This is what it was like to take a flight home during the pandemic
The airport was truly a ghost town
The 4th July is an important date to remember, not just for Americans. It’s the date the UK began to properly open up again, with the stigma around air travel during lockdown slowly disappearing.
My fellow dual nationals will understand my feeling that we were quarantined in the wrong country. All I wanted to do was go back home to my island life. Mission impossible? It sure felt like it. Air tickets are hard to come by and my mother already had several mini heart attacks every time one of our flights was cancelled. “Third time lucky” exists as a phrase for a reason.
It hadn’t not occurred to me that I could become infected during the flight, but that was a secondary thought to the excitement of fleeing back to your own sun and soil. EasyJet’s new Covid-19 policy states that you have to wear a face mask for boarding and throughout the flight, which was a noticeable change to standard procedure.
Arriving at Gatwick
The empty drop off area at London Gatwick was the first external sign that the airport would be as empty on the inside. Time to put our masks on. My top tip for glasses wearers would be to definitely wear contact lenses when wearing a face covering for this long. The struggle of glasses frosting up is already real, never mind when you add a mask to the equation that you have to wear for the entire duration of your journey.
It was shocking that only one lane for security was open, but I suppose hardly surprising. Alternating lane positions and desk spaces when collecting bags were also closed to maintain social distancing.
Huge hand sanitising stations are everywhere
You can’t be careful enough. I had an anxious tendency to want to sanitise my hands every time I saw one of these hand gel pop-ups.
At duty free, staff were using hoover-like apparatuses with nozzles to spray the items on the duty-free shelves with disinfectant.
Silence reigned in London Gatwick. Everyone was attentive. The most audible sound was new air conditioners recycling the air to keep us safe.
Strangely, all the flights of the day fitted onto one screen, leaving the remaining two showing the Covid safety guidelines, which felt totally bizarre. Usually one morning’s flight schedule will spread over the whole three panels.
There were also signs everywhere to remind us of the importance of social distancing and wearing a mask. It was like being in a desolate Big Brother.
All the shops were closed
You could almost have been walking through an abandoned building. It was so sad to see everything locked up – everything except for Starbucks. The basic white girl within me was jumping with joy.
Despite the world as we know it being flipped on its head, some things hadn’t changed. Masked faces were still glued to screens as they waited to board, and people continued being rude when travelling. Says a lot about society to be honest.
The eeriness felt a bit apocalyptic, and I could only think about the arrival. This journey wouldn’t have felt real at all until we got there. It’s weird to think that I was one of the first cohorts to resume air travel.
Boarding the plane
Our autonomy was returned to us when boarding; we had to self-scan our boarding passes before putting our passports against the plastic wall between you and a staff member, removing our masks briefly to verify our appearances.
There’s no medical testing at boarding, which makes me believe that the UK government has a naïve trust in its citizens not to travel if you have symptoms. To our disbelief, speedy boarding was cancelled and instead, staff called people up row by row to avoid congestion in the aisle.
If you think that the seating arrangement is Covid friendly, it’s not. The flights aren’t set up to only sell a limited proportion of tickets, and it’s not as though every other seat was blocked off to ensure social distancing. No one likes sitting next to a stranger and especially not nowadays. Planes are a high-risk place and I would not recommend this experience for the shielded or Covidphobes.
A collective frustration is definitely felt when someone isn’t wearing their mask properly, despite reminders from the crew whilst we were onboard. My flight just happened to be the first international flight for EasyJet to Spain from London Gatwick. This prompted a wave of celebratory claps down the plane as it was ready to depart. I’ll admit, this totally makes me cringe – but I’ll admit it was an extraordinary moment. And finally we’re off. Yas Queens.
During the flight
Don’t expect the food or duty-free trollies to roam the aisles. No food or drink is served, or money tendered to avoid unnecessary contact which could spread the virus. The air hostesses do however offer free sterile water from a kettle, so people don’t get dehydrated, but hardly anyone drank it.
Technically, there was nothing stopping us from eating our own food items, but I didn’t see anyone willing to do this. I personally didn’t want to eat or drink on the flight so I wouldn’t have to take my mask off. After all, this is a high-risk place even for a mere two hour flight. You are still allowed to use the loo on the plane, and the facilities were very clean.
Arriving in Spain
The typical urge to get out of your seat at the end of the flight and exit the plane is entirely suppressed. Disembarking was as coordinated as boarding: we were called up row by row to collect any baggage from the overhead lockers and leave the plane. My mum thought it fitting that she was the first to leave the plane – the first by EasyJet from Gatwick to Spain in five months.
Almost all of the passport e-gates are closed and few alternate lanes are open.Prior to flying, we had to fill out an online health form from the Spanish government, in order to be allowed through the border. Without doing so, your entry could be jeopardised.
There are also non-contact body temperature cameras which you have to pass through. This was the fullest extent of medical testing done on both borders, and I can imagine all hell would break loose if you were picked up as having a temperature by the system.
Home sweet home!
The experience as a whole?
The whole experience was strange from beginning to end, and one to remember for sure. Yet overall, it was a more peaceful experience. There are less people flying and no stag-dos or hen-party groups making rackets on the plane. The staff are very supportive, and we felt like we were on a mission together.
I never felt scared, but definitely alert as this is a new experience for all frequent flyers, where your top priority is to maintain safe. Luckily the new system and staff definitely ensure this.