Back in December last year I booked a special 50th birthday celebration Italian holiday for my husband. It was going to include the Grand Prix and the opera. Fast forward to September 2020 and our itinerary had a rather different look, minus both key activities. But a special trip is a special trip and we were determined to travel nonetheless.
We spent August playing the government’s new game of ‘To quarantine or not to quarantine’, but finally the day arrived and we took off to Venice, instead of our original gateway Milan, on 3rd September.
Our journey through Gatwick’s North Terminal was very civilised. We complied with the rules and didn’t arrive too early, completed forms and wore masks. The duty of care by the airport prior to departure was very good. Security was quick, clean, and quiet. The restaurants all had sanitiser on entry, asked us to complete track and trace forms, and requested that we wear masks when walking through the restaurant. All good!
On board I actually felt really safe. Partly because I’ve been reading the reports and watching the videos on how the airlines are managing the cleaning process and how effective the air circulation systems are. https://www.easyjet.com/en/fly-with-confidence
But also because mostly everyone kept their masks on throughout the flight, and if they didn’t, the staff firmly but politely asked them to re-mask. Passengers were respectful about queueing for the loo and hardly anyone chose to eat/drink on board.
That is the advantage of a short haul flight. All in all, we were in our masks for about five hours, from the time we entered the airport to the moment we stepped outside the airport in Italy. It was manageable, despite being a specs wearer who is used to getting a bit ‘steamed up’. I imagine the more we have to wear our masks in public the more we’ll get used to it, and so the thought of a long haul flight will be less daunting.
Venice was eerily quiet. St Mark’s Square, usually such a hive of activity, had wide open spaces and it was really sad to see so many gondolas covered up and out of use. Despite that, it was delightful! No queues, quick service in the restaurants and a sense of peace along all the canals.
From Venice we took the train up to Verona – an area that we were all slightly cautious about, but we really didn’t need to be. Trenitalia absolutely nailed it! The stations were manned by police reminding people to wear their masks, the trains were not busy, and they even gave each passenger a COVID kit that included a surgical mask, anti-bac wipes, hand sanitiser, a clean head rest and a can of water! We were blown away by this. It’s just one of the ways that shows how seriously and responsibly the Italians are managing travel and tourism during this phase of the pandemic.
Verona was the busiest area we visited. But the main square by the Arena was again manned by police on every entry point reminding people to wear masks, restaurant staff were again fully masked and were managing guests well when they used the facilities.
Up to Lake Como and what a real treat this was! It was quiet … so quiet … and very special for a special 50th birthday celebration..
Whilst some of the restaurants were closed, purely down to the lack of foot traffic, you could imagine just how busy it could get in a normal peak season, and exactly why. It’s a stunning part of the world. We loved exploring the different towns on the lake by passenger boat, each trip offering a different view of mountains and lakes, and the glorious weather made it perfect.
Once again, the duty of care the Italians had initiated was excellent: temperature testing when accessing the boats, sanitiser all over the place and respectful requests for mandatory masks. We felt very safe!
Sadly, one of our friends had to visit the local hospital after cutting his toe and needing stitches. Whilst in hospital they took his temperature and saw that he was 0.1 degree over the ‘accepted’ levels. They immediately gave him a COVID test, and asked him to self-isolate in his room until the results came back. Which of course he did.
We spent a slightly less relaxed afternoon, but within five hours the results were back – negative! Phew! Italy had so many deaths earlier this year it was completely understandable that the hospital staff should be managing this situation so seriously. Again, we were impressed.
Fast-forward to our journey home. We opted for a private transfer to Milan – all good, masks in the vehicle. We checked in at a reasonably quiet Malpensa airport, and security was quick and easy to negotiate.
However, when it came to boarding the flight, Easyjet had ALL their aircraft out on stand rather than at a gate. This meant that passengers were then bussed to the plane in groups of 40-50! For once, I am glad I wasn’t ‘speedy boarding’ because that group were held in a ‘pen’ waiting for the bus to arrive for 10 minutes. Absolutely no social distancing.
One would have hoped that with the reduction in flights the airport and the airlines could have negotiated rates for the airlines to use the gates, which would have allowed more social distancing and more personal space before boarding the aircraft.
When we arrived back into the North Terminal at Gatwick, it was good to see that the entry forms were being checked by staff. I chose not to overthink the gathering group of people who hadn’t completed the form before arrival and were clustering together frantically doing it on their smartphones.
Despite the 10 minute walk from the aircraft to passport control, we arrived at the baggage hall with alongside passengers from eight other arriving aircraft. If we average maybe 100 people a flight, that means a 40-minute wait alongside 800 other people to wait for our bags!
With fewer aircraft, surely the turnaround time could be quicker? Gatwick has a pretty poor reputation for slow baggage delivery, but I suppose it’s reassuring in a way that there are some things even a viral pandemic can’t change!
I’m writing this blog five days after my arrival back into the UK. So far I have no symptoms. I’m thankful for that and also thankful that I’ve been able to work from home to avoid any potential spread.
So despite a slightly disappointing end to a special 50th birthday celebration, the Italians’ foresight and approach to taking care of their visitors ensured that overall we had a great – and very relaxing – time. Despite the challenges of COVID, it’s still possible to enjoy that special trip!
Lisa Cooper – Director of Trade & Representation.