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25 Jun 2020

Airports, airlines and destinations: how will coronavirus change our summer holidays?

Face mask on the plane, limited pool access and no kids' clubs, Which? Travel looks at the 'new normal'

Travel companies are preparing to start their summer programmes to the most popular holiday hotspots abroad within the next three weeks, but when we do travel again holidays may not be how we remember them.

Tui plans to launch its first flights of the summer on 11 July to eight destinations in Greece, Spain and the Canary Islands while Jet2 expects to be flying again on 15 July. Virgin Holidays is hoping to resume flights and holidays from 20 July. With the exception of major cruise lines, most other travel companies are also planning to restart operations next month.

This will only be possible if the UK government lifts its advice against all non-essential travel, which has been in place since mid-March.

When holidays do resume, airports, airlines, hotels and tour operators have had to put in place many new health and safety measures to avoid the spread of coronavirus, which could drastically alter the holiday you were expecting.

Here we answer your questions about what to expect at the airport, on your flight, at the resort and in your hotel.

    Find more unbiased advice on travel and coronavirus, award-winning investigations and legal advice on holiday refunds and cancelled flights with Which? Travel

    What's new at the airport?

    You'll have to say your farewells to family and friends at the entrance as many airports are allowing access only to those with flight reservations. But special assistance, for those who need it, is still available.

    You'll have to wear a face mask or at least a covering. It's best to take your own, but masks are available at most airports - either from vending machines or from check-in staff.

    Young children don't have to wear masks and anyone who would have difficulty breathing is also exempt.

    At London Stansted and Manchester airports you must wear disposable gloves, which will be provided if you don't have your own, at least initially.

    At Edinburgh Airport, you'll be asked to sanitise your hands at one of the dispensers outside before entering the terminal.

    All airports have installed hand sanitisers at regular intervals throughout the terminal buildings they've put social-distancing markers on the floors to keep passengers two metres apart, and introduced one-way systems to avoid people bumping into each other.

    However, there have already been problems with the new measures. Travellers recently spent over an hour in a tightly-packed queue at Stansted Airport. Many missed their flight.

    Several airports are testing people's temperatures as they pass through the departure or arrivals halls, but this is part of a trial and no one will be prevented from travelling if they register a higher-than-normal reading.

    Expect to talk to staff behind Plexiglass screens, which have been installed at check-in, security and at departure gates.

    Seating is available, but with social-distancing measures and guidance in place.

    When should I check in?

    Although airlines recommended check-in times have not changed, it's advisable to leave more time for your journey as certain measures, such as only allowing family groups to travel together in lifts, could create bottlenecks. And long delays at security checkpoints at London Stansted reportedly led to passengers missing flights.

    Manchester Airport is asking passengers to pre-book a free 15-minute security slot at least two hours before they travel to see if this speeds up the security process, but it's not obligatory.

    Are airport shops, restaurants and currency exchange booths open?

    It's best to take your own food and drink if you're travelling within the next few days as most shops and restaurants are closed, although some are open at Manchester Airport for takeaway only.

    Restaurants and cafes are expected to start reopening from 4 July in line with government advice.

    Don't rely on buying foreign currency at the airport as exchange booths are also closed for the time being.

    Tui refunds on flights and holidays

    What's it like on the plane?

    Once travel starts to pick up, you could find yourself on a packed flight. The majority of airlines aren't blocking off seats to maintain social-distancing. Instead, they're insisting that all passengers, except young children and those who would struggle to breathe wear a face mask or covering on board.

    Some airlines have spare masks and long-haul airlines such as Virgin Atlantic and British Airways have replaced their usual amenity kits for health kits containing a mask, plus hand gel and wipes - but you should bring your own just in case.

    Airlines recommend that masks are changed every four hours, so for medium and long-haul flights you'll need at least two.

    Can I move around on the plane?

    You won't be allowed to queue for toilets (although, access isn't restricted) or move around the aircraft.

    Government advice is to check in your bags and take only essential items on board your flight to speed up boarding and reduce the need to walk up and down the aircraft aisle accessing the overhead storage.

    Are airlines still selling food and drink?

    On short-haul flights, most airlines have suspended their trolley services, in line with government safety guidelines.

    But Ryanair, Tui and Wizz Air are continuing to sell pre-packed food and drink.

    British Airways is handing out complimentary snacks, such as crisps or pretzels, bottles of water, and tea and coffee on request.

    On long-haul flights, airlines have reduced their meal service: British Airways is offering a boxed meal with a choice of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks; Virgin Atlantic is offering only one meal and water or juice; Emirates and Singapore Airlines are still offering a hot meal service, but with a more limited choice.

    Can I buy duty-free and gifts?

    Wizz Air is continuing to sell duty-free and gifts on board, but most other airlines, including BA, easyJet and Tui, have suspended their inflight boutiques on short-haul routes.

