(This report was written by Gabriella Ribeiro of TruMarketing. Since I traveled with her, and she described our trip better than I ever could, I figured I’d post her report here and share it with my audience. It was a trip to remember, and I’m so glad I put my fears aside and did it. Enjoy the writeup! (All photos mine)
I’ve been out of circulation as far as airports go for a while now, my last visit was in June and even between then and now, I’ve seen changes. June was scarily empty at EWR, this time it was heavier traffic although not crowded at all.
Minimal lines at security and I found myself a bit less worried about touching bins, placing my items on the belt. I think it’s important (if not a little bit obsessive, admittedly) to continue to wipe everything down. I packed a ton of wipes, sanitizer kept readily available in my pocket and really, those were staples throughout every leg of the journey.
I also saw many more shops and food outlets open which was great! Restaurants, food courts, fast food, etc and it wasn’t as limited as the last time. That was encouraging and notable.
Now, lounges are a different story. The United lounge at EWR is the only one I’ve been to at my home base here and that was exactly the same both times. I used to think of it as this haven, a magical place to rest, restore and get ready for what’s to come but sadly it’s different- same when I was at LAX back in June. Food is minimal at best, most of it is shrink wrapped if its fruit or muffins which is pretty much what breakfast is, lunches are generally bags of chips, the occasional Nutri Grain bar, etc as opposed to the large selections, buffets, etc in the past. There still is bar service, and self serve machines which I was surprised about as I have been seeing so many places eliminate them but still, coffee and sodas were on one’s own.
There are plenty of markers to remind you about social distancing between tables but fortunately it wasn’t too crowded regardless. So, if you’re looking for a lavish buffet, this isn’t the place.
Boarding was orderly, socially distant and went swiftly. (Peter note: It helps to be higher tier in your airline’s frequent flier program, but even last groups were boarding socially distant and without any issues.)
Much like my last flight, I felt entirely comfortable. Masks are entirely enforced and honestly, really, it’s not that bad. I was facing 2 very long flights with an extremely long transfer time in between but really, you still wind up just doing your thing. You talk to your travel partner, you work, you watch movies, you sleep, you just do it with a mask on and it just becomes something you don’t even notice.
IMPORTANT– food service has ENTIRELY changed on board. I highly suggest that if you are hungry or even anticipate being hungry, go get something before your flight and bring it on board. I was fortunate to be in Business Class on this journey and also in June so I can only speak to what I’ve experienced and honestly, in no way is this coming off as any sort of complaint! This is just the honest view of what I saw:
Tickets are still expensive and the flight attendants try so hard, but it’s just not what it once was. Meals are rushed, trays are given with food packages loaded one on top of the other all at the same time so they can take it away as soon as possible as you’re not supposed to have your mask off for any sort of “long time,” beverages are not always plentiful. For example: On Lufthansa, no diet soda because they have limited capacity and had to make choices based on majority rule/preference. They also cannot open any drinks for you so you’re served the whole can or large bottle of whatever you want (except for wine of course!) so that’s a little different.
There’s very little contact, nothing on the meal is opened before you receive it so everything’s covered in foil or shrink wrap so not as attractive as it once was either. However, again, small price to pay for being able to be back up in the skies. The flights went quickly and it was all OK.
TRANSIT / CONNECTIONS / FORMS!
I was concerned about this part because as you know, Americans aren’t permitted into most of Europe so I had no idea how this was all going to work.
They were highly concerned about social distancing when leaving the plane so they called by row number to get up which was all fine, UNTIL we got to the airbus as no jetway was available. There, we were packed like sardines and there was absolutely zero distancing so that was that. (Peter note: It was the most annoying thing ever. Like, we do so well, then it’s all undone by a stupid bus ride. BUT…)
WHOMEVER GOT ON THAT PLANE HAD TO PROVE THEY WERE COVID-NEGATIVE SO THAT SORT OF BRINGS YOU A BIT OF A HEIGHTENED SENSE OF SECURITY- THEY DON’T DO THAT ON DOMESTIC FLIGHTS SO KEEP THAT IN MIND.
We were headed to Dubai as our final destination and they require a negative COVID test within 96 hours of arrival so we had that sorted but what about the procedure in Germany? It was a bit unclear and they gave us LOTS of exhaustive paperwork to fill out on the EWR/FRA flight so we did it all, however, upon landing, there was nothing to pass through. Nobody asked for any forms whatsoever and we just proceeded straight to the lounge.
I found that experience to be much different out of the country. We connected through Frankfurt and the Lufthansa lounge was great. There was a selection of hot food although you were served versus being able to take your own, but still, the rest was self service- pretzels, chips, nuts, snacks, full range of coffees and beverages all at your will. The spa and showers were fully open as well and extremely well looked after with full sanitization procedures in place so I felt safe.
Now, again another thing that is important. In most cases with these COVID tests, 2 things are hyper critical outside of it of course being negative:
1. PRINT IT OUT!!
2. BE SURE IT’S IN ENGLISH!
When it came time to board the FRA/DXB flight, that was pure mayhem, I haven’t seen anything like that really ever in an airport. We were way off to the side but at the gate where they were doing document checks, there was a lot of yelling, screaming, demanding, fuming… Security guards were busy and the poor people behind the counters were truly about to lose it. I don’t know how they maintained as long as they did.
