On May 25th, 2020 I made the decision to take a trip during a global pandemic.
Having been on Erasmus exchange when Covid-19 hit Europe, like many others I left my student accommodation in a hurry to get home, leaving behind almost all of my belongings. As time went on and the situation worsened in the UK, it seemed I would never be able to return and say goodbye to Amsterdam and collect my things. However, as my online courses came to an end, I made the decision to travel back to the Netherlands. Having been in lockdown since the middle of March, the situation in the Netherlands seemed relatively safe so I booked a flight. On June 2nd I arrived at Heathrow airport and experienced what it was like to travel during a global pandemic.
The first notable thing was how busy the airport was. It was by no means full, but there were a surprising number of passengers given the current context. When I walked through the door I was immediately told to put on a facemask, which were provided for unprepared passengers. I dropped off my bag and made my way through security almost as normal. My experience at Heathrow was perhaps as you would expect: characterised by face masks and floor markings. Almost all airport concessions were closed and there were continuous safety announcements made. I also had to fill in a health form and undergo a temperature check when I got to the gate. Everything seemed to be fairly safe and under control. However, the flight was a different story. It was completely full. This added to any stress I was already feeling about making this journey, forcing me to sit next to other passengers (when I had already paid to choose my seat in an attempt to avoid this). When I got to Schiphol airport, I was met with more safety measures, including more floor markings and closed off seating areas. Surprisingly, most of shops were open, but with social distancing measures in place such as stickers to show where to stand in queues and Perspex screens at checkouts.
When I came to the airport again three weeks later it was almost like things were back to normal. I was able to browse the duty-free shops, buy souvenirs and even eat some fresh food. But the signs of a pandemic were still visible: everyone wearing masks and keeping their distance. The flight back home was also a further reminder of the current situation. Social distancing measures were in place, with empty seats between passengers and there were health safety announcements from the pilot before take-off and landing. Another distinct change came when we arrived at UK border control and were asked if we had filled in the health locator form required for entry into the UK. Reality hit when the border guard reminded me of the two weeks of self-isolation that lay ahead.
Overall, my experience of travelling during a global pandemic was positive. There seemed to be sufficient measures in place in both the UK and the Netherlands and the extra health checks were reassuring and did not add hours of queue time, as expected. However, it was also undeniably stressful. Having not been around this many people in months, it was a bizarre experience. Additionally, while health messages blared out from overhead speakers, some still disregarded these new rules, queuing close to others and wearing their facemasks below their noses.
I believe there is still some way to go to ensure air travel remains safe and smooth in a world with Covid-19 as we all adjust to this new way of life and look for answers to the many questions it raises. Are these measures sustainable? Is it safe for passengers to wear facemasks for hours at a time? Is this the future of air travel? Only time will tell.