    On longer flights some airlines, including British Airways and Singapore Airlines, allow passengers to pre-order items online to be delivered to their seats.

    So will my flight be safe?

    Airlines say they're deep-cleaning aircraft overnight, or after each leg of longer flights, using a 24-hour disinfectant. After shorter flights, airlines have said that they've intensified their cleaning regime, including wiping down seat backs, seat trays and other areas of high use.

    Almost all aircraft are installed with hospital-grade HEPA (high-efficiency particle air) filters, which, airlines claim, trap 99.9% of contaminants, including even small virus particles.

    At the destination - do I have to wear a mask?

    In some holiday hotspots, including Spain, you'll have to wear a mask in busy public places, including on transport, in taxis and in communal areas of hotels.

    You're 'advised' to wear a mask in Greece, but this is only obligatory on public transport. In France, you only have to wear a mask in shops if the shopkeeper asks you to.

    What will be open?

    Shops, restaurants and bars have reopened or are due to reopen soon in most resorts. In restaurants, tables should be no closer than 1.5 metres, even outdoors.

    Waiters and hotel staff will be wearing masks or shields and staff in shops might do, too.

    Entry to museums, art galleries, archaeological sites and other tourist attractions is likely to be severely restricted due to limits on visitor numbers. It's best to pre-book tickets, if you can.

    Are the beaches open?

    Beaches are reopening across France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, but with social- distancing measures in place and limits on the number of people who can enter.

    Restrictions vary from country to country and region to region. For example, in Benidorm, the beaches will be divided by nets into 4 x 4-metre plots, which must be reserved online.

    In some French resorts, sunbathing on the beaches is banned, but swimming and surfing are allowed.

    What will the hotel be like?

    Hotels are likely to feel less crowded than usual as some countries have imposed capacity limits. Rui, a large resort hotel chain, is only filling a maximum of 60% of its rooms.

    In some countries, you'll only be allowed into a hotel if you're staying there. You'll probably see markers on the floor to remind you to keep your distance from others.

    Tables will be more spaced out in restaurants and the number of diners significantly reduced.

    Tui says its hotel restaurants will open for longer to make sure everyone is fed and it will have more outdoor seating.

    Can I use the swimming pool?

    Pools - or at least the biggest ones - are reopening, but with limits on the number of guests allowed in the water at the same time.

    Sun loungers will be spaced out, so fewer people will be allowed to sit around the pool.

    New regulations in most destinations require sun loungers to be cleaned between guests.

    Will hotels still have buffets?

    Tui has replaced its buffets in many hotels with table service, although it will still have serviced buffets in a few.

    The hotel chain, Rui, says it will continue to offer self-service dining, but with more limited options. You'll have to wear a face mask when approaching the buffet.

    What about activities and entertainment?

    Some activities, such as evening shows and sports clubs, won't be taking place this summer due to local restrictions on the number of people allowed in a group.

    Golf and tennis are likely to be available in resorts, but not contact sports such as football.

    Tui says it will host evening shows outdoors, where possible.

    Spas will be open, but with new social-distancing measures in place and you'll have to wear a mask during any treatments.

    Will the kids' clubs be open?

    Tui says some of its kids' clubs might not be open this summer, some will be adapting their opening hours, and some will limit numbers, so you should check before you travel.

    In some countries, including Italy, children aged six and over will have to wear face masks for indoor activities.

    What about my cruise?

    Cruise lines are expected to resume later than other holidays, and ocean cruises are likely to resume later than river cruises.

    Riviera Travel is hoping to resume its river cruises in August, with some new measures including health screening of all passengers before boarding, daily temperature checks and hand-sanitising stations in cabins as well as in communal areas.

    Riviera says face masks might be required when moving around the ship and possibly on excursions. Group sizes on tours will be reduced, if necessary, to maintain local social- distancing measures.

    What if I've already booked a holiday but no longer want to go?

    It's still not clear which holidays will go ahead and which will be cancelled. Even when travel restrictions are lifted, travel companies won't operate their full programmes straight away, so there's still a chance your holiday could be cancelled, in which case you'll be entitled to a full refund.

    If your holiday goes ahead but you'd rather not travel, some companies will allow you to change it or rebook for free, although you'll have to pay any difference in price.

    Until 10 July, First Choice and Tui are allowing customers to defer holidays in July and August that were booked before 17 March. And it's promised that if the UK quarantine remains in place once their holidays resume, you'll be allowed to change your holiday dates.

    British Airways Holidays is allowing free changes for holidays booked between 3 March and 31 August that were due to have been taken by 30 April 2021. If you'd rather cancel, you can get a voucher for the full cost.

    Other companies might give the option to postpone or cancel your holiday, even if they don't advertise this as the case, so it's worth asking.