What it is like to fly during COVID-19

There are conflicting reports about the process of traipsing through airports while pandemic restrictions remain. Amanda Cassidy reports.


No non-essential travel is the current advice from our government. And that is unlikely to change any time soon. This week coming, a 'Green List' of countries is expected to be revealed by the current Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. The Government and the National Public Health Emergency Team will publish the list and review the countries on it every two weeks. France and the UK are unlikely to make the list while countries such as Greece and Cyprus, who are successfully controlling their outbreak numbers, are more likely to feature.

This week the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, acknowledged the anxiety some people have felt about those traveling into the country — especially from virus hot-spots like the US.

Restrictions

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Martin claims that increased presence of staff at ports and airports will make sure incoming passengers are made aware of their obligations —namely to restrict movements for 14 days on arrival into Ireland.

It comes after days of concern surrounding international travel into Ireland and a delay of moving to Phase 4 of the government's roadmap for reopening the country as COVID-19 continues.

As other countries open up their borders to tourists, there is a perception that any easing of travel might result in a spike in cases, despite former Health Minister Simon Harris this week revealing that just one in 10 cases of coronavirus currently presenting in Ireland is travel-related.

"The whole thing was a bit eerie," admits Kayla who arrived in Dublin from a flight through Milan two weeks ago. "Dublin airport was like a ghost town and I felt as if I was doing something really wrong."

Kayla had been seeking medical treatment abroad and says she was happy to quarantine once home. "It is a different atmosphere here to elsewhere. In Milan, nearly every flight I saw at the different gates seemed full. People are all wearing masks but life seems to be going on when it comes to air travel."

Karl recently travelled to Malaga for work from Ireland. "At Dublin airport, it is really quiet but there are no temperature checks or similar. Not everyone wore masks either." On his flight, a Ryanair flight, he says there were only about 30 others and all staff on board wore a mask. "You can't walk around during the flight and have to ring your bell to use the toilets. You can still buy food but it is prepackaged. The scratchcards are still on sale!

“On arrival in Spain, our temperatures were taken before we were let in. That reassured me. Everyone kept their distance. A lot of people were wearing gloves and even children wore masks. Nobody can enter the airport unless they are flying that day so not all shops are open — it is much quieter in the food halls etc."

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Emily left Austria to fly to France three days ago. She says the importance of having a comfortable mask is essential. "You are wearing it constantly for hours so make sure it fits well and isn't too restrictive — especially if you are a nervous flier. You almost have to view travel during COVID-19 as a bus trip where you don't leave your seat. Eat first, pre-book your seat where you feel more comfortable. We can't stop travel forever but we can minimise the risk of getting or spreading this virus."

Stressful

"It is important to know that the entire process of travelling is joyless and stressful in this pandemic."

Cian is a regular air traveller. "There were about 5 people on my flight from Dublin and once we landed temperature checks and full compliance with masks at the destination felt reassuring.

"Flying back to Ireland was different," he admits. "A fuller flight left me feeling nervous. The flight was turned around in record time but I observed no cleaning of the aircraft in between those disembarking and those boarding. On arrival into Dublin, it is clear that the country is not ready to co-exist with any new normal just yet. Loud messages inform that the passenger arrival forms must be filled in. At passport control, I was questioned more thoroughly on my reasons for arriving into the country and if I was resident here.

Cian says that this stringent system seems to have been introduced more recently. "These measures are designed to keep our country as protected from the virus as possible. I was happy to get home safely and isolated on return as is my responsibility. My flight was deemed essential travel, but it is important to know that the entire process of travelling is joyless and stressful in this pandemic.”

In fact, all those I spoke to coming from France, Spain, Greece and Italy said that those countries seem to be quicker to embrace "living with the virus" as opposed to hiding from it — enforcement of mask-wearing and other restrictions more commonplace. Good weather and outdoor living also make this easier. Self-catering options are a good deal more popular than hotel stays.

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As a country that carries out a lot of activities indoors and unless masks are worn more regularly, it is hard to know just when overseas travel restrictions might be lifted for Irish looking to fly abroad.

Image via Unsplash.com

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