Flying with Emirates During COVID-19
With no self-quarantine required at either end of my journey and the promise of 30-degree heat as we shivered into December, it was just too tempting… I was off to Dubai! After having to keep my feet firmly on the ground whilst the UK navigated its way through lockdowns and rapidly changing government advice, travel corridors had arrived! Keen to make use of this and see how the travel experience has changed due to COVID-19, I left the house with an Emirates ticket and my passport in hand... welcome back old friend! Read on to find out how my journey went:
Airport ready - (image: Cat Salkeld)
Airport ready(image: Cat Salkeld)
Having the opportunity to get away is amazing, although nowadays it requires much more prep than we might be used to! First of all, it’s always a good idea to check the entry requirements for the country you’re visiting, with the pandemic meaning advice can change frequently. Luckily, as a British passport holder, a tourist visa is issued upon arrival in Dubai, so I didn’t need to worry about applying for that in advance. I did, however, need to ensure I had valid international health insurance, completed the Health Declaration Form and Quarantine Form, both of which need to be printed. You will also need to fill out a Passenger Locator Form 48 hours prior to landing back in the UK – silver lining is you’ll know your passport number off by heart after all this!
Rules on testing are ever-changing, but no matter what, I thought it was best to get a PCR COVID-19 test within the given 72-hour pre-departure period. This was easily booked and safely carried out at my local private GP surgery and, after an (admittedly tense) 24-hour wait, I was happily provided with the negative test certificate I needed, ready to show at the airport!
Heathrow Terminal 2 - (image: Cat Salkeld)
Heathrow Terminal 2(image: Cat Salkeld)
Getting to the airport
My flight was scheduled for 9am so, not wanting to worry about driving so early in the morning and after a day's travels on my return, I arranged for private transfers to the airport with Sixt. My driver arrived ahead of schedule and politely greeted me from a safe distance. In the car, there was a screen dividing the driver from passengers, with hand sanitiser readily available and of course, we both wore our masks for the duration of our journey. After being dropped off right outside Terminal 2 at London Heathrow, I joined the other early-risers who, like myself, were optimistically dressed in outfits more appropriate for the heat we were heading to, than the current 6am english winter! As we rushed to the promise of heating, I spotted that a new one-way system had been put in place to help with social distancing and signage stating that non-passengers were not allowed inside the terminal, so be sure to say your goodbyes at the car if you’ve been lucky enough to nab a lift with a friend or family member!
Signage at Heathrow Airport - (image: Cat Salkeld)
Signage at Heathrow Airport(image: Cat Salkeld)
In the terminal
At this point it goes without saying that masks are to be worn at all times whilst inside the terminal. That also means, that when packing your carry-on, don’t forget to include a few spare masks as you’ll be wearing one for a while taking into account your time at the airport, your flight, plus any travel to your accommodation on the other side. We all know the drill by now, and it was great to see everyone practising social distancing as I made my way through check-in and security. Markers on the floor, reduced seating areas, clear signage and helpful airport staff were all present to ensure the whole process ran smoothly. Santising stations could also be found at all touchpoints, such as check-in, bag-drop, security and in all shops and eating areas. Check-in staff were behind Perspex screens, however if you are keen to minimise contact even further whilst in the terminal, checking in at the self check-in stations, online or via the Emirates app in advance, is a great option.
Emirates travel hygiene kit - (image: Cat Salkeld)
Emirates travel hygiene kit(image: Cat Salkeld)
Outbound – Economy
As we boarded, after having been called up in small groups to avoid queues, the first thing you’ll notice is that the Emirates cabin crew look a little different – kitted out with full personal protective equipment (PPE) including face shields, masks, aprons and gloves – however they still gave us all a warm greeting as they welcomed us onboard. A pre-packaged blanket, pillow and headphones could all be found at your seat and, despite calling these items long-haul essentials in the past, the real essentials were handed out as we prepared for take-off: a Travel Hygiene Kit. All passengers were provided these handy boxes which were stocked with gloves, antibacterial wipes, hand sanitiser and three-ply masks. I excitedly popped this straight in my bag (already having plenty of these to hand in my own eagerness to be prepared) and realised that coming home with free masks and hand sanitiser is surely going to be the new taking home hotel toiletries, right?
