On board Tui’s first post-lockdown flight

Passengers alighting TUI's first flight after lockdown
Passengers alighting TUI’s first flight after lockdown

The appeal of package holidays is ease and convenience. But in a post-lockdown world, when even basic travel manoeuvres can feel painfully complex, it’s hard to imagine how they’ll work. Until a week ago, the idea of a beach break in the Med felt about as likely as a trip to the moon.

What a difference a few days can make.

Tui, the UK’s biggest provider of fly and flop breaks, is determined to save our summer by relaunching holidays this weekend. Flights to Ibiza and Palma will operate from Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham from today (July 11), with more routes and regional departures promised in weeks to come. Greece will be open from July 15, and Turkey is set to follow in August.

Ahead of the Brits’ return to the Med, I joined a special charter to Ibiza, to find out what’s changed – and crucially what’s stayed the same.

For Tui, holidays start the minute their customers enter the airport, so they’ve tried to make the experience as stress-free as possible. Everyone is encouraged to check in online to avoid queues, an app is available to order food and drink ahead of the flight, and it’s advised relevant forms are completed in advance – Tui ask for a health declaration and the Spanish authorities will only allow entry with a QR code, granted once track and trace details are given.

On board, the experience is very familiar, although inflight magazines and ‘high friction points’ have been removed and loitering for the loos is discouraged. Masks are the main change; they won’t let you on without one. It’s recommended to change face coverings every four hours, so if you plan to arrive at the airport early, you’ll need to pack a few.

Sarah Marshall; Tui plane
Sarah Marshall; Tui plane

Ian, a seasoned flight attendant, says that PPE is one of the biggest challenges for cabin crew. “Our job is to make people happy. We’re used to sharing a joke with passengers, cuddling children, making them smile,” he told me during the flight.

Social distancing and voice-muffling masks do make that job harder. Although the mood on our journey still felt calm and relaxed. No one could contain their excitement about being back in the sky.

“I feel safer here than on a bus or a train,” Ian insisted.

He has a point. Aircraft were already fitted with hospital grade HEPA filters as standard before the outbreak of Covid-19, and now they will be subjected to deeper cleans with disinfectant sprays every 24 hours and longer turnaround times to allow a cleaning blitz in between flights. When we landed, the entry into Ibiza was surprisingly smooth; a simple scan of the QR code, a passport check and I was through. Admittedly, there were fewer crowds – one of the advantages of travelling now. 

Tui has vowed they will only take British travellers to countries where there are no mandatory testing or quarantine requirements. They’ve also announced details of a new Covid-19 Cover programme, given to every Tui traveller until the end of the year. They promise to take care of costs for testing, repatriation and self-isolation if required. And there’s an option to reschedule a holiday free of charge if you contract Covid-19 in the UK.

Like so many tour operators, Tui is tasked with rebuilding customer trust and confidence. But they’ve made it their mission to give British travellers their well-deserved summer break. Richard Sofer, Tui’s Commercial Business Development Director, told me flights are already looking busy for the next three weeks and all-inclusive properties are selling well. 

Even if the idea of a bundled break has never previously appealed, it could be one of the safest options this year. The package holiday will look different, but with customer reassurance and a smoother, more orderly airport experience, it’s never been so neatly wrapped.

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