free area was open and fully stocked, but there were no perfume or make-up testers…..saved me a fortune!
The seating areas within the terminal had one chair blocked every few seats, so that family groups could still sit together, but there was social distancing observed. This format carried through to the departure gates too, where the same signs could be found in the waiting areas.
Boarding the flight was an absolute breeze and the most pleasant experience I’ve had in a long time. BA boarded the plane in strict row order from the rear of the aircraft and by 5 rows at a time. The flight was full so no trolley bags were allowed in the cabin. As we boarded we were given a sanitation pack with a large anti-bac wipe and a sachet of hand sanitizer. Many passengers had done as we did and brought our own, but this was so handy to use straight away. We wiped down our seat area, table and chair arms.
Our outbound flight was full in economy and business class, and there were no spare seats. Everyone that I saw was either wearing a mask or a visor, as were the crew. The safety briefing had been adapted, to include the removal of facemasks, in an emergency procedure.
In terms of food on board, you cannot purchase anything so I would suggest either taking your own snacks or enjoying what is provided. Everyone was given a small snack pack, of pre sealed items – bottle of water, a packet of crisps and a packet of biscuits. You of course had to take your masks off to eat and drink, but then put back on afterwards.
When we arrived in Milan, we disembarked in strict row order, from the front of the cabin. This was so much nicer than the usual mad dash. We handed our completed forms to the crew on board and made our way to immigration. Malpensa airport had many notices to remind you to social distance and we cleared immigration quickly and with ease. Our cases were waiting on the carousel and there were plenty of reminders to again socially distance.
We were met by our transfer driver, who was wearing a mask, as was everyone else in the terminal. We wore our masks, as did the driver, for our journey to Lake Como.
Upon arrival at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, we were greeted outside by staff wearing custom made masks specific for the hotel, who showed us to reception. All staff that we encountered inside of the hotel wore masks, so this was applicable at check-in. Prior to our arrival we had already completed a registration document online, that had given us preferences about how we wished to check-in, whether we were happy with the usual number of housekeeping visits (usually twice per day). We were asked if we were happy to receive the welcome amenity to our rooms and various other choices that encountered meeting members of the hotel team, outside the usual visits to the restaurants etc. In its most basic form, you could have as much contact as you would usually expect at a 5* resort, or as little. The choice was yours.
We were thrilled to discover a care package in our room that contained information about what the hotel was doing to ensure guests were safe and comfortable, along with two bottle of hand sanitizer and two custom made silk masks. Such a lovely and very thoughtful gift. The hand sanitizer had been commissioned specifically for the hotel and in all the public areas were small bottle of sanitizer for you to take and use.
During our stay, we took the public ferry across the lake to the town of Bellagio. Although most of the ferry was outside, you were asked to wear a mask and your temperature was taken on your arm before boarding. Whilst wandering around the shops we didn’t wear masks, but if we went inside a shop, we did – very similar to the UK. We ate outside at a lovely local café for lunch. The cutlery came in a paper pouch, to avoid lots of hands touching it, the tables were all wiped down thoroughly between each use and the place settings were paper, so easy to dispose. There were no menus, just a list of dishes on a blackboard. The food was fresh and absolutely delicious…..just what we had hoped for in Italy.
For all other meals, we ate in the various restaurants of the hotel, of which there are 5 – spoilt for choice. All menus were via QR codes and if you weren’t very tech savvy then the staff were more than happy to assist. All members of staff wore masks, when they greeted you, took your order and when they served you. There were also no buffets, so at breakfast you were automatically brought a selection of continental breakfast items and then you ordered your hot or more bespoke breakfast treats. Nothing was too much trouble and you could of course eat as much as you wished.
On our return journey, our transfer, airport and plane experience, were much the same as on our journey out. By the carousels at Heathrow T5 were stations of spray sanitizer and paper towels, to clean your cases, if you wished. I hadn’t seen these in Italy, but I didn’t look, as our cases were waiting when we cleared customs.
From 48 hours prior to returning to the UK, we filled in our on-line PLF (Passenger Locator Form). It was very detailed, but quite straight forward. I was sent a confirmation email, with a QR code to present at Border Control. On the flight the BA crew did a great job of reminding passengers to complete this form and when we arrived there were notices everywhere. Sadly however no one checked our documents, or for anyone that I saw around us.
Overall, I found the new procedures easy to follow. At no point did I ever feel unsafe or feel like I was being asked to do something that made me feel uncomfortable. It was a pleasure to see so many travellers, of all ages and family types, at Heathrow, eagerly awaiting their holiday plans. Whilst in Italy, locals and tourists alike behaved considerately of the ‘new normal’ that we find ourselves in and most just seemed happy to be moving around freely and enjoying the summer.
Whilst I fully appreciate that not everyone is as ready as I was to jump on a plane and start exploring again, I wanted you to know, that when the time is right for you, that I am here to help you navigate the new ways of travelling. As soon as I can start travelling further afield and onto cruise ships too, I will do so, so that you know what to expect.
The one thing that lockdown and the pandemic has highlighted to me, is that if there is somewhere in the world you wish to travel to, or a travel experience you have been putting off for a special occasion……go now! Don’t wait! I never believed that the ability to travel freely and at my own will, would be denied for so long. So now, more than ever before I won’t be taking ‘ok’ holidays, I will only be taking ‘Wow adventures’ because life is too short not to fulfil your dreams and tick those experiences off your bucket list.
I look forward to helping you plan your next ‘Wow adventure’!
Gemma – 01428 658777 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Full report on The Grand Hotel Tremezzo….COMING SOON!