People might think that air travel in coronavirus times is almost non-existent and that airlines are not flying. That was never the truth. The reality is that most airlines significantly reduced their flights and cooperated with others in co-sharing flights to be able to stay in the business. They too, like us, tried to hang on and survive the way they could. The result is that you CAN get to where you need to. However, it will take you longer and it will cost you double, if not the triple amount of money.
From Australia to Europe and back
“The crisp air of 6 degrees C of the coming-back winter, the bright, almost blinding sunshine, the green grass and the fruit trees flamboyant with their white and pink spring flowers make me so utterly and inappropriately happy. I made it. Crossed the world, almost sneaked in my home country, like an airplane flying under the radars between the closing borders. Yesterday, I was passing safety checks with a thousand others at Doha International Airport. Today, the news is – they are closing it. It seems the decision taken in the morning to take the flight the same evening was the right one.”
I wrote this in my diary the day after I arrived in Bulgaria. It was mid-March and the COVID-19 pandemic was still a novelty. Following the news updates, I took the decision to fly to Europe the same day. As the situation was changing every hour, I couldn’t be sure that I will be able to travel later. Country borders were about to be closed, and I didn’t want to leave my family in Bulgaria without my support in case they needed me.
That first trip, from Australia to Bulgaria through Doha, went surprisingly smooth. No special measures were taken, no facemasks, no real social distancing. Nobody knew what to think and do.
In contrast, my second trip back to Australia was hugely different. From the moment I stepped in Sofia Airport to the moment I entered the hotel room where I am under quarantine in Australia, I had to wear a facemask. Even if it wasn’t too strict and we could loosen or even remove for a while the masks when we are far from others, it was an unpleasant experience.
How airports look like during the Coronavirus pandemic
I found that the airports now have the eerie and sad feeling of abandoned homes. The tumult and human clutter are gone, shops and restaurants closed. A paper strip reminding the passengers to keep social distancing and preventing them to use it covers every second seat. Staff wears gloves and facemasks and hides behind newly installed plastic or glass screens.
Sofia Airport, Terminal 2
The woman processing my check-in at Sofia Airport was obviously under stress. With her supervisor, they needed to see my Australian resident card or passport, which is understandable in these times of border closures. Then, she said that Lufthansa allows only 23 kg of checked-in luggage. But I had 30 kg allowance as per my ticket which was bought through Qatar Airways. This all shows that air travel in coronavirus times is a messy business for all involved. Airlines try to figure out how to function and be helpful while escaping the looming threat of bankruptcy. The result is stressed staff and confused passengers.
Frankfurt International Airport, Terminal 1
Frankfurt Airport made available only every second seat to passengers in their lounges and gates. Same applied for Doha International.
At Frankfurt International, the security check staff was slow and relaxed. They still did their job but the officer from Kazakhstan (or so he said) was chatty in Russian and looked like having the best time of his life. I am not criticizing, just an observation of how the current uncertain situation changes people’s behaviour. It was a different experience, the opposite of what you would expect from professionals in Germany. All the cafes and restaurants were closed except for McDonald’s and McCafé. Talk about small and big fish in business! Their staff also looked like they are under extreme stress and it felt like they don’t want to be there.
Doha Airport, Hamad International
I’m not used to seeing the big hub that is Hamad International Airport in Doha quiet and in a dimmed light. All the shops were closed, and the airport looked like another place. The airport staff was, as usual, expedite and professional. Other facilities, like public toilets, were closed as the volume of the travellers was so small that didn’t make sense to keep them accessible. The same as at the other two airports, just one café-restaurant was open for service.
My in-flight experience during the COVID-19 crisis
Lufthansa flight from Sofia to Frankfurt was a “funny” one. We were packed like sardines, sitting next to each other, but the crew several times warned us to keep social distance! Our only protection was the facemasks. When addressing us on the cabin speaker, the flight attendant and the pilot both sounded down and like they forgot their scripts. I had the feeling that they know all this is a ridiculous joke. They were also probably scared because they had only facemasks and gloves for protection. On this flight, we were served only bottled water.
Qatar Airways has an upgraded protection policy – for both crew and passengers. For a starter, they did follow the social distancing rules on the flight. All passengers, who travelled alone were either one or two seats away from others or even had the whole seat row for themselves. As you can imagine, the flights were only partially full. I would say less than a half-full. The ones that travelled together, were sitting next to each other.
The other staggering thing that at first made me laugh but then made me see the risks these people are taking, were the crew’s new uniforms. The whole cabin crew was wearing protective clothing. They looked just like a laboratory staff. Honestly, I don’t know how they worked and even succeeded to manage their usual friendly and calm attitude while spending twelve hours in plastic coveralls and wearing protective glasses, gloves and masks.
My sincere admiration to all the aircrews that make our coming backs possible.
You might want to read about my personal experience with travel refunds and flight changes. If you want to see where you can travel and when this map gives you updated information about travel regulations around the world.
I found that the people forced to air travel in these Coronavirus times are the economic migrants and those like me that have homes and families in two countries. In such a crisis, you need to weight who needs you more, and travel. No matter the circumstances and the cost. Most of the people I saw travelling during my second trip were not those coming from middle or upper classes in rich countries. They need to work for their survival,so they travel to take jobs while the middle class stay safe at home and wait for the crisis to subside. And the rich, well, they take their private jets as they always did.
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