It will article where I will focus on how looked like a travel back to the UK during and what is the difference from my typical flight. I will write about:
- My road trip from Tianjin to Beijing.
- Time at Beijing Capital International.
- Give a link to my another article about my experience on the flight from Beijing to Hong Kong.
- Transfer to connecting flight at Hong Kong International Airport.
- Flight to The UK
- Go through the arrival in the UK and trip to home.
- Other points
- My tips if you happen to have a similar trip.
I will not judge staff, regulations and extra steps related to COVID-19 (coronavirus).
Abbreviations and Definitions
- HK – Hong Kong
Bullet points as key points to take away
- It was a much smoother trip than I anticipated. Flying from China to the UK didn’t change too much during COVID-19 outbreak. There a few extra steps and screening but nothing clickbaity-worth controversy.
- The road trip was smooth with one hiccup related out of nowhere changes in regulations.
- Airports add extra security measures in the form of health form declaration, temperature check and a few others.
- The Cathay Dragon flight was lighting fast. We arrived 53 minutes earlier on a plane that is scheduled for 3 hours 50 minutes, and this flight had “modified service”. I wrote a separate article about this experience here:
- The flight on BA was an ordinary one but on an extraordinary Airbus A380!
- The going through UK Border was a smooth including extra screening bits and pieces but again nothing drastic.
In my previous post, I wrote how looked my life on the extended visit to China. If you didn’t read and you want to catch up, read this post: https://dominiksymonowicz.com/2020/02/07/life-in-china-during-coronavirus-outbreak-from-foreginer-point-of-view/
If you don’t want to read, then it is a quick recap. My original flight was scheduled to be on 8 February. It was cancelled, and I and my wife with son needed to rebook. We managed to book an indirect flight from Beijing Capital Airport to London Heathrow via Hong Kong. The first leg will be on Cathay Dragon (A new airline for me) and the second leg will be on BA32.
For me, it meant, swap 11 hours in premium economy with 18 hours in economy class. Later on, our second part of the flight was cancelled, and we were rebooked to BA28, which fly … 15 minutes later, but it was in Airbus A380!
The time came, and it is time to go back to the UK.
The Road Trip from Tianjin to Beijing
In the morning I checked the status of our flights. BA’s inbound flight departed 90 minutes late due to the storm in the UK, but the departure time was still the same.
Initially, I planned to left home in Tianjin at 12.30 to arrive around 15.00 at the airport, so we will have enough time to get to the check-in. The plan changed in the early morning. According to the navigation app, there was a massive queue near the security check on the entrance to Beijing and place where you get a permit to get to the city. We left home at 11.50. Forty-five minutes earlier than planned.
Tianjin’s street was almost empty in comparison to what I usually see on the roads at that time. The public buses transport mainly air and the busiest bus I saw had around six people, but most of them were empty and with lonely bus drivers.
I expected queues near cities/expressway entry/exit gates due to checks. When we arrived, there was no queue, and the police checked only people who are entering Tianjin but not leaving.
When we left Tianjin and went to expressway, the road was quite empty.
We arrived at the security checkpoint at the entrance to Beijing. There was no queue to a checkpoint and no queue to a place where you get a certificate. It turns out that you need to do it online and not here anymore, and if you do online, you can do only for the next day. The expressway to the airport was half empty. It was the first time when during the whole trip we didn’t encounter any traffic jam! We arrived 75 minutes earlier than planned!
At Beijing Capital International Airport
At the entrance, everyone had to go through usual a security check, but then you had another check by medical staff that screens you. In our case, staff focus mainly on our son as he didn’t wear the mask properly.
We arrived so early that we needed to wait for 90 minutes for check-in gates to be open. The airport was quite empty except a massive queue to Thai flight.
It was so quiet at the airport that you can hear somebody sneeze quite far away from you and you can also know where sneeze happen as everyone around it look toward a poor person. It happens only once, but it was interesting to see.
The queue to check-in was around 15 people (as turns out later, it was half of the passenger of that flight). It took them much longer to do it as they have a spreadsheet with some information about passengers. However, they didn’t ask any additional questions.
