Traveling By Airplane In Covid-19 Times

At the moment of writing, flying is permitted inside Spain, although some of the broader restrictions are still in place – for instance, you cannot fly in certain European countries or in the US.

The other day I took a flight to Palma de Mallorca and what follows is a short description of what it means to fly during these times. For the record, the last flight I took was an international one, almost a year ago, so my memories weren’t that fresh, but still.

I arrived at the airport early, 4 hours before the flight, just because it was more convenient for my own schedule, not because of some restrictions. The first surprise was the departures terminal was closed. Meaning the normal route to it, some escalators and a large door, was closed with big yellow signs about Covid-19. My flight was 4 hours away, but still, seeing the terminal closed gave me a few chills. I had to walk a couple of hundred meters inside the arrivals terminal, and find a stair that went on the upper floor (where the departures are) to finally get there. In hindsight, I realized that vast areas of the airport were closed because they couldn’t be maintained or disinfected.

Once up in the departure terminal I froze. I was the only person there. Like, literally. There was nobody else in that space. Somewhere in the distance, I could hear the echo of some steps and then silence. I could easily hear my own breath. I thought it was some sort of mistake, so I started to walk towards the security control area. There were glass walls everywhere, and on the floor markings for maintaining the “social distance”.

I did a full walk in the departure terminal, end to end, without meeting or even seeing another human being. The departure board had only one flight listed.

I felt profoundly displaced, like in a movie, or in those dreams that feel so real until you wake up.

Didn’t wake up, though, because this wasn’t a dream. After 10 minutes, a few more people appeared: airport stuff, a couple of cleaners and small groups of passengers. Everybody was wearing masks. Everybody. In a couple of hours, the airport looked almost normal.

Back when I was traveling more, I did a few layovers in various airports around the world, and there is a certain vibe of a small airport during the night: staff is reduced, shops are closed and there isn’t too much to be done or seen. Most of the passengers are sleeping and there is a weird silence. That’s exactly the vibe I got from Valencia airport, only this time it was full day. But it felt like it was a night layover, something that added even more to that dreamy feeling. On top of that, the airport PA system was running warnings every few minutes about hygiene, masks and social distancing.

When the security control opened I was the first one to go through. Nothing spectacular here, apart from the fact that my luggage was checked. Couldn’t say if it was a random check, like they usually do, or this was standard procedure.

At the boarding gate, the seatings were distanced as well, you couldn’t sit right next to another person, although some couple didn’t seem to care. There wasn’t any restaurant opened, but, surprisingly, the Ale-Hop (a souvenir chain) was all lit and staffed.

The boarding went all smooth and easy, like in the old days. Once in the cabin, the entire crew was wearing masks and there were PAs about wearing a mask being compulsory for the entire flight. I don’t know if they didn’t sell all the places for this flight, or if it was compulsory to leave the middle seat empty, but this is how it was, we were only 4 people on a row of 6 chairs, with no one seating in the middle.

The flight itself wasn’t very different, except for those announcements about masks being compulsory, every 10 minutes. There wasn’t any service on board either, you couldn’t buy drinks or food.

Once we landed, the route through the arrival airport was just as deserted as the one from where we took off. Right before going out in the terminal, there were a group of airport staff, with some forms (health related) that had to be filled and left there. Nothing very complicated, since this was a domestic flight: name, phone and self-assessed symptoms (fever, coughing, etc). There were also thermal scans that I wouldn’t even notice, if it weren’t from an airport staff who told me to took my hat off, and pass again in front of him (probably the thermometer didn’t “see” through my hat).

Once out, when I took the first breath of the island air, the feeling of a bad horror movie started to slowly dissipate. What remained, though, was a sizzling sensation of discomfort, which gets reactivated every once in a while, when I see certain looks on people faces. Luckily, I get those looks less and less.

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