Travelling During Covid - My Experience
Last month, I made the journey back to Zimbabwe from London. This is my second time of making this journey back since the pandemic started. The first time was in October 2020, just after the Zimbabwe and Southern Africa’s international borders had reopened. The experience a year ago was very different to the usual way of travel. Airports were much quieter; flights were much emptier and the general admin around travel was almost overwhelming.
One year on, this couldn’t be much more different! As part of my route, I transited through some of the busiest and most common airports that our volunteers also transit through to get to our various projects. So, let me tell you, first-hand, how I found the experience.
Is Travel Making its Comeback?
Arriving at Heathrow airport, I was taken back to the days before Covid (just with more masks in sight!) The airport was buzzing, there were actual queues at the check in desks and airlines that had previously suspended flights during the beginning of the pandemic, where back in full force (with full flights!) My flight to Dubai was no exception.
When I took this flight a year ago, there was only 1 flight a day to Dubai, and it was merely half full. Fast forward 1 year, Emirates are back to 3 flights a day and my flight was full. I’m never one to appreciate a full flight (it’s always a luxury to be able to spread out if you are lucky enough to have a spare seat next to you,) however it was genuinely great to see and reassuring that travel is slowly making its long-awaited comeback!
The experience through the airport was pretty much the same as it has always been, other than presenting your negative PCR covid test at check in (more on this to come.) Making my way through security and into the departure lounge, it’s business as usual. Shop and restaurants were open, departure screens were full of flights to all over the globe and the general traffic in the airport was as busy as always (during this new era of travel, it was amazing to see.)
As mentioned earlier, the only real requirement in the airport is to wear a mask – this is mandatory throughout the airport and onboard all flights (be sure to pack a few!)
Arriving at the gate, a full flights worth of passengers were queuing up to board this A380 to Dubai (yes, a full flight on this massive aircraft – travel really is getting back on track!) On this flight, I didn’t have to complete any forms (probably because I was just transiting.) I was given a small hand sanitizer and a spare mask (a nice touch!)
An Early Morning Transit through Dubai - The Airport that never sleeps!
I arrived in Dubai at around 1am (Middle Eastern time,) and wow! There really is no such thing as a busy hour at this airport, it’s just permanently buzzing. Transiting through this airport was quick, but busy- luckily this airport is efficient because there was a sea of people all transiting at this early hour. I must say, this was again fantastic to see – I love the vibe and atmosphere of travel and it was in full swing here.
My flight to Johannesburg started boarding at around 4am. We boarded another A380, which was also pretty much full – it was beyond exciting to see so many people making their way to our wonderful corner of the globe!
Finally back on African Soil!
8 hours later, we arrive in Johannesburg, and it felt great to be back on African soil. On board, you will be presented with a passenger locator form, which is collected from you as you pass through the airport. You will also have your temperature checked. South Africa require you to enter with a negative PCR test, taken within 72 hours of arrival – this must be printed out (not just on your phone.)
From Johannesburg, I made the final leg of my journey to Zimbabwe. I made my way through the airport, to the gate. At the gate, I presented my negative PCR test (for Zimbabwe, they require this to be taken within 48 hours of departure- It’s important to check the time your test needs to be taken as it’s different for each country.) I was given a health declaration form on board (a health history form, where you record whether you have experienced any symptoms and other general questions,) which was to be presented at Health port on arrival in Zimbabwe. This is where they will check your covid test and take your temperature. This was all straightforward and I proceeded to the immigration desk, which was conducted as usual. After that, it was the same as ever, collected my bags and proceeded through the airport with no fuss.
To say the least, my journey was pretty much the same as travel has always been pre-pandemic times. It was great to see so many people with the confidence to travel once again and to see these typically busy airports – London Heathrow, Dubai International and OR Tambo International, Johannesburg; coming to life again. Other than a few more forms to complete, there really wasn’t much difference in general travel and transit.
Overall, I can say with confidence that travel is starting to return to normal (whatever you class as normal in today’s world.) From my own experience, I felt comfortable and safe throughout my entire journey and would urge anyone who is considering travel to take the leap and do so!
- Negative Covid test within 48 hours of departure: This is essential. Not only for entering Zimbabwe and South Africa, but most airlines require this before you travel, as well as many transit countries. This must be from a recognisable facility and a printed hard copy (not on your phone or email.)
- Masks! On the plane and in the airport, masks are a must. Pretty much all airports require you to wear one, as well as most airlines. It is advisable to bring a few for your journey. On board my flight with Emirates, I was given a complimentary mask and hand sanitizer, but it’s worth bringing your own as well.