A frequent flyer live-blogged his business class trip from Heathrow Airport to New York via Amsterdam to ‘demystify what it’s actually like out there during Covid-19’ – and it makes for fascinating reading.
The blogger, Gilbert Ott, published the account to his travel tips site, God Save The Points, revealing what it was like in a ‘ghost town’ Heathrow Terminal 2 and how he received more or less no service whatsoever in business class – but did get some tangerines.
Gilbert’s journey, which he said was ‘absolutely not for leisure, but out of necessity’, began on Monday morning.
Frequent flyer Gilbert Ott live-blogged his business class trip from Heathrow Airport to New York via Amsterdam to ‘demystify what it’s actually like out there during Covid-19’ – and it makes for fascinating reading. He’s pictured here on the Amsterdam to NYC leg in business class
Gilbert said that Heathrow (pictured) was eerily quiet – and a very pleasant airport experience all round
‘I arrived to a virtual ghost town at Heathrow Terminal 2, at least from the passenger drop-off area. It’s eerily quiet here, but there’s a steady flow of passengers,’ Gilbert, who lives between New York and London, wrote.
He said that only passengers are allowed in the terminal, ‘to limit the flow into the check-in area’.
His check-in was ‘swift and easy’, but he saw oil and gas workers being quizzed about their papers next to him.
Gilbert said that at Heathrow, pictured, there were constant reminders to keep your distance
Gilbert wrote: ‘Overall Heathrow has done “a fantastic job with their operation”‘
His experience of going through security was ‘one of the more pleasant airport security experiences’. And he said that overall Heathrow has done ‘a fantastic job with their operation’.
He wrote: ‘Before grabbing a clear plastic bag, there are auto dispensers for hand cleansers. It was the perfect dose to scrub my hands and then dry up without needing to touch anything.
‘Plastic bags were laid perfectly so I was able to touch one, without touching another.
‘Everyone was wearing masks, staff included, and there were constant reminders to keep a distance.
‘On the floor, markers for where feet should go helped people from drifting in security lanes.
‘Shoes off, laptops out, all the standard stuff for most travellers and I was through in minutes.’
Gilbert said that he breezed through security at Heathrow – but said the lack of shops open on the other side was disappointing
Passengers observing social distancing rules in front of Gilbert at Heathrow
At Heathrow, passenger services have been condensed into Terminal 2, pictured
Gilbert, who wore a mask for the entire journey, explained that many Heathrow flights have been condensed into Terminal 2 and that it is a ‘virtual ghost town – at least when it comes to shops’.
Boots pharmacy is open with a person enforcing maximum guests, but he wrote on the live blog that ‘as far as I can see, lounges and all other shops, restaurants or even coffee spots are closed’.
Gilbert said that his first boarding experience, for a hopper Boeing 737 KLM flight to Schiphol, was an ‘interesting look at the challenges of air travel right now’.
There are now hand-sanitizing dispensers at the entrances to Heathrow security lanes
He wrote: ‘With two lanes open, people naturally did eventually end up less than two meters (6ft) apart as they approached the gate, but with everyone wearing masks and sanitizing stations around I wasn’t overly bothered.’
Once in his aisle seat on board ‘a few people brushed past, but it wasn’t a big deal’.
He continued: ‘The KLM crew was fantastic, calming and chipper and were clearly true pros, reciting pre-flight briefings from memory, albeit briefly reading from the card with the updated “remove your personal mask before placing the oxygen mask over your nose and mouth, if one drops down during emergency”.
‘I’ve arrived in Amsterdam after an entirely uneventful flight, which makes it an excellent one.’
On arrival in Amsterdam, as he was transiting, he had to stay airside, ‘but there were no temperature checks whatsoever’.
At Schiphol some gate area seats have been taped off in a bid to enforce social distancing
Gilbert described the seat taping as an effective way of keeping people apart
He added: ‘I had proactively filled out the mandatory health form stating no symptoms and such, but it has not been collected as stated. Some rather serious looking security guys welcomed the plane and looked at passengers, but that was about it.’
The terminal experience stood in stark contrast to the one he had at Heathrow.
Gilbert wrote: ‘In the central area between main terminals at Schiphol it’s the definition of business as usual. Masks and signs are everywhere, but for pretty much everything else, it was the best of the airport as you knew it before with open doors and smiling people.’
Gilbert wrote that seeing the tulip shop open at Schiphol made him ‘feel better about the future of the world’
Gilbert is pictured here in his 737 business class seat on the flight from Heathrow to Amsterdam
It was even possible to buy caviar. Though Gilbert opted for some Tony’s Chocolate.
He added: ‘Also, something about seeing the tulip shop open made me feel just a little bit better about the future of the world. It’s the little things right now, right?’
Next, it was off to the KLM Crown Lounge.
Gilbert wrote: ‘This is a beautiful space with comfy couches, chairs and quiet allowing me to write this blog, and I’m very grateful. I’m flying business class because of the flexibility policy afforded to me from a trip we did not take on a Virgin Atlantic ticket earlier in this year, which I was able to exchange without any fare difference or fees for travel any time before November 2020.’
