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Flying in 2020: a step-by-step journey through airports

We know that travel is especially difficult right now. But alongside the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates, we want to continue to inspire you with new travel content so that when the world opens its doors again, you'll be ready.

Now that countries all over the world are re-opening their doors to travellers, many of us are taking the opportunity to get out and explore again. We’re firmly in ‘the new normal’ now, and part of that is a different travel process. Airports, especially, have had to change things to reduce the risk of transmission. A lot of work has gone into making sure it’s as safe as possible, and in this article we’ll talk about what you can expect at airports during coronavirus, from arriving to boarding your flight.

Note: all of the UK’s airports are different, and each has its own individual measures in place. Before you travel, we highly recommend going to your airport’s official website to check its guidelines. It’s also a good idea to look up the airport you’re flying to as things are likely to be different there, too.

Extra hygiene measures are in place in airports. Image credit: Heathrow Airport

Travelling through airports during coronavirus: from arrival to departure

While every airport is different, most have introduced the same general requirements, which include asking passengers to wear masks, installing hand sanitiser stations and using markings to make social distancing easier. Airports may even introduce a dual testing scheme with coronavirus tests on arrival, a decision aimed at restoring traveller confidence. As the travel industry adapts to the changing world of travel, here’s a step-by-step guide to getting through the airport.

Cover your face at airports during coronavirus
Airport staff take measures to ensure safe interactions. Image credit: Heathrow Airport

Step 1: Check in online and use a mobile ticket

Some airports are limiting face-to-face contact at check-in desks. Reduce any potential touchpoints by downloading the airline’s app and saving your boarding pass to your phone. It can be scanned contact-free, and means you don’t have to touch self-service check-in kiosks. If you’re not keen on mobile boarding cards, print your pass at home.

Limit using self-service kiosks by downloading and printing your boarding pass at home

Step 2: Check the airports’ websites for up-to-date information

Have a look at the websites of the airports you’re flying to and from. You’ll find information about process changes and COVID-19 requirements. Do it a few days before you fly so you have time to prepare, and again on the morning you travel just in case anything has changed.

Man waiting at airport during coronavirus
Expect social distancing measures in airports. Image credit: Heathrow Airport

Step 3: Arrive at the airport on time

The last thing you want to do is rush, especially with a mask on and the possibility of longer security and boarding times. Aim to arrive at least three hours early for intercontinental flights, and two hours in advance for European flights (including domestic).

Face coverings are required at airports during coronavirus
Forgot your mask? You can get one at the airport. Image credit: Heathrow Airport

Step 4: Wear a mask

In England, passengers are required to wear a face covering in enclosed areas of the airport. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland you need to keep your face covering on in every area of the airport. This helps to protect other passengers as well as the airport staff.

Read more essential face mask information.

Social distancing at airports during coronavirus
Markers on the floor help you maintain social distance. Image credit: Heathrow Airport

Step 5: Expect social distancing measures

From queuing at check-in and bag drop desks to waiting at the gate, airports during coronavirus have implemented new ways to keep people a safe distance from each other. Every other seat in the waiting area will be blocked off and you’ll see markers on the floor showing you where to stand. All key passenger touchpoints are deep cleaned regularly, and protective screens help to keep you separate from other people.

Getting ready for security at Heathrow Airport during coronavirus
Scan your boarding pass from your airline’s app. Image credit: Heathrow Airport

Step 6: Leave extra time to get through security

Even if you’re a seasoned traveller who usually sails through security, you should expect things to take a bit longer. Fewer people are able to fit into the security area at a time, so pay attention to the taped-out queuing system on the floor and follow instructions from the staff. Some airlines are trialling temperature screenings, and this can add on a bit of time too.

Seating blocked off at anaairport during coronavirus
Some terminal shops might be closed during coronavirus

Step 7: Do your duty free shopping safely

Many airports now offer the option to click and collect your shopping, so you can order duty free goods online and pick them up. Pay with a contactless card and abide by the safety measures in place by wearing a mask while you’re in the shop and maintaining a safe distance from other shoppers.

Sanitiser station at Heathrow Airport
Image credit: Heathrow Airport

Step 8: Follow boarding guidelines

Each airline and airport has its own restrictions around boarding to stop people from queuing close together. Pay attention to the airport and airline staff, and only approach the boarding gate when you’re asked to.

