Sailing into a brave new world: Ferry firms promise fresh air, face masks and reduced capacities, our Travel Editor says
Fresh air. Fog machines. Face masks... and lots of space for social distancing.
It’s not just airlines ringing the changes for post-lockdown trips. Ferries are sailing into a brave new world, too. So as European travel approaches again, and when bookings tick back up, what’s in store?
Irish Ferries, Stena Line and Brittany Ferries are highlighting three obvious USPs — “fresh sea air”, ample space and private cabins.
“Ferry travel is the only mode of transport where you can social distance,” Stena’s CEO Niclas Martensson says. “No air is re-circulated,” Irish Ferries adds. Sanitisation is enhanced (hence Stena’s fog machines), and you can expect distancing stickers, Perspex screens and hand sanitiser at every turn.
On board, most passengers are asked to wear face masks, and ship capacities will be reduced by up to 50pc. Buffets have been replaced with plate service or packaged food. Expect cashless payments, and cinemas and playrooms to be closed. Isolation areas are ready for suspect cases; Brittany has dedicated nurses on board.
In terminals, staggered boarding and disembarking will help avoid queues in stairwells and lifts. Prepare to face health questions (if there are indications of suspected Covid-19, passengers “will be denied boarding,” Stena says). Brittany, which resumed sailing from Cork to France this week, says cabins or reserved seats are compulsory.
“It won’t be the same experience on board, at least to start with,” CEO Christophe Mathieu explains. “However, it will still be a relaxing sea bridge to take you to the beautiful destinations you have been dreaming of.”
Ferries haven’t been without their Covid-19 controversies, of course. During the crisis, passengers complained about difficulties contacting customer service, and outstanding payments being deducted for trips they couldn’t take due to travel restrictions (ferry companies say they were transparent and offered “enhanced flexibility” in an unprecedented situation). Unlike airlines, many routes continued during lockdown to maintain supplies and provide for essential travel.
If France or the UK appear on Ireland’s ‘Green List’ for overseas travel things will pick up. It won’t be holidays as usual, but the hope is that some leisure business can be recovered this summer... not least among holidaymakers.
As with any kind of travel in the new normal, my advice is to inform yourself before bookings. Read the Covid-19 Q&As and cancellation policies, prepare accordingly, read up on what to expect at your destination as well as on board, and plan for what to do if anyone feels sick.
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In over 30 years of covering the cruise industry, I've taken more than 60 cruises. I enjoy sailing on megaships and on smaller vessels. But even when this pandemic is over, it will take a lot to get me to board a cruise ship of any size.
Unlike many of history's great tragedies, the coronavirus pandemic never stunned us with one catastrophic event. Instead, the deadly problem quietly snaked its way around the world, devastating millions as it grew into a global health crisis.