After weeks of deliberating about whether we’re comfortable traveling outside of the UK or not, we finally bit the bullet and booked a short trip from London to Amsterdam. As well as curious about what flying was like, we were curious what it was like to travel through Heathrow Airport post the coronavirus lockdown.
We’ve read reports that Heathrow Airport was busy and that queues were common. Our experience was quite different though. We found the airport to be quiet.
We travelled in the afternoon, and the airport was very quiet as most flights arrived and departed in the morning. With so much space at the airport, it was easy to keep our distance. However, it was a surreal experience, with regular reminders that we’re still amid a global pandemic. Heathrow has implemented a wide range of changes to respond, making sure we all remember to keep our distance.
If you’re in the departure area at Heathrow Airport during coronavirus, you’ll notice that there are signs everywhere reminding you to wear face coverings, wash your hands regularly, and to keep your distance. Although the reminders were constant, we didn’t see anyone enforcing them. Most people abide by the rules, which was good to see. We’ve seen reports of people in the US getting into fights over face coverings and half expected to see a few arguments, but we didn’t.
Hand sanitisers were also readily available and in ample supply.
Only Terminals 2 and 5 are open
With most flights still suspended, only Terminals 2 and 5 are open to passengers. Most airlines are flying out from Terminal 2, and all British Airways flights are flying from Terminal 5. Oneworld airline partners like Qatar Airways and JAL will now be flying from Terminal 5. We suspect that more Oneworld carriers will follow suit. After all, the First and Business Class lounge experience at Heathrow terminal 5 amid the coronavirus pandemic is pretty decent. Do check with your airline and the Heathrow Airport website for latest information before you travel, as changes can happen quickly.
Temperature checks being trialled
Heathrow Airport is trialling new temperature screening systems to help detect elevated body temperatures. We’re not sure if this is just a gimmick and what the consequences are if they detect someone with elevated temperatures – will they stop you from flying? Or on arrival, will you be stopped? Temperature screening is common place in most Asian airports, so it will be really interesting to see the results of the trial. We noticed temperature checks at a few points around the airport but it was far and few in between. Not as regular as the constant signs or hand sanitisers at the airport.
Face covering or masks required
Face coverings and masks are required throughout Heathrow Airport during the coronavirus pandemic. Everyone that we saw was wearing a mask and keeping to the rules. Most, if not all, airlines require you to wear a face mask to fly. We were allowed to remove it when we ate or drank. In the lounges, most of the passengers had their masks removed when seated. Be sure to check the rules, as most European countries are mandating face masks in airports and public transport. Failing to do so, may result in a fine. The masks may actually come in useful! If you’re checking in at the Business Class or First Wing you’ll notice a distinct smell of sewage! Seemingly it’s a problem the airport has been trying to fix 😷
To minimise the number of people at the departure area, there were signs up noting that only passengers should be in the departure hall. From what we could see, this wasn’t enforced at the airport.
Keep your distance
The signs reminding us to keep our distance were everywhere. Although these signs were placed at regular intervals, we don’t think there are currently enough passengers at the airport to worry about social distancing. You’ll notice that there are no guidance on measurements on these signs. This is because in areas like immigration or boarding, it’s hard to social distance. So instead of providing guidance on how far apart to keep from other passengers, the standard 1.5-2 metres is omitted completely. It would be interesting to see what will happen when passenger numbers start increasing at the airport.
Locator form before arrival
We only learnt that we had to complete an online locator form on the flight back to Heathrow Airport. The online locator form is the UK’s attempt at tracking and tracing people arriving into the country. So, if someone on your flight tests positive for coronavirus, they can track you down to tell you to self-isolate for 14 days. You access the online locator by remembering this ridiculously long web address https://www.gov.uk/provide-journey-contact-details-before-travel-uk
Failing to complete the form may result in £100 fine. We’re uncertain how this is enforced, as no one checked whether we had completed the form when we arrived.
Self-isolate for 14 days
If you’re not on the UK’s government “safe” list of countries, then you’re expected to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival. Failing to do so will result in a £1,000 fine. It’s not clear how this is being enforced… seemingly this is down to people’s own motivation to respect the rules.
Quiet baggage reclaim
When we arrived into the baggage reclaim area, we were struck by how quiet it was. Only a handful of flights were arriving, which made what is normally a bustling baggage hall feel like a ghost town. We expect this to pick up again, as more airlines move over to Terminal 5.
Cleaning stations for trolley handles
Like in supermarkets, the baggage hall had “cleaning stations” for you to disinfect the trolley handles. We suspect routine cleaning of the trolleys wasn’t part of the changes implemented by Heathrow, so you’ll have to do it yourselves.
Vending machines selling hygiene products & PPE
Perhaps one of the strangest and quite a surreal aspects for us were vending machines filled with hygiene kits. No longer do they stock treats and fizzy drinks! In a post-coronavirus lockdown world, we have seen vending machines selling PPE popping-up everywhere. They were also all over Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
Heathrow Airport during coronavirus – a strange and quiet place
We found it different and strange experience travelling through Heathrow Airport after the COVID lockdown. It felt like the airport was still undergoing construction or that it was closing down. It didn’t have the usual hustle and bustle of a busy airport. That is probably a good thing, as the low passenger numbers made for a pleasant, quiet and chilled experience. Heathrow Airport can be quite hectic during peak hours before coronavirus.
However the quiet airport, is also a signal for the ailing aviation industry. A sad thing, as many have been affected by the global downturn, losing their jobs. We hope it will recover quickly. For the time being we’re just happy and fortunate to be flying again!
Do Your Research
While we’ve made every effort to ensure we’ve presented accurate information, the situation is changing continually. We therefore recommend you check directly your home and destination government websites before travelling. We’ve created a list of countries that are OK for travel to/from the UK. For more detailed information about travel to the UK during the COVID pandemic visit: https://www.gov.uk/uk-border-control
Got some useful intel that would help us improve this page? Please drop us a comment below.
While you’re here, don’t forget to sign-up to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with our posts on BoardingGroup.One