Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Flying and Covid

I thought, given that very few people are actually doing it, I'd give you a first-hand account of travel during a global pandemic.

Obviously, at the height of the first European wave back in April, there were no flights to be had. The stranded few had, for the most part, been repatriated and those who were still stranded remained so. In crazy international families like mine, repatriation isn't a thing; we're too complex for the black and white simplistics of normal politics. 

You see a country will repatriate you to where your passport is from but not to where you necessarily live. Had we been on holiday in Australia when Covid hit, the UK would have repatriated me to homelessness but Denmark wouldn't because I only live here and own a house. Equally therefore, when the pandemic hit all the internationals who were stranded at Glasgow uni were repatriated but Charlotte could either stay at uni, walking the eerily empty corridors alone, or ironically, could ask to be repatriated to France where her father no longer lives and where she has a few aunts and uncles she last saw when she was 11 years old. 

So all in all, it wasn't until June that flying became a possibility. After Denmark reopened its borders to family members I spent many hours scanning the internet in search of any airline flying anywhere, mainly to no avail. At first the only option appeared to be an Air France to Amsterdam, then Paris, then Copenhagen, but eventually I spied a KLM going Glasgow to Amsterdam, then Amsterdam to Copenhagen just one day later. Using small city hopper planes because no one was flying Charlotte finally 'repatriated' herself at about five times the usual cost, not to mention the added hotel room in Schiphol airport, and with only two days notice.

So all in all, unlike 2019 through to February of this year when I had flown somewhere every month, I was grounded from February onwards. Back at Christmas, when Covid was just some weird thing my ex-husband was dropping into conversation (given he currently lives in Shanghai), we had bought Ryanair tickets for five of us to visit Thomas's family in Italy in July. It soon became obvious Ryanair was grounded and Italy was at the eye of the storm, so rather than cancelling and waiting a lifetime from a Ryanair voucher refund, we simply had to sit it out and pocket the refund when they cancelled us. We waited and waited. All our friends were having flights cancelled. Those who had booked to visit us here had theirs cancelled, and with Charlotte's summer job in Madrid also mothballed, we got to a week to the deadline and had to decide between applying for five refunds or buying one extra ticket.

Neither Thomas nor I are overly risk-averse by nature, so we opted for the latter.

On arrival at Billund airport, an airport that is usually bustling in the summer months as it sits within walking distance of the original Legoland, the usually full long-stay carpark was full to about 5% capacity, which was a bonus given we arrived in a storm but dressed for Italy!


Before entering the main building, we were greeted by friendly signs. So it was masks on and then inside. Once inside, it was almost deserted, with fewer than one flight an hour. Everything was self service so we had no contact with anyone checking in bags or printing luggage tags. The first humans we saw were on the x-ray scanners. We were dealt with by masked scanners and then went through to departures where we were greeted by a second ghost town. Flying between Schengen countries meant no passports had to change hands either.

Once on the plane we were seated as a family group and informed that the seat belt sign would remain on throughout the flight. Anyone wishing to use the toilet would have to use the call button so there would be no people queuing. Air crew weren't overly present either, passing maybe twice on the two hour flight.

On arrival in Pisa, we were scanned on the way into the building using large ipads that checked your whole body temperature. Again we had no contact with humans and were soon out and about. All in all, I would say that the actual flights felt safer from a Covid perspective than any trip I have made to the supermarket in Denmark since March which is heartening because it means that seeing family is back on the agenda.

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