Tips & News

This is What It’s Like to Fly Into the Maldives During COVID (VIDEO)

The Maldives launched the world’s first nationwide loyalty program December 1. Here’s how one of our writers busted out of Hong Kong for the great blue beyond.

Story and photos by Chris Dwyer

Dec 3, 2020

ALL YOU NEEDED to complete the picture at Hong Kong airport were tumbleweeds. At 5 p.m. on a Thursday, there were no other cars, buses or passengers to be seen at the vast drop-off for departures. None. Just me, my wife and our equally bemused Uber driver.

Our first flight in almost eight months was to the Maldives, a country that opened its borders to all from July 15—as long as you present a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test result, taken within the previous 72 hours. We had no choice but to go private for a simple saliva-based test, a hefty US$180 per person, although the Hong Kong government now offers one for around US$40. Travel insurance wasn’t mandatory, but you’d be mad to travel anytime without it.

It felt like we were the only ones going anywhere from an airport used to handling 71 million passengers a year. Adjacent to a new store called Cleanfreak, only two departure screens were needed to list the whole day’s flights, while check-in was all but deserted. They scrutinized our COVID test results, Maldives hotel bookings and travel documents at length before we headed through an empty security line to the one Cathay Pacific lounge in operation, where the staff couldn’t have been warmer.

As for our in-flight protection, if you’ve ever wanted to look like an extra from Mad Max, then go for full-face visors over masks. The distinctly uncomfortable combination is currently mandatory when boarding and deplaning Qatar Airways.

But on board, in the almost-empty business class cabin, happily no one was sporting the dystopian hazmat suit look, nor were people frantically wiping down their seats. Visors came off, drinks were poured and meals served, albeit with everything under plastic wrap. Then, in transit in Doha, we were whisked through to the lounge without going through security, a real bonus that avoided multiple contact points that could concern a nervous traveler.

It was the leg to the Maldivian capital that reminded why we’d chosen to fly again. As the sun rose over the Indian Ocean, I reverted to being a nine-year-old on his first flight, utterly transfixed by the views from the window.  After so long in Hong Kong, a whole new horizon of perfect azure seas and coral-decked atoll was beguiling, beautiful—and borderline emotional.

We had chosen to pay for a VIP arrival service at Male Airport—in hindsight an unnecessary indulgence, as our return journey through the regular terminal was easy and swift—but being met by a car at the plane and taken to a private terminal was the smoothest of landings. Our passports were stamped, our negative COVID tests checked and our bags collected, all while we sipped (bad, but whatever) cappuccinos.

Then Soneva took over, leading us to their lounge where fresh watermelon juice and cacao bites were a taster of a destination that defines sustainable luxury like nowhere else. The final leg was a 40-minute Trans Maldivian Airways seaplane to Soneva Fushi where we were met by the only staff—in fact the only people at all in the resort—wearing masks.

They led us to the truly breath-taking brand new two-bedroom overwater villa, complete with a slide into the ocean, home for our stay. After a totally painless one-off nasal COVID PCR test that took 10 seconds—taken by all staff and guests to guarantee safety—we awaited the (hopefully negative) results. As quarantine locales go, watching dolphins frolic by the reef wasn’t exactly a hardship.

After kicking back with in-room dining and a cheeky glass (or two) of wine served al fresco, the results were slipped under our door first thing the next morning, barely 15 hours after the test. It left us free to mingle, mask-free, with staff and guests alike.

We subsequently moved on to two other beautiful resorts, the Four Seasons Landaa and Four Seasons Kuda Huraa, but every property needed to get official approval from the Maldives Department of Health 48 hours ahead of any inter-island transfer. So you might want to mitigate the risks, and stay put in one resort. However you choose to make the most of your time in paradise, when inevitably staring out into those famous Maldivian blues, contemplating how so relatively few people got to bask in such beauty this year… well, I dare you not to get borderline emotional, too.

Stay tuned for the next installments chronicling Chris’s Maldives trip, with stories and video from his stays at Four Seasons and Soneva.

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