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New normal for flying

2020-06-18

It’s been 3 months since my last flight and my feet were getting very itchy. Luckily lockdown is coming to an end in most of Europe with governments reopening their countries for tourism and normal traffic in stages. After these long weeks of uncertainty, we all need a break, and I’m sure that lots of us are very happy that airlines have started selling flights again!

I wasn’t sure what flying post-COVID would be like, but I was very excited at the prospect of being up in the air again. I booked a short flight 300km flight from Wroclaw, Poland to Warsaw, so I could share with you the feeling of what is waiting for you in the new post-COVID reality.

I have to say that even though my first post-COVID flight felt a bit surreal, like being in a weird sci-fi movie, it was definitely a very positive experience!

I’m droving to Wroclaw airport and even as I get there, it feels strange and different. The terminal somehow looks a lot smaller, there are only a few cars in the parking lot and the whole place looks abandoned, like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie.

At first, I felt a little bit trepidatious, but this also made me feel curious and adventurous as well. Usually, in front of the main entrance there are crowds of people with luggage rushing around, but today there is not a single soul. A few taxis are waiting patiently for clients, knowing quite well that it might be in vain, but waiting anyway.

I ask a taxi driver why he’s there, “better to be here and hope for the best than sit at home and do nothing”, said the middle-aged man from under his mustache. “When you’re a taxi driver, you learn to be patient.

Inside the main entrance to the terminal, there is something new, a new health security gate. A nice lady in protective gear, wearing a mask and gloves, checks my temperature and boarding pass before wishing me a pleasant flight and letting me enter.

Only traveling passengers with boarding cards are now permitted entry to the terminal. There is no place for family or friends to say goodbye, they must say their adieux in the carpark. I waited a while to see what happened, but I saw no one stopped at the gate, everything went nice and smoothly.

I did my check-in online in advance and I recommend that to everyone. Some airlines require you to check-in in advance and checking in at the airport might be difficult for security reasons. It’s best to check with your airline when you book your ticket.

The security area looks pretty much like before, except all the staff are wearing protective gloves and masks. And, I believe, for the first time in my life I don’t have to queue up! I think I would even go as far as to say that this new security check was a lot easier and more pleasant than any other time in the past.

No waiting, no stress, and a super-fast track for everybody! This post-COVID experience was really starting to look up!

I go inside the terminal and everything seems very empty. The din of people, conversations, and bustle are all gone, another uncanny feeling of being in a weird sci-fi movie.

At the same time, everything also looks surprisingly fresh and sanitized. It’s obvious that there has been a lot of cleaning going on. Since the outbreak of the epidemic airports all over the world have been cleaning everything from the floors and seats to the air conditioning more rigorously. You can see it here too in Wroclaw and it makes me feel safe and in good hands.

The few passengers that I can see keep the required social distance from each other and sit well apart. I can see people looking around and smiling to each other, but not interacting. Somehow everyone knows that everyone wants to keep themselves and others safe.

Today, there are only two flights arriving from Warsaw to Wroclaw and two departing for Warsaw. That’s it, no other flights are scheduled.

I go to the departures and arrivals board, and I can’t believe it. All of the flights are canceled! I wondered if seeing an empty list would be better?

Instead of allowing myself to be taken by an eerie feeling, I opt to go for a coffee instead. I’m happy to be able to chat with someone. “Hi, how are you? How is work in these uncertain times?” I ask the barista. She looks at me shyly and says, “I hardly see anyone all day! Just 2 or 3 customers”, she says. “There are only two flights departing and most people don’t come to the bar anyway. Passengers arriving in Wroclaw just go straight through to baggage reclaim.” I give her a tip, it’s only little but might help her feel appreciated.

After my coffee, it is time to go to my gate. On the way, I can see some Ryanair planes just sitting there, waiting. They have been stuck here at their operation center in Wroclaw for a long time now.

Finally, it’s time to board the plane. Everything is going seamlessly, but with one little difference. Passengers are asked to board the plane in rows, like on long-distance flights, rows 15-11, then rows 10-7, and so on. In many ways, this makes things much easier and I feel safer. It’s really good being able to avoid those stressed-out passengers that always try to skip the queue and board faster than everyone else.

The flight attendant welcomes us aboard politely and smiles behind her mask. I smile back, I know we can read our smiles from our eyes without seeing our faces.

After we take our seats, I look around the plane. It’s an Embraer 170-100/200 with 82 seats. I count only 19 passengers on board.

Having so few passengers makes the flight very comfortable, no worries about legroom or someone falling asleep on your shoulder!

All the safety measures are being taken. All the passengers have seated a good distance from each other, everyone is wearing masks, and the cabin crew are wearing gloves as well.

Now we’re ready for take-off, we just have to listen to the safety announcements and we are given a handout. The airline’s announcement is all about reassuring passengers of the new security measures being taken, from obligatory masks, disinfection of the cabin area to special HEPA air filters that clean the air, and can remove viruses and bacteria.

Passengers are also requested not to queue for the toilets and to observe social distancing rules, but on a short 40-minute hop with only 19 passengers this wasn’t going to be a problem.

When we got in the air we were served a snack and bottled water, although this turned out to be a bit of challenge to consume when wearing a facemask.

We arrived on time, there was no incidents or delays, the trip was very smooth and relaxed.

After landing in Warsaw, the first thing you notice is a huge silence. That surreal feeling of being in another reality doesn’t want to leave me! Everything is the same here, empty, devoid of people and spotlessly clean too.

Overall, I would describe my first post-COVID flight as a strange mix of feelings. Anxiety, because of the unknown and the idea of there being an increased risk of being exposed. Amazement with the surreal feeling of the abandoned airports. And comfort, with the empty terminal and airplane.

Lots of airlines are offering great deals now on summer flights and after this very pleasant flight I will be very happy to get on another as soon as I can.

Cancelled flight because of COVID-19?

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