Apparently the communication of this rule isn’t stellar so there were so many people pitching up at the gate with just the test on their phone, or their laptop (no hard copies.) Some folks were from France and just had it in French, and the list went on. We saw people absolutely losing their minds. Some were trying to get into a lounge to ask a favor for it to be printed, others were making all sorts of calls back home to ask people to help but it was panic and it caused our flight to be quite delayed. (Peter note: Keep in mind, the flight was on Lufthansa, which means it’s always going to be delayed regardless.)
Moving forward, I don’t know that this kind of thing is going to be tolerated so know this and print everything just in case.
Again, on the flight from FRA to DXB, we were given a ton more paperwork with repetitive questions, back and forth, over and over again. We completed them all and upon landing, absolutely nobody asked for them or cared to look. It could have just been the time of day (after all it was 1:30 AM) and I am not advocating that you don’t do the paperwork, it was just surprising to see. The COVID test printout though was highly crucial and that was absolutely reviewed.
We had our DMC picking us up at the airport (Equifax Tourism who are WONDERFUL!) and the vehicle was spotless, equipped with plenty of extra masks, sanitizer, wipes and such and the driver wore a mask as did we. It was seamless and throughout the trip, any mode of transport was at the same level.
This was one of the parts of the journey I was most interested in as far as guest experience – flights are easy to guess as the formula is fairly simple but hotels are a different story- it’s character, personality, warmth mixed in with hyper sanitization now so I worried that it might feel clinical. But, just like my last stay in June , this was stellar. Home base for us this time was the Armani Hotel, which is set in the iconic Burj Khalifa. SPOTLESS. There were sanitizer stations loaded everywhere but discreet so it didn’t feel clinical, yet was readily available at every corner, literally. Elevators, restaurants, lobby areas, lounges, each floor. You could see people shining things up, cleaning everything even when it already looked clean and shiny, great care was taken to ensure things were refreshed even down to things like pens, bottled water on demand, the Nespresso machine was polished each day even as some mornings I would notice my fingerprints and they’d be gone by the time I got back to the room in the afternoon.
The pool area was also spotless, set up for social distancing as was the gym. Temperatures were taken, and capacity was controlled as well as in the spa.
As far as breakfast, I was wondering how the former buffet would have been handled and to be honest, that was always one of my favorite parts of the experience. It’s different, truthfully. The restaurant serving breakfast here is stunning, high ceilings, oversized tables, and there were a few stations set up for browsing including gorgeous pastries, yogurts, etc but you were not able to touch a thing. Not even a plate. There are plenty of people around to serve you so you simply just point and hold your hand out for the plate to be customized, and this is accompanied by a hot and cold menu that you can select from (scanned via QR code through your phone). You still can get anything you like, as much as you like, but it all has to be requested, and absolutely nothing is self serve. (Peter Note: I HATE THIS. My whole life revolves around amazing Asian and Middle East breakfast buffets, and they’re gone. I know this is is a huge first-world problem, but still. It makes me sad.)
In most places such as malls, airports, hotels, there are temperature scanners set up on tripods everywhere, to add another layer of check.
In Dubai, people are absolutely living their lives, respectful of health precautions and it was impressive to see. Malls are open, everything really is open and people are roaming around freely yet in compliance. You see everyone in a mask, people frequently sanitizing their hands as it is readily available everywhere, even in the desert at any of the experiences.
Again, everything on the experience side had the highest health protocols and standards in place from the vehicles to electronics vs paper and pen for signatures, etc. We did a seaplane adventure and everyone’s temperature was scanned, the plane was highly sanitized and they also required everyone to wear gloves.
We did a hot air balloon safari and though there were 20 people on the balloon, there were plastic dividers for each basket, temperature checks, masks enforced and then divisions in the vehicles even further so less people per vehicle followed by socially distant seating for breakfast in the desert where again food was served to you upon your request vs taking any items yourself, not even a plate.
Restaurants don’t use physical menus by and large, opting rather for iPads that they clean frequently, or QR codes you can scan with your phone. Most of the restaurants and cafes we went to also had full bottles of sanitizer and boxes of either tissues or wipes right on each table for the guests so that was a nice touch as well.
We decided to get a Covid test onsite in Dubai just in case- of course we first wanted to be sure we were OK up to that point, but also with the rules changing as rapidly as they tend to do these days, it felt like the more responsible thing to do. In Dubai at least, it was so swift! Our DMC knew exactly where to bring us, it took less than 5 minutes and they emailed the results to us less than 12 hours later so that was great and added a bit more security for us for the journey home.
It was an amazing trip. I haven’t been out of the country really since January and this world has been turned on its head since then so I honestly had very little idea what to truly expect despite reading every single piece of travel related news that I could get my hands on over the past few months. Is it weird? Yes, a little.Is it different? Of course.
Parts of it are strange and its easy to get a little frustrated especially on a long journey with so many moving parts and so much thought put into your every move (wiping seats, tables, common areas, being mindful not to touch anything, pulling your sleeve over your hand to open doors…) I’m not going to tell you it doesn’t add a layer to the day but honestly, when you look back, it’s all a very little price to pay for being able to see the world again. It didn’t for one second diminish my excitement and happiness and we wouldn’t have traded it for the world.
Already thinking about where to go again next. It was great and I hope you consider doing it yourself again soon. Especially Dubai- it’s brilliant and a true example of how things can get back to as normal as possible given the circumstances.