After check-in, you go through a usual proper security check, but before that, you need to fill health declaration and hand into officer later and before you go through the gate that checks temperature (this gate exists before COVID-19 )
One thing that surprised us that you are not allowed to bring alcohol-based soap on your hand luggage. I don’t know the reason behind it.
The lines to border check were almost empty, and shops and restaurants were empty.
After security, we went to an empty restaurant with full of bored staff. We decided to eat there as we weren’t sure what food would get during are 2-leg the flight. Spoiler alert, it turns out to be a lifesaver. After enjoying a meal, it was time to fly.
The Cathay Dragon KA993 flight from Beijing to Hong Kong
I wrote a blog about my experience with flying Cathay Dragon here: https://dominiksymonowicz.com/2020/02/20/the-cathay-dragon-economy-class-from-beijing-to-hong-kong-during-the-covid-2019-outbreak-flight-experience/
The Hong Kong International Airport
When we landed, our airplane stopped on the remote gate. All people left through the front door while the crew cabin remains in the galley. I admire all effort they put into reducing the chance for staff from being infected. All passengers were put into the bus and transport to specially created arrival place for passengers from China. It wasn’t a VIP experience as I hoped, but we haven’t been treat like a “prisoner of war” either.
I came inside, and then middle-aged Asian male stopped me, he meanwhile stays in the position very similar to a policeman who is about to shut a gun. However, instead of the pistol, he took his temperature gun, but for me, it looks like he will shot me in the head. They also take your health declaration and then you can walk through a maze where they check your boarding pass, and then you can go to actual arrival. We went through the transfer zone, where they did the same check as on arrival plus security check of your bag. Nothing special but it annoys group of folks from Manchester who are moaning about it.”Why we are rechecked if we just do a transfer?”. It was a moment where I start feeling like I am going back home in the UK. Nothing better than hearing moaning in a British accent.
Anyway, after that, we were in the departure terminal. We had 100 minutes instead of 65 minutes because our airplane arrived 50 minutes earlier and our flight was 15 minutes later. We decided to go to the restaurant where serve expensive but tasty dishes.
I heard about some places had a message that they don’t serve Mandarin-speaking people. The place we went to serve us as a normal customer despite my wife speak to them in the mandarin.
It was great to eat something delicious after too salty chicken in a sweet bun served on the Cathay Dragon. We finished eating food, and it was time for boarding to BA’s flight, so I didn’t have time to explore the airport itself.
The British Airways BA28 flight from Hong Kong to London
The flight on BA was an ordinary one but on an extraordinary Airbus A380!
While usually, BA needs two big airplanes for an overnight trip to London. This time they feel everybody in one Airbus 380 that still has a bit of space
I was happy that BA32 was cancelled because we had an extra 15 minutes for transfer at Hong Kong and it means that I will be flying on Airbus A380 instead of Boeing 777. A380 is such a fantastic aircraft. It feels so spacious, and it is quieter.
How was the flight? It was a typical uneventful flight.
- In the beginning, staff sprayed the cabin with something that WHO recommended but has nothing to do with COVID-19.
- The staff also was kind enough to keep 21-23 degrees which is a perfect temperature. For comparison, the temperature on the Cathay Dragon was 27-30 degrees.
- I have no idea what’s wrong with my face, but every single time when I ask BA staff for a bottle of wine I get two bottles 😀
- A row in front of us was empty; my wife and I used it as a bed during flight.
On arrival into UK airspace, we needed to slow down because Heathrow is not open until 4.30 am :). That never happened to me before. Usually, we arrive late and then circle around like a drunk student on the way to home after the epic party.
At London Heathrow Airport
I was curious what how we look interrogation at UK border except screening everything look the same and we were free to go. That’s all.
It was the most smooth experience ever.
Life after back to the UK
In our case, we didn’t require quarantine, and we can we carry on, but we were told that if any symptoms appear in 14 days, we should call 111. We got leaflet with all the information.
