What’s it like travelling long-haul during COVID-19? Was the airport normal? Did everyone wear masks? Were people social distancing? Was the flight full? Were the duty free shops open? Did you have to arrive even earlier than usual?
These were questions I asked myself, and wished I’d known the answers to, before I set off on my adventure across the world. So, as I sit here fulfilling my 14-day Managed Isolation in Auckland, I thought what better time to tell you all about my experience of travelling long haul during COVID-19 with Emirates amidst the pandemic!
Travelling Long Haul During COVID-19
Where it all began: London Heathrow Airport
On Sunday 8th November 2020, I finally began my journey to New Zealand! I started my travels at London Heathrow (Terminal 2) expecting things to be a bit strange given the current COVID situation and recently enforced second lockdown in England. Some things were definitely different, but on the whole, I was surprised by how blasé it all was. Saying that, everyone was wearing a mask and/or a visor, the majority of shops inside the terminal were closed due to current government measures, and some seats in the terminal had been taped off (to attempt social distancing). There wasn’t a huge difference which says a lot about how the UK is dealing with COVID-19 and international travel restrictions!
I arrived at the airport 4 hours (YES, 4 WHOLE HOURS) before my flight. I wasn’t sure whether there would be additional health checks or bag screenings, so thought better to be safe than sorry. Turns out, I didn’t need to arrive this early in the end however it’s better to be early than ‘the person running through the airport like a scene from Home Alone’.
Apart from wearing my my mask into the terminal, there were no other checks, that was it. No temperature checks, no one asking why I was flying and whether I had a critical purpose to be traveling during a lockdown, and no one asking whether I had symptoms, felt unwell, or anything. CRAZY!
I found the Emirates check-in area and handed over my passport and MIQ voucher to check-in for my flight. For New Zealand, it’s now a legal requirement to book a place in Managed Isolation and present your booking voucher prior to travel. The airline will not let you board the flight without presenting it! On arrival in NZL, everyone must spend 14 days in a facility chosen by New Zealand Immigration, where everyone is monitored and isolated to control the spread of infection.
Read about my stay in managed isolation >> New Zealand | Managed Isolation: FAQ
Or – Check out my Instagram highlights where you can see what it was like!
So, after providing all my documents and checking in my copious amounts of luggage, I made my way to security and passport control. Everyone was encouraged to maintain social distancing throughout the airport and for the most part, people did keep 1m or more away from one another which was nice. The whole process of making my way to the departures lounge was as you would expect and the same as normal. If anything, it was quicker than usual due to less people and therefore reduced queuing.
Once through passport control, it was clear that things were not quite normal. The airport was, of course, much quieter than normal given that travel was restricted to critical purposes only (supposedly, but no one checked). Multiple seats throughout the terminal were taped off to stop people sitting too close together, and only a couple of ‘essential’ shops were open for takeaway. 1 duty-free shop selling books, electronics, snacks, and all that stuff, Pret a Manger and (I’m not sure why this classes as essential) a caviar shop were the options available within Terminal 2. I bought a coffee and a couple of books and off I went to find a seat and wait for my gate to open.
Ready for Take off
Once it was time for boarding, passengers were called forward starting with those sitting at the back, to those in the front section of the aircraft. Presumably, they did this to ensure we didn’t have to walk past people unnecessarily on the plane. As I entered the plane, I could see that all the Emirates crew were in full PPE. They were all wearing gloves, masks, visors, and an over-suit over their uniforms.
Once in your seat, the crew came round and gave every passenger an individual ‘Travel Hygiene Kit’ containing two masks, two pairs of gloves, hand sanitiser gel sachets and wipes. It was a great touch and to be honest, I did use all of the items in the pack! Although I’m sure the plane was cleaned thoroughly before boarding, I still used the wipes provided to wipe down my interactive screen and armrests just to be safe. Masks were compulsory for all passengers throughout the duration of the flight, apart from when eating or drinking. I thought wearing a mask for this amount of time would be unbearable, but after a while, you actually forget you are wearing one (believe it or not). To keep my face clean and avoid cross contamination, I changed my mask regularly throughout the flight. I took a pack of 10 disposable masks and changed them every 3 hours or so which worked well.
