COVID-19 has played havoc with my travels. Until recently, I hadn’t been on a plane in months. At the start, I missed the routine of packing and unpacking. I missed my duty-free browsing. I even missed the onboard coffee.
As the weeks went on, I simply stopped thinking about it. I wasn’t yearning to go anywhere in particular. I had no plans. This summer was to be a stay-at-home summer ever before COVID reared its ugly head. But I missed seeing my parents.
Assured that Hungary would be on Ireland’s green list, I booked a flight home on July 10 – the day after the announcement was to be made. But then it was delayed, and delayed again. Unsure as to whether we were on the verge of another lockdown, I decided to take the chance. I’d go home. I had to go home. I classified this as essential travel – essential for my mental health. Not being able to see my elderly parents was doing my head in. Bouts of anxiety about what I was or wasn’t being told about their state of health gave me more than one sleepless night. I had to see for myself. And considering I live in near-isolation in the village anyway, am an observant traveller, and am not irresponsible, I didn’t consider myself a threat.
At Budapest Airport, the controllers were out in full force monitoring the queues in front of the check-in desks, ensuring that people stayed on their mark and that social distancing was maintained. It was the same going through security. I was delighted to see that the perfume samples were still available in duty-free but wondered fleetingly at how sanitary this was. I had my hand sanitiser, my wipes, and my KN95 mask (the Chinese equivalent of the US standard N95 recommended for air travel – and yes, I know I make a point of not buying MIC but needs must). Sadly, three of the four public hand-sanitiser dispensers I tried were empty or not working, but as I said, I had my own.
The waiting area had every other seat blocked off. All good. Social distancing was visible, even while queuing to board. But the minute we became charges of the airline rather than customers of the airport, all precautions disappeared – completely. Passengers filed through, one after the other, urged to move forward to make room for more. I hung back till near the end and managed to keep my distance from the person in front of me but could do little about those behind me – but at least I was facing forward. Once on the plane, I was glad I’d shelled out for an expensive seat as I had a row to myself. Those immediately around me wore masks but I saw quite a few walking up and down to use the loo without one. And, of course, when you’re eating and drinking you can’t wear a mask. One passenger I saw started eating and drinking as soon as they were allowed to put down their tables and I’m sure more were using it, perhaps subconsciously, as a reason to de-mask – wearing a mask for 3 hours isn’t anyone’s idea of comfort. But why food and drink are being served is beyond me.
At immigration, I was told I had to self-isolate. Technically this was incorrect. I should have been advised to quarantine. But even this should have been correctly explained; the Irish health authority, the HSE, had said that if I really needed to go to a shop, I could.
I wasn’t all that impressed by the precautions taken on the flight. I didn’t once see any crew member ask the mask-less to put on their masks. One crew member, nose to the wind, needed to be told how to wear their mask properly. I’d give Budapest Airport 7/10 for effort and RyanAir 0/10.
Coming back, Dublin Airport was like an obstacle course with all the hand-sanitiser dispensers. It seemed like every 10 paces I was being reminded to sanitise. Of the five security bays, only two were in operation. Nice distancing that. The duty-free apologised for the lack of perfume samples. Another tick. And again, every other seat in the waiting area was roped off. All was good until we handed over our boarding cards and became the airline’s responsibility. Zero distancing in the queues to board. Fewer people still wore masks onboard. And two four-year-olds spent the flight running up and down the aisle screaming in delight, an accident (or two) waiting to happen but thankfully, they managed to stay upright, if unchecked.
My row was full this time. But my seat mates wore masks throughout the flight. To my right, though, the masks were on and off at random and in front of me, we had the whole chin thing going. A chap two seats ahead of me to the right only put on his mask when he was getting ready to disembark. And again, nothing from the crew.
I know there’s an argument to be made that it’s not in the crew’s job description to enforce the wearing of masks. But if it’s been made a condition of travel, so someone should be checking it. I was delighted to read recently that two passengers on a Budapest-Munich flight were fined €1000 each for refusing repeated requests from the crew to wear their masks. The pair were welcomed to Munich by German police, held, and released when they paid the fines. And it doesn’t end there – apparently, criminal charges are in the mix. That I take delight from this news saddens me. I wonder when I became so mean.
Once home, I didn’t stir outside the house. We socially distanced inside. There was no welcoming hug. It broke my heart to see my nonagenarian dad standing in the driveway waving me out of sight as l left. Not hugging or shaking hands is him doing his bit for the COVID cause. I was bawling.
I’ve booked to go again in August as Hungary is now on Ireland’s green list and I’m almost certain September will bring another round of closures. I need to see as much of my parents as I can, when I can.
I travel safely. I travel well. I pack consideration along with my wipes, my sanitiser, and my masks. I don’t remove my mask. I don’t use the loo. I don’t eat or drink for the duration. Would I recommend airline travel right now for anyone with a nervous disposition or heightened levels of COVID anxiety? Not without a valium…
Some views of Dublin from above: