Last week we had our first experience of travelling during COVID times. Despite Brexit and COVID, our journey to Finland was reasonably smooth, although not exactly enjoyable.
Our timing could not have been better regarding Finland lifting travel restrictions. We flew out on Thursday 29th and from Monday 26th Finland no longer required travellers to take COVID tests as long as you meet certain criteria one of which is having had both jabs.
Not having to worry about taking (and paying for) COVID tests at both ends was definitely a relief.
It’s oh so quiet…
When we arrived at Heathrow, it was like a ghost town. Even when I have taken early bird flights in the past, have I ever seen the airport so quiet. The check-in areas were deserted except for a few other people checking in for the same flight as us.
The check-in process itself was quick and smooth and they did not check our COVID certificates at this point. The only hitch was with the bike boxes. One had Justin’s bike and the other all our panniers and bike bags (my bike was waiting for me in Finland). Justin had to wheel the boxes off to security where he had to unpack everything! He had to empty our carefully packed boxes, and the security swabbed each item before he could rebox them.
A good job we arrived at Heathrow four hours before our flight!
The security told Justin that we should have sent our boxes to Heathrow in advance. Then they could have scanned them to avoid having to unpack everything. When we booked the bike boxes on to our flight, there was no mention of sending the boxes to the airport early.
When we got to Raahe (my hometown), I checked the Finnair and Heathrow Airport websites for rules on travelling with bike boxes. Nowhere did it mention that we should send them to the airport early.
If it is a new practice, then it should be clearly mentioned when booking your bike boxes (or other large items) on to a flight. Had we not arrived so early, we would have missed our flight as it took about 40 minutes to unpack, swab and repack everything.
But it is a lesson learnt – probably first of many! When we need to fly our bikes again, we will check whether the security requires us to send the bike boxes to the airport in advance.
Another ‘oh so quiet’ airport awaited us at Helsinki.
Helsinki-Vantaa is my favourite airport. It has one of the best selections of bars, restaurants and shops that I have seen at any airport and usually it is bustling with people.
But not this time. It was as quiet as Heathrow.
We were glad it was quiet though, as no one could use the electronic passport gates. During busy times, it must take a while to get through border control as everyone has to present their COVID passports or a negative test result on entry.
It was also somehow intimidating how they question people, except the returning Finns, regarding their reasons for visiting. Even though I knew our coming to Finland is 100% allowed, I still felt nervous. Especially as the border controller checking our passports was a right grumpy bugger.
After border control, we had to rush for our connecting flight to Oulu. No time for a quick pint at our favourite airport pub the Oak Barrell.
I usually love travelling and spending time at airports eating and drinking and guessing where people are coming from and going to.
This time, although it was easy enough other than the bike box saga, I could only relax once we were on the plane.
You know how airports are normally full of excited people looking forward to their holidays? This time I didn’t get the same feeling. Somehow, everyone seemed tense. Maybe it was because for many it was probably the first time they had flown since the pandemic began and we didn’t know what to expect.
I’m grateful we could travel to Finland and I am grateful borders are reopening. But I can’t wait until life returns to the airports and we no longer need to show our COVID passports when traveling. Although, sadly, we might have to wait for that to happen for a while longer yet.
I can’t claim I’m an expert on travelling during Covid times. However, I wanted to finish with a few tips based on our experience.
- Keep checking the entry requirements to the country you are travelling to as things can change rapidly;
- Download the COVID passport certificate to your phone in case you cannot access the internet;
- Get to the airport in plenty of time. When we got to Heathrow, it was super quiet. We got checked in and through security (once the bikes had been checked) really quickly. However, a security guard at Heathrow told us there are busy times when waiting times can stretch to a few hours. You don’t want to get caught and miss your flight;
- If you are travelling with an item that exceeds the size limit of regular luggage, check with the airport if you need to send it in advance;
- Enjoy being able to travel again!
We start our ride this Sunday. Make sure to sign up for the newsletter to follow our journey!
Until next time!
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