I woke up three minutes before my 3.30am alarm on Friday (10 July), surprised by my restless (half) night’s sleep – I’m usually so used to regular travel. I think it was something about preparing to finally jet off again that set my mind racing.
Arriving at Gatwick for our Tui press flight to Ibiza, its first since the onset of coronavirus, the usual airport excitement set in – despite the immediately obvious changes.
We were setting off a day before Tui’s first customers starting heading – initially – to Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham airports for their summer holidays, the first to depart in earnest since the UK government partially lifted its outbound travel restrictions.
Going forward, Tui customers will be channeled to self check-in and bag drop; there are distancing markers at security, large hand sanitiser stations everywhere, and signage reminding passengers to stay apart, wear a mark, and keep their hands clean.
The airport was quiet with the UK’s first quarantine exemptions only just having come into force, but there were a number of keen holidaymakers buzzing around, although only duty free, Starbucks, WHSmith and Boots appeared to be open for their pre-flight needs.
All airport staff were wearing masks, while boarding gates have been upgraded with protective screens and self-scanners for boarding passes.
As usual, two members of Tui cabin crew welcomed me onboard, their friendliness and enthusiasm shining through their PPE. In fact, by the end of the flight, I hardly noticed anyone’s mask.
The captain ran us through the aircraft’s cleaning regime, and in-flight, there was a limited cold food service with fully contactless payment, including Apple Pay.
Any rubbish was swiftly taken away and hand gel given out. Admittedly, there were only a handful of us onboard, so during normal service this could of course take longer.
We were also given sealable bags to dispose of our face masks after the flight.
Before landing, I filled out the new compulsory passenger locator form for arrivals into Spain, which can be done online in advance if you prefer. It only took a few minutes.
I savoured that wall of Ibizan heat when we got off the aircraft, and everyone kept their masks on for the transfer to the terminal where we passed what appeared to be thermal imaging cameras.
Airport staff at passport control and baggage reclaim were all wearing masks, as were Tui’s friendly reps who escorted us to our coach – we spread ourselves out to distance as best possible and were instructed to keep our masks on.
The reps explained the local Covid regulations, which in the Balearics include wearing a mask on public transport and in shops. One told us that from Monday, visitors will have to wear masks at all times, apart from at the beach, by the pool or when playing sports.
Arriving at Tui’s Twiins hotel, we were given a refreshing welcome drink once a member of staff – masked and gloved – attached our resort band.
As I waltzed off to the lift, I caught a glimpse of the sea – despite all the changes, I felt that familiar exciting pang of having arrived somewhere new.
While there are noticeable, and necessary, alterations to the holiday journey we all know, I’m confident those who want to get away will soon adjust to these new, straightforward procedures, just as we always have to other new customs while travelling.