As we have previously reported, Heathrow Terminal 3 is currently closed. As a result, a number of airlines have had to move their operations between terminals.
Notable amongst these are Oneworld carriers going into Terminal 5, and Virgin Atlantic and Delta moving into Terminal 2. This is because since April 2020 Terminal 3 has been closed.
We took a tour of Terminal 5 with British Airways and Iberia a few months ago, and you can read more about that
This time we were in Terminal 2 to see the measures Delta and Virgin are taking in their new home in these pandemic times.
In many ways, as you would expect, since all airlines are working with Heathrow Airport on those measures, there is a consistency of approach, even if some of the finer details are different.
In the case of Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines, the similarities are more pronounced, and so the following isn’t a ‘compare and contrast’. Virgin and Delta are different airlines with different staff and different brand promises, but behind the scenes the knowledge they have in the new Covid-19 protocols is being shared, and so are resources. To take one specific example, we went on to both a Virgin aircraft and a Delta one as they were parked at T2. In both cases the aircraft were being sprayed by an electrostatic spray before passengers boarded (you can watch this in the video when it is posted), and it was the same individual doing the spraying. For this reason, it’s not possible, or desirable, to claim that one of the airlines is doing a better job than the other, and if we focus, on the video, more on the HEPA filters with Delta or the food offering with Virgin, that’s just a reflection of how the limited time was used as we toured Terminal 2.
Virgin Atlantic continues to adhere to and often exceed the guidance and regulation of the different authorities involved, including the World Health Organization (WHO), Public Health England (PHE) Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Virgin Atlantic are implementing and continually reviewing the following health and safety measures in response to Covid-19.
At the airport
As you take the lift up to Departures at Terminal 2, you’ll find that there is now an attempt at a one-way system, so that one set of doors is for entrance, and the other is Exit (this applies in Arrivals as well as you leave the terminal to make your way to the underground or the short stay car parks.
All passengers are being encouraged to fill in a pre-flight online questionnaire there are also in-person verbal interviews at check-in, with the possibility of denied boarding if there si cause for concern on the part of airline staff.
There are plenty of hand sanitizer stations at the check in and also, later, at the gate area, and certainly many people seemed to be using them, although there’s always the risk that the people who do use them are the ones who don’t really need to, and vice versa.
The push for online check-in continues, as does the use of self-service kiosks, all of which have surfaces which are being cleaned regularly with “high-grade products, tested to be effective against viruses”.
Throughout the airport there are social distancing measures, and particularly at potential crowding points such as check-in, security and the boarding gates, and these include signs on the floor as well as Perspex screens where appropriate to protect both staff and customers.
At security, trays are wiped after use, security teams wear masks and there are reduced lanes and longer queues – or at least there will be when more passengers return to flying.
Once airside past security, it’s quite a sight noticing just how many seats have been blocked off so that social distancing can be maintained.
Unfortunately, since T3 is closed, so is the award-winning Virgin Clubhouse and instead both airlines are using the Plaza premium lounge at T2.
For those eligible, both airlines are using the Plaza Premium Lounge in Terminal 2
Boarding is limited to small groups of customers, and if there are two air bridges attached it is from both the front and the back. From what we saw at Heathrow, the boarding takes place from the normal door, but by row from the rear of the aircraft so preventing passengers from walking down the aisle past passengers already seated to minimise contact.
On boarding, customers are asked to scan their own boarding pass and hold up their passport for inspection, again, to minimise contact.
All staff (and passengers) have to wear face masks, and both airlines require this as a condition of flying, unless there is a medical reason for not doing so (and as you’d expect, there needs to be evidence of this). Anecdotally, the airlines said they have had no problem with this, though obviously just as with public transport, you do get people walking around the aircraft wearing face masks incorrectly (not covering nose and mouth) and taking advantage of drinking from a bottle so they can walk around with the mask unfastened.
In economy and premium economy, some seats have been blocked, and they are marked with pillows indicating this (you can see that on the video).
All customers will receive a Health Pack – Personal Protection Equipment kit with three medical grade masks, surface wipes and hand sanitiser. The idea is that on a long haul flight if you change the mask every three hours, then this will provide protection for the entire flight.
On both airlines, inflight magazines have been removed 9and the duty free magazines, where there was one).
Food and drink
For Virgin, the same food is currently being offered in both economy and premium economy. It is hot food, heated in the normal way but then laced on a tray with minimum contact and then delivered to the passenger’s seat.
Business class passengers (Upper Class in Virgin’s case) have a choice of three hot meals, desserts, including cheese & biscuits, which will be delivered to the seat on a tray.
We had a demonstration of this both on the Delta aircraft and the Virgin aircraft and it seemed to work well and would reassure anyone who perhaps would be nervous about uncovered food being served (or plated as they term it) in front of them, but with the possibility of a flight attendant breathing on it.
For those who like a drink, both airlines are offering a selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and snacks in all cabins, though as you’d expect, the selection is more extensive in the premium cabins.
There’s a big emphasis on this, as with all the airlines
The products used are routinely referred to as “hospital grade”, though I was reassured that Virgin also called these products “registered”, since you certainly wouldn’t want unregistered products being sprayed around or used to disinfect if you then had to sit in the cabin for ten hours.
All aircraft interiors are now “fogged”, which is electrostatic spraying) of high-grade disinfectant in all our cabins before every flight.
There are also dedicated isolation areas in place on each flight for any customers or crew who may potentially present symptoms onboard.
All air on board filtered through highly effective High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that remove dust, allergens, bacteria, viruses and other particles from cabin air (testing shows a removal efficiency of 99.999%), with vertical air flow, refreshing cabin air completely every 2-3 minutes.
We will have a separate video on that with an employee of the airline explaining the science and practicalities behind it.
An extremely impressive demonstration from start to finish. The thought that has gone into all of these measures, and the care with which they are being undertaken is testament to how the staff at both airlines are passionate about reassuring travellers that everything possible is being done to keep them safe.
At the same time there is realism from the airlines that without government action on testing, and the introduction of some travel corridors on which it can be trialled, blanket bans on travel or two-week quarantines are going to continue to hamper any prospect of a recovery.
We can only hope that more passengers can experience the new journey through the airport and onward flights with the carriers in the months to come.