Who would have thought that in the space of 12 weeks the world as we know it could turn upside down? There have undoubtedly been an undulating series of highs and lows experienced throughout this time, but one prominent shift was the shut down of air travel. As traffic quickly ground to a halt, the same effect was mirrored in the skies, as borders closed, planes were grounded and passengers vanished from once bustling terminals. With less pollution and disruption all around, nature began to thrive, which was wonderful to see, but what would the future hold for the travel industry?
Fast-forward three months and slowly but surely the possibility of travelling beyond our own front doors is becoming a possibility. With new relaxations to Government guidelines businesses are required to implement the relevant safety measures, to ensure that public health remains a priority moving forward. Having found myself separated at distance from family throughout lockdown, like so many others, I have been eager to see flexibilities emerge in recent days, allowing for a welcome reunion with those dearest to me, whilst remaining cautious. Granted, it wouldn’t be a typical greeting, no hugs, hand-holding or intimate gestures, but it was still an opportunity to check-in, say hello and gain a first glimpse of the ‘new normal’ with the ability to roam further, always adhering to distance.
Avid traveller or not, you may be wandering what it is going to be like on your next vacation, business leg or journey home. I made my outbound trip before tourism travel was advised; with the terminal building still closed I was directed through a make-shift route that led us straight to the boarding gate, where seats were taped and rows numbered to help passengers adhere to social distancing. Boarding gradually in smaller groups allowed for a less chaotic rush onto the plane and there was strict enforcement on the wearing of face masks.
In truth I found the continual wearing of the face covering a little difficult to adjust to at first, with sudden change in air temperature (hot terminal > cool plane etc), but once we were up in the air I soon settled into the new rhythm. All in all I was very pleased that such rules were enforced, but I don’t believe it would be very comfortable on a long-haul flight.
There were high plastic screens between socially distanced queues at security and bottles of hand sanitiser stationed on benches either side. It was clear that the airport had done everything they could to try and ensure safer measures whilst travelling, however the cramped conditions on an almost full flight weren’t welcomed quite so easy, with a few surprised faces, myself included, at the lack of distancing on-board. That said I had half expected such conditions when I saw the mass of passengers pouring through the boarding gate. I can understand the financial implications, but I must admit I felt much more comfortable on the return leg, with a seat left vacant between myself and fellow travellers.
On my return it was a similar story, with socially distanced queues, additional cleaning and extra security measures. Though the terminal building in Belfast was open, all facilities except bathrooms were clearly closed off. Despite the slightly eerie landscape, it was a significant step in the right direction just to be allowed back on-board. There may have been a few minor hiccups, as ground staff struggled slightly with the control of appropriate distancing, but for the most part I am pleased to report that the over-arching experience ran smoothly.
Coincidentally I had managed to time my return with the official re-opening of the terminal at Bristol, where local press were waiting to greet our in-bound arrival and I might have made a blink and you’d miss it appearance on the regional news. I just wish I was better dressed for the occasion! Will you be taking to the skies again soon, or are you remaining cautious for the foreseeable future? Have you braved the ‘new normal’ of air travel yet? Do share your experiences.