As part of Travel Weekly’s Roadmap to Recovery focus, Virgin Voyages associate vice-president of international sales Shane Lewis-Riley reports back on his personal holiday to Menorca with husband Rob and son Mason 

Like so many of the population we have seen our holiday plans dashed over the past few months, with holidays cancelled and not knowing when we could travel again.

We joked with friends and family that we would be on the first flight out of the UK when we could. And while we weren’t quite on the very first flight, we weren’t far off – heading to Menorca at 6am on the first day of operations by Jet2. This holiday was booked back in December and by pure chance coincided with the quarantine restrictions lifting.

Great Expectations

As we both work in travel, it’s in our blood and we live for our holidays. We were so excited to get away after such a strange time but the excitement was matched by nervousness. Luckily for me, I have my own in-house (literally) travel agent as Rob (the other Mr Lewis-Riley) is a store manager at Hays Travel and was well aware of what we needed to do.

The pre-travel communications from Jet2 were clear and Birmingham Airport’s website was well detailed so we knew what to expect, but it does help to have a great travel agent to ensure you haven’t missed anything! When reading the health and safety procedures it can seem very sterile and you begin to wonder if this will soak up all the holiday excitement, but we arrived at the airport 2.5 hours before departure with those familiar holiday butterflies.

Did we miss it?!

Walking towards the Birmingham Airport terminal it was clear that only passengers should enter the terminal. Walking through the doors there were body temperature checkers that were barely noticeable…in-fact one of us didn’t even notice at all (no comment).

Check-in was slick and even the masks of the Jet2 team couldn’t dampen their smiles and enthusiasm as they welcomed us like old friends. Documentation is shown rather than handed over and passengers use the self-service check-in machines with plenty of masked (but still smiling) Jet2 team members to help out.

Masks are “encouraged” but not compulsory at check-in; however, all passengers we saw were wearing masks and its was comforting to know that everyone in the building had a temperature check. Going through security, this is the only place where masks are compulsory but the lines were well managed and it felt like a much calmer experience. The travelling public seemed to have adapted to a new way of flying just as we did when we first learnt about removing shoes and liquids. On the ‘other side’, there were limited options but that should change as retailers and restaurants begin to open over the next few days.

Ready to go

At the departure gate passengers were reminded that masks were compulsory for the duration of the flight with the exception of eating and drinking. Jet2 did a great job of reminding passengers without the process feeling policed. There was much excitement in the air and masks seemed like a minimal compromise to go on holiday.

Boarding was by group number and was efficient. Upon boarding it was clear just how much the crew missed doing their jobs as they were practically jumping with joy as we stepped aboard their office for the day.

Touchdown

Arriving into Menorca couldn’t have been easier. We had completed the Spanish health form online so had our QR codes ready. After passport control we had a temperature check (the same process as Birmingham). And yes, one of us failed to notice again!

Then we were through to baggage collection, before getting into our hire car within 30 minutes of touching down. The process was eased by completing the documentation online 48 hours before travelling – those completing on arrival seemed to have a longer wait. Thanks heavens for my travel agent husband (but don’t tell him that).

Viva Espana

Life in Spain is largely as we remember it. It’s our third time to Menorca and we’re lucky enough to be enjoying a villa. Masks are required in shops and when it’s not possible to social distance. It’s July and the resort feels much quieter than normal, but there is no shortage of places to eat and drink.

We’ve booked a few of our favourite restaurants who have advised us their outdoor terraces have been fully booked for the past couple of weeks. Everyone is very welcoming and you can see what it means to the local people having tourists back. Rightfully, they have their own concerns about international travellers, but we’re showing our faith and trust in each other.

Back to my sun-lounger

So, is it different? Yes. It does feel different but not in a bad way. It’s having the best weather but not the summer crowds. As an industry perhaps we owe it to the public to lead by example and show them there’s safe ways to holiday.

I’m heading back to my sun-lounger now feeling comforted that holidays are still possible. Each sector will find new ways to evolve and I’m looking forward to the future of safe, responsible travel.