Days after the FCO lifted its advice against all but essential travel to Spain, Madeleine Barber flew to the Canary Islands with the UNWTO to investigate how the pandemic has reshaped travel there.
"Keep your distance!” an airport official barked as two passengers ahead jostle to hand over their passport and boarding pass at the gate.
This is a phrase newly plastered across the floor, walls and digital screens of Heathrow Terminal 5, given it’s just three days since the Foreign Office lifted its ban on all but essential travel for 67 destinations as the coronavirus pandemic begins to ease in Europe.
With Spain one of the countries exempt from restrictions, the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and Canary Islands tourist board teamed up to charter a flight from Madrid to Gran Canaria exclusively for European press and travel trade professionals. Its aim was to kick-start tourism in the popular holiday destination and trial a new health passport app designed to combat the spread of Covid-19.
Of course, travelling from the UK meant a connecting flight was required. I began my journey at Heathrow, where I found not only very visible (and audible) reminders about social distancing, but also more than 600 hand sanitiser dispensers in every area of the airport, from check-in to boarding.
Visitors will find a concentrated cluster at security, where antibacterial wipes are also available for wiping down trays before use. Protective masks are handed out here if required too, as new regulations state face coverings must be worn by all passengers aged 11-plus at all times in the terminal.
Heathrow is also trialling temperature screening, and aiming to implement even more effective virus prevention measures in future.
In the sky, modifications vary dramatically from airline to airline; flying with Iberia to Madrid I was handed nothing but my landing card, while on my charter flight from Madrid to Gran Canaria there was a full meal service. But one policy all airlines agree on is the wearing of masks throughout the flight.
“We cannot guarantee there will be no more coronavirus, but with all the protocols from plane to resort in the Canary Islands, the risk is very low,” said Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary general of the UNWTO at a press conference on the island. “We truly believe this is the moment to reopen."