COVID-19 has brought most of the world to a halt. It ushered in an entirely new human experience full of hand sanitiser and Zoom meetings. But it also fundamentally altered global human mobility as countries shut down their borders, disrupting global travel. This had severe ramifications for the global economy and businesses — and we continue to see the impacts. Over the last 18 months there have been numerous predictions regarding recovery time, what will happen to office space and what the ‘new normal’ means for international mobility.
As the world prepares for the easing of lockdown restrictions, the million-dollar question is ‘When will we be able to travel again?’. The short answer is that nobody knows for sure. However, we are starting to see signs of recovery in travel in stages – first locally, then domestic travel between regions, and lastly internationally. In addition, we expect that there will be multiple factors that will influence travel and relocation, such as whether social distancing on planes is economically viable for carriers, differing entry requirements from country to country and the rate of vaccine rollouts.
So, what does this mean for people who are looking to travel to the UK in a post COVID-19 world? Based on research and expert predictions, we expect the following things to change the way that we travel.
Expect longer wait times at Customs unless you are willing to pay
We have already seen an increase in wait times in immigration processing in countries, such as South Korea, that have managed to get on top of their outbreaks. As variants continue to spread, countries will focus on testing on arrival to prevent new variants and infection coming in from outside. As testing at the borders increases, the queue for customs will include the added time of taking a Covid-19 test and waiting for the results.
UK airports offer the opportunity to fast track services, allowing you to skip the line of Passport Control. These fast-track services are dedicated to get people through immigration faster and may help reduce some of the wait time. At this stage, it is unclear as to whether fast-track services will include a rapid response COVID-19 test. Regardless, you may be able to save yourself a few precious hours, as long as you’re willing and able to pay.
You will Need More than Just your Passport
It is possible that some countries will not take the chance of testing at the border, especially if you are coming from a hotspot. This means you may need a negative test before you leave and a ‘vaccination passport’. Furthermore, which vaccine you receive could be important in impacting where you can travel as a lot of countries are only recognising AstraZeneca, Pfizer & Moderna rather than the Sputnik vaccine. Potentially, wristbands with barcodes that are internationally recognised could be a real prospect.
Travel will have Different Seasons
A report by Imperial College London speculates that governments will need to turn lockdown measures on and off according to spikes in COVID-19 cases, to keep demands on healthcare systems at a manageable level. This could potentially mean that travel has limited windows of opportunity that last for weeks or even days. Even though airlines are desperate to start flying again, seats may be limited and prices could fluctuate. The only way to prepare for this will be to have quick, easy, and reliable access to travel information so you can stay on top of your travel plans.
Recovery rates will be uneven
We’re seeing already that the factors influencing this pandemic are numerous. Strictness and timing of lockdown measures, the robustness of public health systems, the weather, luck, and other factors are all at work. That means some countries and regions will recover first and we will start to see corridors of recovery.
What this will look like is difficult to say. For example, Israel and the UK are much further ahead in their vaccine rollout than other countries. Does this mean that the UK will be one of the first to open its doors? What about countries like Italy or Spain, which were among the hardest hit by the virus, and rely on tourism? Might they be more eager to restart travel, or will the depth of their nightmare mean that they are more reluctant to let foreigners in? It will be interesting to see how different countries react, and it’ll be important to keep up-to-date on news for people who enjoy traveling!
Packing habits will change
With increased measures in place to keep us sanitary and to prevent us from spreading the virus, we may need to travel with hand sanitiser, which in turn could see the relaxation of the 100ml hand luggage rule, particularly on long haul flights. Along with this, it is likely that we will be expected to travel with face masks on planes, if you have not been fully vaccinated.
Insurance will be king
We are all used to the millions of add-ons when we book a flight. Usually, we skip past all the extras, but it is highly likely that you will be forced to have COVID-19 health insurance included in our travel pack to pass border controls. Furthermore, it is highly recommended that you book flexible flights that are insured.
Inability to travel when you are sick
Do you remember when going into work or flying with a mild cold was normal? It won’t be in a post-COVID world. Even those who have recovered from COVID-19 and have built up immunity will not want to travel with a cold, and could possibly be denied boarding for any similar sickness.
The current situation and the conviction with which the world is adopting social distancing will make it socially unacceptable to travel with a cold or any symptoms. The looks you will get if you cough or sneeze at an airport or on a plane will be scathing. We predict that social stigma will put a lot of people off, resulting in the potential for more no-shows on travel days (once prices are stable). While we are going through the motions of coming out of the pandemic, it is likely individuals showing any symptoms of sickness (colds, flus etc.) will not be allowed to travel based on airline rules.
Air Quality on Planes will be an Advertised Feature
Any idea what grade air filter Lufthansa uses on their planes? How about British Airways or Air Canada? Which Airbuses have the best air quality? Do Boeing flights have less microbes in the air? No idea? Do not worry, you will soon!
Once we start flying again it is highly likely that airlines will want to provide their customers with a level of reassurance that they are doing their best to mitigate the spread of disease. Some have already started emailing customers about their current systems in a bid to stop people from cancelling. By the end of the year, it’ll be a question many people will be asking — how safe is the air onboard? And airline companies will need to provide answers to encourage travel and tourism again.