What to expect when travelling… the New Normal

We keep on hearing about the New Normal, but what exactly is the new normal for business travel? In recent weeks I have travelled by both plane and train to the Continent, this is what I have discovered.

The first point to make is that despite many horror stories, the experience of travelling to Europe whether for business or leisure is not that much different from before – and in some cases, it is improved.

Easy Check-In

Take Heathrow Terminal 2 for example. Gone have the long queues at check in and departures to be replaced by orderly lines – at least in my experience. There is no need to set out hours in advance. If anything you could probably savour a few extra minutes in bed.

You might not wish to chance the congested Tube or Heathrow Express, but I have discovered Meet & Greet to be very convenient, so long as you allow plenty of time for potential motorway congestion. Gone have the days of lumping my baggage on and off the Piccadilly Line, I can assure you.

While boarding the plane did take slightly longer than beforehand, this was once more done in an orderly fashion. Needless to say the social-distanced queues concertinaed as we boarded the airplane, but no worse than prior to COVID-19. I would recommend you give some space to the person in front of you and just take your time. After all the plane isn’t going to go off with you still standing in the aisle.

Face Masks but No Service

For many wearing a face mask is an issue. You will most probably have to keep one on throughout your time in the terminal and while on board. This can add up to a few hours in total. For me, the discomfort is a small price to pay in our collaborative battle against the coronavirus. And, you can always remove your mask while drinking and eating.

On both Eurostar and Swiss economy class, no food was served. Eurostar had no service at all, while Swiss did serve some soft drinks. So, it is best to check whether food is offered before you board the plane. However, Swiss Business Class did have its normal range of food and drink, including some excellent champagne which made the flight a very pleasant experience. It might well be worth your while checking out Business Class options when booking your flights.

Another advantage of Business Class was that the seats were natural distanced. However, both Eurostar and Swiss switched around seat numbers at check-in so as to provide space between passengers wherever possible. On none of my journeys was I seated next to anyone outside of my bubble. At no stage during my journeys did I feel that I was at any risk.

Disembarking the Plane

One major difference takes place as you are disembarking. Swiss employed a row by row disembarkation policy. So rows 1-5 disembarked first, then rows 6-10 etc. As I had requested a seat near the back of the plane where there were plenty of empty seats, I was one of the last passengers to disembark. If time is of an essence you might wish to book a seat closer to the front of the plane – another perk of Business Class. The system worked fine, and I could imagine that it is here to stay.

Finally, the main difference is upon your arrival back in the UK. You have to fill in a Public Health Passenger Locator Form prior to arrival, otherwise you could incur a fine. There are major issues with the current system.

First, the form needs to be filled in online prior to your arrival in the UK. So, it’s best for you to complete it at your hotel prior to departure, or if your trip is short perhaps before you even depart. I advise you double check you have roaming on your phone before you depart the UK. Second, the form is cumbersome and lengthy – anticipate 15 minutes to complete. If English is not your first language you might have to ask for assistance. Also, it seems to have no stored memory. So each time you travel, you have to complete a form as if for the first time. Most importantly you cannot make any revisions or correct errors. Instead, you have to start a new form. Consequently, if you are reallocated a seat at check in having already filled in your form you really should start a completely new one. Somehow, I doubt very many people bother to do this.

One final tip. Try to book your return journey for the Friday. Normally, the UK Government amends its safe travel corridor list for 4am on Saturday morning. It might cost a little extra to return on the Friday, but you will have the peace of mind that in doing so you will avoid any rush to buy another ticket or reschedule your flight before the government’s quarantine kicks in.

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