Gilbert wrote: ‘The KLM crew was fantastic, calming and chipper and were clearly true pros’
The frequent flyer’s leg to New York was aboard a 787-10 in business class again – and apparently the boarding procedure was ‘just like old times’ – but with masks and ‘constant signs to stay apart’.
He was one of just four people who turned left – in a business cabin that could hold 38.
Gilbert continued: ‘The crew politely asked all business passengers to swap over to the right-hand side of the cabin after take-off, so that they could keep the other aisle open for cabin crew to move without disturbing us, or breaking social distancing where possible.’
The service was far removed from the non-pandemic offering.
The blogger revealed that it amounted to a ‘clear plastic bag’ – alongside ‘a signature Delft Blue house miniature filled with gin’ – that contained ‘a bottle of water, two diet cokes, a couple of tangerines, two stroopwafels, a cheese sandwich, some snack mix, an almond cookie sort of thing, a little slice of cheese and a couple of mini chocolates’ waiting for him on his seat.
A general passenger area at Schiphol – though you might be forgiven for thinking it’s a lounge
Apart from the miniature, there was no booze – not even Heineken.
One crew member checked in on him during the flight and he asked for a bottle of water, ‘but that was about it’.
Gilbert said that landing at his home airport – JFK – in the sunshine was a treat. But that it was strange seeing T4 ‘virtually at a standstill’.
He continued: ‘I was first off the plane, but before anyone deplaned, a CDC official came on and told the crew 10 passengers at a time, and that health declarations [issued on the plane] must be visible and ready. The official was flanked by a variety of masked officials, and about 20 paces later, I encountered someone from an NY health agency (I believe) who took my temperature up-close. “Good, no fever,” he said, before handing me a yellow card.
The service on the Dreamliner to New York was far removed from the non-pandemic version. It amounted, Gilbert wrote, to this package waiting for him on his seat. The house miniature contains gin – and the plastic bag ‘a bottle of water, two diet cokes, a couple of tangerines, two stroopwafels, a cheese sandwich, some snack mix, an almond cookie sort of thing, a little slice of cheese and a couple of mini chocolates’
Gilbert wrote: ‘The crew politely asked all business passengers to swap over to the right-hand side of the cabin after take-off, so that they could keep the other aisle open for cabin crew to move without disturbing us, or breaking social distancing where possible’
GILBERT’S THOUGHTS IN A NUTSHELL ON FLYING DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Masks help and provide confidence.
I’d rather have bathroom/cleaning attendants than more service.
People should need a recent Covid-19 test before they board a flight.
Self-cater with your own tablet, headphones, food stuffs from home as much as possible.
‘From there, it was incredibly standard. I proceeded to the Global Entry lane, slid my passport in, and then pressed the prompt, which allowed me to press “when” the picture should be taken. I quickly dropped my mask down for the photo, and replaced it right away. I walked a few feet more and presented my receipt to the US Customs and Border Patrol official behind the plexiglass screen who asked me a brief question, and sent me on my way.’
Gilbert posted a follow-up blog in which he reflected on his experience.
He wrote: ‘I want to say from the bottom of my heart, that I felt extremely safe in the airports. Safer than my local supermarket even. People all kept distances and wore masks, which can’t be said in many places on the ground. The mandatory rules for these things made a meaningful difference in confidence and I support them as long as is needed to get this dreadful virus behind us.
‘I did experience some seriously contrasting airport experiences, though, and I recognize the challenges but also feel like I saw things that both positively and negatively impacted my trip.’
He said that he felt that Heathrow could have ‘done something to ask a few businesses to stay open to support the travel experience’.
Regarding boarding at Heathrow, he said that ‘the queues spill into general hallways’ and so wondered whether roaming teams could be deployed to ‘ensure safety’.
Gilbert did praise the cleanliness of the Heathrow bathrooms, though.
The short-haul hop was ‘low risk’, even with someone adjacent to him with a seat in-between.
Schiphol, Gilbert said, made him happier than Heathrow: ‘Having the shops in the central corridor really made me feel like the good things about travel were still there.’
As for the business class leg in the Dreamliner, that was a winner, even with the reduced service.
Handy advice: Gilbert was handed this card by an official at JFK Airport
Gilbert said: ‘I’d do this trip again in business class, as I just did, without hesitation. Modern business class seats have so much in the way of privacy that you’d hardly know anyone was around. In economy, I’m not sure if I’d honestly feel the same, and that’s more down to the little details of what transpires on a long flight.
‘As the situation stands, with planes more than half empty it’s no big deal in economy, since everyone has space, but on a full transatlantic flight wearing a mask, it’s going to get fidgety.’
The bathrooms, he concluded, may become the big issue: ‘Even in business class with four people in the cabin, I cringed as I opened the door to the bathroom, and again to close. I sanitized my hands each time, but as critical mass grows you’re only as good as your weakest link and in economy that may become a “thing”. I definitely welcome Emirates’ move to add bathroom attendants to flights.’
Gilbert stressed that he is in ‘no way telling people to break government advice or travel for leisure until we’re told it’s safe and advisable to’.