What to expect at UK airports during coronavirus

There are over 40 airports in the UK, and each one has its own way of dealing with coronavirus. While we can’t cover what to expect at every airport, we’ve put together a quick guide to three of the country’s busiest ones: London Heathrow, Manchester and Edinburgh.

Heathrow airport during coronavirus

How to travel safely through Heathrow Airport during coronavirus
  • It’s mandatory to wear a face mask in all areas of Heathrow if you’re over 11 years old
  • If you forget to bring a mask, they’re available from airport staff as you enter the building
  • Only passengers are allowed inside the terminal, so if your loved ones drop you off you’ll need to say goodbye outside
  • There are one-way systems in place at Heathrow terminals
  • Luggage trolleys are sanitised after every use. Security trays, bag drop and check-in desks are deep cleaned regularly
  • Some shops are open in the terminals, and food outlets are offering takeaway – card payment is necessary
  • Only five people are allowed to board flights at a time.

Heathrow has put other measures in place to make travelling through their airport during coronavirus as hassle-free as possible.

Make travelling easier with the Heathrow app

On your way to, from or through the airport, the Heathrow app is your ideal travel companion.

Pre-book your parking

Pre-book your parking to activate Automatic Number Plate Recognition for a contactless and smooth entry.

Pre-order your food with the Heathrow app

Heathrow has teamed up with Grab to offer a food and drink pre-order service. They are working with a selection of Heathrow restaurants to provide the service via the Heathrow smartphone app.

Use Meet and Assist to breeze through the airport

From £125 for two people, Heathrow’s team of Meet and Assist agents are available to help you; guiding you through the airport, providing travel tips, and helping you complete procedures at security, immigration and baggage drop off and collection.

Reserve and Collect your shopping

The airport has introduced new ways to shop for extra peace of mind. Heathrow Boutique is a free service available to all passengers. Browse and reserve your favourite products and it’ll be ready to collect and pay for in store when you fly.

Manchester Airport during coronavirus

How to travel safely through Manchester Airport
  • Only passengers are allowed inside the terminal, so if your loved ones drop you off you’ll need to say goodbye outside
  • Face masks need to be worn throughout your time at the airport, including on buses and in the terminal. Masks are available to buy at the airport
  • There is no overnight access to the terminal building
  • You can book a slot for going through security in advance
  • Wash your hands regularly: there are hand sanitiser stations dotted throughout the airport
  • Temperature screening is being trialled: you’ll see this at security
  • Escalators are being UV cleaned to keep the handrails clean, while other communal surfaces have been sanitised and sealed with Citrox
  • Shops are open, and MAG Hospitality is offering a café takeaway in terminal 2
  • The number of flights requiring a bus journey between the terminal and the plane have been reduced.

Edinburgh Airport during coronavirus

Travelling safely through Edinburgh Airport
  • Only passengers are allowed inside the terminal, so if your loved ones drop you off you’ll need to say goodbye outside
  • There’s a one way system: follow the sky blue line to enter the terminal and the maroon line when you’re leaving
  • Doors into the check-in hall are allocated by passenger group
  • Every second check-in desk will be unmanned to allow for social distancing, and safety screens are in place
  • Temperature checks are being trialled at security. It isn’t mandatory to take part, so you’re allowed to say ‘no’ if you’re asked to volunteer
  • Anti-bacterial and anti-viral trays are being used at security, and they’re deep-cleaned regularly
  • Sanitising stations have been installed at various points inside and outside the airport
  • You need to wear a mask whenever you’re in the airport. They’re available to buy in packs of four in vending machines, with all profits going to charity
  • Only some shops and eateries are open: find an up-to-date list here
  • Flight boarding takes place by row: check your seat number and wait until yours is called.
Mnay airport shops are closed during coronavirus
Use the Heathrow app for a smooth transit experience. Image credit: Heathrow Airport

While there are a few extra things to bear in mind when travelling through airports during coronavirus, a lot of it is common sense – and follows what we’re already practicing when we aren’t heading off on holiday. Remember things change quickly at the moment. Always keep an eye on the latest government travel guidance, and check your airport’s website too just in case they have their own specific rules that we haven’t covered here today.

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