After being grounded for six months, it felt wonderful to get back in the air yesterday, and back to Italy. Things aren't quite the same now, and the situation is obviously far from settled, but in what is either the start of a return to 'normality' and the opening up of travel, or a window of opportunity before the shutters close again, I booked British Airways flights three days ago and travelled from London to Venice yesterday.
British Airways still has very few flights between London and Venice - two a day on the dates I checked - and their operations have been switched from Gatwick to Heathrow. There are a few good-value tickets to be had, especially for the off-peak period from 7th September, but demand is high in the short term and some of the popular flights are full or nearly so, with very high prices. BA don't leave seats empty for social distancing, and I was uncomfortable at the thought of sitting at close quarters with strangers, so I opted for business class: Club Europe, with the guarantee of an empty middle seat. I booked Reward Flights with a lot of my saved Avios frequent flyer points, plus £1 cash. This can be a good way to secure short-notice flights with big-ticket prices. I was glad I'd made this choice: my flight was full but in Club Europe I had plenty of space and far fewer travellers in my immediate vicinity.
In addition to the fact I was flying from Heathrow rather than my preferred Gatwick, a couple more reminders of the changed times popped up when I checked in online. An unusual message popped up informing me that my passport or visa must be checked at the airport. It turned out that this is because a couple of requirements imposed by the Italian government, described below, mean you can't just download a boarding pass and head through departures. And I had a momentary panic when the BA app informed me in red text that my flight was re-routed - again it turned out this was a routine message due to the fact the flight was originally scheduled to originate from Gatwick.
Travel at the moment is only really advisable if you can consider the risks and situations it might expose you to, and feel confident that you can deal with them. For those of us who've obeyed lockdown regulations, avoided crowds, people, restaurants, public transport, touching things, unwashed surfaces and so on, it is a big adjustment to find yourself expected to sit several inches from a stranger, and be at the mercy of the other people's hygiene standards. Aeroplane toilets, hotel bedspreads that aren't washed between guests, the decorative cushions that migrate daily from pillow to floor, door handles... exposure to potential germs is inescapable when you travel and every potential traveller will have a different limit to what they accept. Italy currently has a relatively low rate of Covid-19 infections, though it is rising, reportedly due to Italian holiday-makers returning from hot-spots elsewhere in Europe. I'd advise anyone considering travel to read up on the latest reports and statistics, research travel restrictions and work out what risks they can minimise, and what they can live with.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office advices against travel to a number of European countries, including France and Spain, and imposes a 14-day quarantine on travellers arriving in the UK from those countries. The travel warning invalidates most travel insurance, and may result in cancellation or reduction of holidays and flights. Other destinations may be added to the FCO list at any time, based on their 7-day infection rate and other factors. Italy is still in a 'travel corridor' and a permitted destination at the time of writing; this is an important factor to keep an eye on, and it may be best not to book too far ahead this autumn - or at least to make sure you have comprehensive insurance and the option to cancel without penalty.
Face coverings are obligatory in many situations in both the UK and Italy, including on public transport. The Underground journey to Heathrow is incredibly long and slow, and offered a chance to experience in advance some of the attitudes I'd encounter throughout the day: the family maskless for selfies, mum pulling her mask off to mop her fevered sweating face, the woman who removed her mask for selfies (a common theme) and to sponge on a full face of make up (she told another passenger she'd 'stop breathing' if she wore her mask, but as soon as she got off the train she popped it back on in case she passed a guard), so many of those people whose selfishness and/or stupidity are so frustrating for the law-abiding or anxious.
A couple of the lifts up from the Piccadilly line to Departures at Heathrow were very crowded, but I found an empty one. Terminal 5 was fairly busy, but manageable, with information signs and sanitising gel dispensers dotted around the building. Club Europe and BA Executive Club members with status can use check in desks in Zones H and J, depending on their status. In H there were no queues for check in. I had my temperature checked as I entered the check-in area, and was informed of the need to fill in a pre-landing 'self-declaration form' before arriving in Italy. Because of these two requirements passengers must go to the check-in desks at the airport (though this will be a mutating situation). Copies of the form were handed out by staff, but I'd already downloaded and completed the document in advance. Staff were extremely welcoming and friendly, as though passengers were much-missed friends of the family. At the automated passport gates, I had to briefly remove my mask for the cameras.