As a precaution, we decided to reduce our interaction with other people for two weeks to minimum. We didn’t send our son to nursery for two weeks too, while legally we could do that but we understand it will cause some stress and inconvenience to nursery and parents. I back to work in the office but I tried to avoid any travels or lunch walks.
Flight with toddler
The flight with a toddler during this time is an interesting challenge. Our son made this even more interesting, because he learnt to do two things recently:
- Licking things like wall or floor.
- He likes to pretend to cough.
Yeap. Two new skills that you don’t want your child to know, but luckily, he didn’t use his new superpowers. He also hates wearing a mask. In this case that I didn’t force him to wear it, because the most critical thing in reducing the risk of being infected is to wash your kid hands and make a sure child do not touch their face. It means, if your kid hates wearing a mask and it starts touching mask, then it is better to NOT wear it. During our flight only one passenger was complain about it to another one about our “parenting” (luckily not in English, so I didn’t react to it and to be honest I will not bother as it is a waste of time).
- I think it is crucial to shows empathy and be understandable for all people who are affected by COVID-19 and need to work in the places of high risk. I was as nice as I could, and I tried to do my best to reduce contact to a minimum because you can see that people are stressed. Don’t expect First Class, 5-star customer service.
- The flight with a toddler during this time is an interesting challenge. Recently my son learnt to do two things.
- 1. Licking things like wall or floor.
- 2. He likes to pretend to cough.
- 3. As a bonus, He hates wearing a mask
- The most important thing in reducing the risk of being infected is to wash your kid hands and make a sure child do not touch their face. It means if wearing mask increase touching face a lot; then, it is better to NOT wear it. Remember, all guidances said that the most important is to wash hands and avoid touch face. It was one passenger who starts to speak to another one with some compliments about us as parents (luckily not in English, so I didn’t react to it).
- I used an app on the tablet for measurement noise levels and on the average was A380 got 55 decibels in a cabin full of sleeping people vs A330 66 decibels in an empty cabin.
- A few tips, if you travel from Beijing that may surprise you:
- If you have a powerbank, make sure it has information about the capacity on the case. The limit is here 100. if not, they will not let you take it.
- If you got an explosive version on MacBook Pro or Samsung, then they are still banned here.
In retrospective, it was a pretty standard trip with a few unique experiences directly related to the outbreak but nothing stressful or troublesome. The most significant difference was that things were quieter and smoother. The road was much less busy. The airport looks quite deserted. The most unique part was a flight from Beijing to Hong Kong. Main reasons were sitting of almost empty wide-body aircraft, modified service and the fact that it was much faster than a scheduled flight. Another unique part was a ‘welcome party’ experience before getting to the arrival hall at HK airport. Everything else looks almost the same.
Below I wrote a few tips, tricks and bits of advice that was helpful during my flight back and you may find them useful if you need back during that time:
- Wash your hand every 30 minutes properly and do not touch your face. Have some hand cream for hands.
- Have your emergency food and snack for a trip. It may be tricky to find an open restaurant at the airport. The flight may have modified/limited food options, and it is much more likely you will don’t like it, or there will be no food options.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Allow extra time to do all things. We had a smooth experience, but things are quite random in comparison to what you will typically expect. There is less staff, and things get done slowly, so when the airport, checkpoint and get suddenly busy due to a large group of people will arrive.
- Show empathy does the staff that work there and don’t expect “five stars customer service.”
- Organize your hand luggage. Make sure it is easy to go through security checks as you may go through more checks. Try to organize your backpack with smaller bags. For example, I use one compartment of my bag with all electronics and bag with essentials (mouse, powerbanks, cables and son). I have a few small bags. One is an amenity kit and another fluid.
- Be prepared that your flight got disturbed or you will get quarantined. Have a little bag with enough medicine for 14 days, pyjama and anything else that you need like a tablet.
- If you got symptoms, wear a mask and alert cabin crew.
- Keep a copy of your documents. (i keep in the cloud so I can access from anywhere).
- Stay positive, happy and enjoy a trip like it is a typical trip that you are excited about it because it will be probably a regular trip.
I apologize for any inconvenience caused by wasting your precious time reading this review.