The flight/flights themselves were fine. I was anxious about what they would be like as I had heard various people give different reviews about the service and social distancing on multiple airlines, but Emirates was fine. Hot food and drinks were offered, blankets and pillows provided as usual, and Emirates did try their best to ensure social distancing on the flight. From what I saw on my flights, everyone had a row to themselves where possible or at least 1/2 seats between them and another passenger. I was lucky and had an entire row of 3 seats to myself for the duration of my trip!
They did allow passengers to get up and walk around during the flight, as long as they remained distanced from other passengers and continued to wear their mask. Sitting for long periods is uncomfortable at the best of times, but traveling long haul it’s actually vital to move around to ensure you don’t develop blood clots and other nasties. YIKES! I wore thigh-high flight socks for the duration of my flights (sexy I know) and aimed to get up and move around the cabin every time I changed my mask, even if just to wander up and down the aisle for a minute or two.
Landing in Auckland, New Zealand
Auckland airport was EMPTY and here is where things got interesting and were very, very different!
Just before landing, the crew came through the cabin and gave us our landing cards where we had to declare any ‘high risk’ goods brought into New Zealand, provide our contact details, disclose whether we had been in contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19, or whether we were experiencing any viral symptoms ourselves.
Leaving the aircraft was relatively quick, but social distancing was more difficult in the small aisles of the aircraft. Everyone walked calmly towards passport control where I joined a socially distanced queue which did take a relatively long time. The reason for the queue was that before approaching the passport control desks, everyone had to have their temperature taken (in their ear) and was asked whether they had any COVID symptoms. As my temperature was normal, I was given a ticket that would enable me to get onto a bus to a managed isolation facility.
Once through passport control, I made my way to baggage claim. The only people I saw around the airport were either security or the other passengers from my flight. The only baggage coming in was from my flight and so social distancing was very easy. My bags came off the belt pretty quickly, presumably because there were a lot fewer bags than normal to unload from the aircraft and so they came through quicker. With my bags on the trolley, I made my way to customs.
Customs in New Zealand is totally different from the ‘nothing to declare’ archway at Heathrow which seems pretty uneventful. There is a huge list of items that are considered ‘high risk’ to New Zealand’s local agriculture and eco-system and so all bags are x-rayed to be sure they do not contain any items they shouldn’t. I had brought tea, coffee, snacks and footwear used outside, all of which are fine to bring in as long as I declared them correctly (which I had). If you have things you shouldn’t but have declared them, they are merely seized and you can carry on your journey. If you do not declare them and you attempt to get them through customs, they are still seized but you could be fined up to $400 or worse! So it’s always better to be safe than sorry and declare everything even if you aren’t sure!
Once through customs, I made my way to arrivals which was a really sorry sight. No family and friends waiting to greet their loved ones holding signs or flowers, and no one re-enacting that nostalgic scene from Love Actually. It was totally empty apart from Airport security and staff.
At this point, I still had no idea where I would be doing my 14-day Managed Isolation. You approach a desk just before you get onto a bus and show them your passport, they then tell you where you will be spending your 14-day stay. I could’ve been flown to Christchurch, put on a bus for hours to the depths of the countryside, or on a quick coach trip to Auckland. If I’m honest, I was really worried about this part of the journey as I knew that the isolation allocations were very random and varied massively in quality! In the end, I was exceptionally lucky and was allocated a lovely hotel in the middle of Auckland city center called The Pullman, just a quick 25-minute coach ride from the airport.
And that’s it. After 30 hours of traveling, I finally lay on my bed in my managed isolation facility and took a deep breath. I had made it!
Read about my stay in managed isolation >> New Zealand | Managed Isolation: FAQ
Head over to my Instagram where you can watch my highlights and follow my stay at The Pullman. Got any questions.. feel free to ask me in the comments!
Don’t forget, pink means link. Click on the pink text within each post to get even more info!
All information correct at the time of publishing – November 2020. Please note travel requirements and rules may have changed since this post was published so check before you travel!