Last week we took our first overseas trip since the coronavirus pandemic began. As frequent flyers, we love being in the airport, but this trip felt very different. Because we didn’t know what to expect, I was actually feeling pretty nervous about flying with the kids (and flying at all, to be honest!). With that in mind, if you’re preparing for your first ‘new normal’ family flight, here’s what to expect so that you don’t have to feel as nervous as I did!
The first and most obvious change to flying is the addition of mask-wearing. From the moment we pulled into the car park at London Stansted to the moment we exited the airport at Palma de Mallorca, all four of us were wearing facemasks. The official rule is that everyone over the age of 6 has to wear a face mask both in the airport and on the plane: Boy5 is actually five and a half, but we felt it was good practice for near-future flights to have him wear a mask too, and he wanted to be the same as us (and his brother) anyway.
The mask-wearing was strictly enforced, both in the airport and on our TUI flight. The only time we removed our mask was when we stopped in a restaurant to eat breakfast, and on the plane the air stewards were walking up and down the aisles asking anyone who had dropped their masks to put them back on again. Again, you were able to remove your mask only when actively eating and drinking (for example I dropped mine to take a sip of water, but popped it back up as soon as the water was gulped!)
Our trip to Mallorca was actually our trip to Kos hastily rescheduled to the Balearics when they were on the ‘Green’ list: when they went to the ‘Amber’ list we assessed the case numbers and decided to fly anyway. MrMumTravel and I are both double vaccinated, which meant that we didn’t have to take pre-departure covid tests (and neither do children under 12 travelling to Spain) but we did have to complete a pre-entry form to enable entry to Spain. We had to show the QR code on this form, and our proof of double vaccination, at the TUI check-in desk before we were issued our boarding passes and allowed to fly. We had printed out all our paperwork (and requested a paper copy of our proof of vaccination, which you can do here) and I would recommend the ease of this if you can: it was so much easier to have the paper in our hand to pass over, rather than download and worry about finding files on our phone (more on that later!)
From this point, we passed through security (which was the same as it has always been) and into the departure lounge. Here there was no social distancing: the same queues and hustle and bustle that you would expect from an airport: it all felt surprisingly normal. Perhaps because we were on a very early morning flight, nowhere was too crowded. Even the people mover didn’t feel uncomfortably full and it was easy to get a table for breakfast, and a welcome hour without our masks before we boarded our flight.
Returning to the UK
To return to the UK, anyone over the age of 12 (regardless of their vaccination status) has to take a pre-departure covid test. You can take this up to three days before your return to the UK: you will then need to take a PCR test on or before day two of your arrival in the UK if you’re traveling from a green country or from an amber country and you are double vaccinated. If you’re not double vaccinated and are traveling from an amber country then you will need to test on both day 2 and day 8 after your arrival in the UK as well as self-isolate for ten days.
We took our pre-departure test in the comfort of our hotel room: we booked all of our tests via Chronomics and the process of taking the test was just the same as taking an NHS lateral flow test at home. We took photos of our results and sent them to Chronomics, who verified the result and sent us our fit to fly certificate within 15 minutes. Easy peasy!
We then had to complete the UK reentry forms, which was similar to the Spain entry form, asking questions about our health, our vaccination status, and the address we would be staying in in the UK. When completed and approved, this form was emailed to us with a QR code to show at check in. Here’s where things got tricky (in fact, it was the most stressful 20 minutes of the trip!) In the check in corner of the airport there was no internet acess to be had: all the forms I needed were in my emails. With hindsight, I should have downloaded these with the hotel wifi (or asked consierge to print them for us). We made it work and showed our: reentry form, negative test results, and proof of vaccination so that we could check in and receive our boarding passes.
A lot has been written in the press about the queues at border control: and there was no exception here. The flight attendants announced as we landed that we should be prepared for long queues. HOWEVER. Because we had read about this before we travelled, we booked border control fast passes from Holiday Extras for £7 per person, and whizzed through border control in less than 5 minutes. £28 incredibly well spent: would recommend!
All in all, the whole process was much easier and more straightforward than we expected, and we are already planning our next flights! Have you travelled overseas this summer? How did you find the airport experience? I would love to hear all about it!