Tales of a Traveller

what it's really like to fly during the COVID-19 pandemic

As lockdown restrictions begin to ease and we start to see the first signs of business travel returning, we caught up with one of Gray Dawes’ clients to discover his experiences of travelling during the pandemic.

Joerg Hoffman, CEO of LEVC, is a frequent international traveller; used to commuting weekly between the UK and his home in Munich, as well as countless long-haul business trips around the world. However, Joerg hadn’t left home since late March, as airlines went into lockdown and countries across the globe imposed border closures and travel restrictions. So, when Lufthansa began flying again between Munich and Heathrow, Gray Dawes made sure Joerg had a seat on the plane!

“By far the biggest restriction [to my travelling] is the current limitation of actual flights and available itineraries,” says Joerg. “However, Lufthansa are now increasing the number of direct flights [between Munich and Heathrow], which is great. Gray Dawes have pre-booked all my flights for the next six weeks. My first flight since lockdown was on Monday [8 June] – the first day of the UK’s surprising new quarantine rules. However, I’m eligible for an exemption rule, due to my ‘essential business commuters’ status.”

“You can travel, it’s really not a problem,” Joerg continues. “I actually find it very easy – as long as you’re well informed. Some passengers on my flight into London were unaware of the new UK Border controls and had to fill in the forms on the plane. It’s far better to complete this online. I do think the UK’s actual quarantine online system is good – it is long and does take some time to work through, but it works fine. Do not fill it in at the airport; that just adds unnecessary delays. You must do it in advance.” 

“What wasn’t good was the Border Control when I arrived at Heathrow; they really weren’t prepared. The automatic passport gates are closed, so you have to go via the manual passport control. But only 3 out of the 10 desks were manned, which is crazy given it was the first day of the UK’s new quarantine rules. However, when it came to my turn, I just showed my passport and my completed form and I was straight through within 5 seconds.”

It was quite a different airport experience for Joerg’s return to Germany.

“There is no control at all, you go straight through the airport as everything is open as normal. It’s great and so easy. In that regard, the UK is falling behind the rest of Europe, I feel. At Heathrow, the lounges are closed so you’re forced to hang around the airport. However, there are so few people travelling at the moment, it’s actually pretty easy. No airport is crowded so you can get through security in 10 minutes, which ironically is good. If extra checks and controls are introduced however, for example temperature checkers as in a lot of Asian airports, that would be bad. I don’t want to waste time.”

But what about the actual flights themselves?

“I would say both flights were around 80% full. You have to wear a face mask the whole time and you just use your common sense to maintain social distancing, particularly for getting on and off the plane.” Joerg continues, “Despite the plane being fairly busy, I felt no anxiety. I’m sure if the passenger in the seat behind me was coughing all the way through the flight, I’d maybe feel a little different. But, ironically, I guess a plane is actually a pretty safe place to be right now.”

After almost three months of being a non-travelling traveller, how was Jeorg’s experience of flying during the pandemic?

“There’s nothing to worry about,” Joerg concludes. “Do the right thing in advance and there’s no issue. People should start travelling again!”

The lesson here is be prepared. Know what extra forms you need to complete in order to travel and fill them in in advance of your trip. Print them out; don’t rely on having them on your phone to show at border control. Be aware of what extra protocols are in place and allow time to move through the airport while observing social distancing rules, which do differ from country to country. Be mindful that some amenities you may be used to, such as airport lounges and concessions, may well be closed.

To help you navigate the changes of business travel, we’ve created the brand-new Traveller Toolkit. This invaluable online resource is packed full of easy-to-use guides and checklists for every stage of every journey. We detail exactly what you need to know and do before, during and after your trip.

You’ll also find innovative and interactive virtual trips, which walk you through each step of  being at the airport, on the train and in the hotel. You can even check the travel restrictions and health status of your destination with our comprehensive COVID-19 Country Tracker, updated five times daily to ensure you have the very latest information to help keep you and your travellers safe.

Travel is changing. With common sense and a good TMC behind you, travellers can have the confidence to once again take to the skies. It’ll soon be back business as (un)usual.