Recently my wife and I flew from London Stansted to Turkey – our first time on an aeroplane in six months. We used to take this trip regularly in the pre-coronavirus era, to go see our parents, but this time each leg of the journey had an element of surprise.
You take it for granted how easy flying was once upon a time, you knew what 23kg felt like without weighing your luggage, you knew the precise time you had to leave the house to arrive at the departure gate with 40 minutes to spare and you knew which gate the Dalaman flight tended to go from… but not anymore!
In the run up to the day of our flight there was more discussion between us in terms of what to take and what not to take, the bags were on the living room floor days in advance, items were put in and items were removed… being seasoned travellers, why were we behaving like it was our first ever flight?
Every day we kept checking the airline’s website to ensure there was no dramatic change to our schedule, we read and read again the travel agent’s COVID-19 advice page and we checked the government’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, seeking up-to-date travel guidance to and from Turkey.
It was so reassuring when the travel agent reached out to us a few days before departure, just checking if we had all the paperwork and asked if there were any questions… in times like these when even the simplest task of packing a bag and getting ready for a flight is stressful, little gestures like this really provide a reassurance.
On the morning of our flight, as we left the house to get into the taxi, we go through the normal checklist; are the lights turned off and did we double lock the back door, etc. to checking do we have the tickets, passport and now the new travel requirements, the face mask and bottle of disinfectant. The taxi journey alone was different, the driver had a mask on as did we and we both sat in the rear behind a plastic shield between us and the driver.
As we approached the airport it was obvious that there was little traffic, the long slope up to the terminal building which is usually nose-to-tail with cars was quiet. Moving through an empty Stansted airport, in which the hand-sanitising stations seemed to outnumber the travellers, was quieter and more pleasant than usual in a strange way.
We checked in our bags rather than take them on board and took the opportunity to speak with airline staff who really went out their way to make us feel as relaxed as possible, but it is difficult to have a meaningful conversation when all parties are heavily masked because of the muffling effect. Walking through security and then through the normally busy duty free was brisk but it was noticeable that some of the shops were closed and the numbers of travellers low.
When the gate was called, we headed off still slightly unsure what the flight experience would be like in this coronavirus era… The pace we walked was slow and measured, no sprinting to get to the front of the queue to board. We took in the posters on the walls, and one in particular caught my eye of a beautiful turquoise sea and golden beach… in a few hours we will be on the same beach in Oludeniz.
As we boarded the plane, there was no mad rush, everyone was called to board in row order and no one stood at the desk like you see in normal times. Preparing for take-off, I suddenly appreciated the way the air stewards checked everyone was wearing a face covering.
Sitting on the plane awaiting take-off it felt a bit like stepping back into the early days of air travel before we took it all for granted… the flight felt special, we were one of the few to venture outside the UK post lockdown, I have to admit it was a little bit nerve-inducing.
Flying these days is totally different from before the pandemic — but in many ways it may be better, health standards are higher, and airports are not as busy. As an aside, I was surprised to learn during my trip that being inside an aeroplane does not appear to be significantly more dangerous, in COVID-19 terms, than many other social activities. The air in their cabins is typically filtered and recirculated every four minutes.
The flight itself was consistent to many flights taken previously with the exception of a limited bistro service and no brochures to read, but we still had the usual turbulence as we ventured over the Alps which was reassuring in a strange way.
Once landed nothing appeared dramatically different, the burst of heat that hits your face like a hairdryer was consistent to previous times when departing the plane, while the queues at passport control were smaller meaning we got through to collect our bags in record time.
As we left the terminal to get our transfer to the resort it was evident and reassuring to see everyone wearing face masks, we asked our driver how was trade, he replied that trade was down but ticking along.
So as I look back on our flight, the experience is different and it certainly made us revaluate things but it still remains the safest form of transport and as long as you follow the guidelines there is no reason why booking a trip should not be considered. We have already booked our return trip next Summer… so we really have something to look forward to in 2021.
Guy Brown is Co-Founder of Jet Now. Jet Now enables travellers to ‘Travel Now, Pay Later’, spreading the cost of their holidays into easy, manageable monthly instalments.