I settled in for seven hours of snacking and watching movies (an all too familiar set up for me of late) and soon our attention was drawn to further onboard safety measures. One that personally provided me with added peace of mind was that, before every trip, all Emirates aircraft go through an enhanced cleaning and disinfection process with heightened cleaning going on throughout the flight. What’s more, the HEPA filtration systems onboard filter air every 2-3 minutes, removing bacteria and viruses with 99.9% efficiency. That’s the same standard used in operating theatres! All that was left for me to do was sit back, relax and enjoy the entertainment and tasty meal service on offer – we had breakfast and a hearty lunch included due to our flight time – with everything being passed between passengers and cabin crew on trays to avoid contact, which was a nice touch...
My seat in Emirates Business Class - (image: Cat Salkeld)
My seat in Emirates Business Class(image: Cat Salkeld)
Inbound – Business Class
On my return journey, I was lucky enough to enjoy the Emirates Business Class experience. Starting with a separate dedicated check-in and bag drop area, make your way through the airport swiftly and head to the airport lounge, where you can take advantage of the peaceful atmosphere and fuel up for your journey. Changes have, of course, been made to ensure the safety of passengers and staff; seating areas had been spread out even further than they already were before, physical menus had been replaced with QR codes from which you’ll discover a variety gourmet dining options and enjoy exclusive beverages available to order, and signs are placed on tables and chairs to indicate that they are ready for use after being sanitised. The Timeless Spa and shower rooms are also open, and deep cleaned after each use, so you are sure to board feeling relaxed and recharged after a glass (or two) of your favourite tipple and a quick massage for good measure! Onboard, the same safety and hygiene measures that we touched on in Economy are in place, but this does not affect the experience at all when it comes to enjoying the added comforts of your welcome glass of Champagne, fully-flat bed, premium dining options and the unparalleled service of cabin crew. What’s more, the A380 onboard lounge is now open, where you can choose between carefully curated wine selections or speciality cocktails if you’re looking for an in-flight treat! Although you are welcome to sit in the lounge area, seating is limited to restrict passengers not travelling together from mixing, and standing at the bar (aside from when you order) is not permitted.
Business Class dinner - (image: Cat Salkeld)
Business Class dinner(image: Cat Salkeld)
After watching a beautiful sunset from above the clouds, we touched down in Dubai and, to my amazement, everyone stayed seated and patiently waited to retrieve their bags and disembark... 2020 really is full of surprises! Heading through Dubai Airport, we were greeted by the familiar sights of stickered floors and plenty of signage letting passengers know where to go for connecting flights, baggage collection or on-arrival testing. Passengers were also asked to download the COVID-19 DXB SMART app, which provides real-time updates and helpful advice on how to stay safe during your visit, as well as offering online paramedic support should you start showing symptoms. Unlike in the UK, I learnt that masks are to be worn even in a lot of outdoor areas and wearing gloves is also encouraged, but not mandatory. After passing through thermal screening, security and baggage collection – sanitising stations to be found after every step of the way – I was ready to go!
Dubai Airport - (image: Cat Salkeld)
Dubai Airport(image: Cat Salkeld)
Overall, from start to finish I felt that everyone – from the airport staff to the Emirates cabin crew (and even fellow passengers) – made it their priority to ensure that all passengers could travel as safely and hygienically as possible. These days, stepping foot onto an airplane might seem like a daunting idea, but I’m here to assure you, it’s possible. Flying with Emirates meant I felt confident about my wellbeing at every step of the journey and, although you go through the same motions – check-in, security, border control – it now just means doing things a little differently, so that we can continue to do what we love... travel!
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