Window on the World Column | Traveling Post-Covid

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Lucy Jensen

I cannot deny that the last several months have been a bit special for the small traveling public of which I was a member. Empty airports, reminiscent of the Tom Hanks movie, four seats per person in coach class and check-in desks where you were an extremely important person, only because you were there and you meant job security for whoever was looking you in the eye and checking your credentials. I am here to tell you that those days are gone — unless the world goes into full lockdown mode again; and I sincerely doubt that that will happen again.

Gatwick airport — on our way to France — my friend and I were both properly masked with hand sanitizer tucked away in our hand luggage. That place was a zoo of holidaymakers, all going all over the place. Maskless. I have to confess I felt rather safe and secure behind that piece of material over my mouth and nose. What have the last few months done to us? I have become a masked creature — one that would rather my lower face was covered.

We looked at each other in horror, as human beings piled up all over the place like a Covid spread-fest. Our air carrier preferred that you wear a mask, but no one was enforcing it or ordering people off planes. We happily disembarked at Toulouse airport and enjoyed a delightfully peaceful slice of Southwest France, where the memo had not obviously been received that the pandemic was officially “over” (it’s not) and the traveling public would be arriving any day.

We salivated over empty squares and café tables for the choosing. We loved the near vacant markets and no waiting for a table, ever. It was gorgeous to travel to medieval villages and be the only folks walking the film sets of unbelievable perfection, as the sun shone brightly over our parade and only the birds could be heard from their spots in the trees. Who gets to do that? Perhaps, the brave get to do that — those who are slowly crawling out of their Covid holes and seeing how the world looks like on the other side.

I am here to tell you that it looks odd. We are not used to moving around in close proximity to other human beings and isn’t that an interesting thing. No one knows how to greet anyone anymore. Is it the casual wave from afar, the fist or elbow bump with a smile — or are we back to kissing on each cheek, as the French are wont to do? We didn’t see any of that kissing stuff over there, but they weren’t wearing masks either. It seemed as if the casual wave was mostly in order. “Bonjour!” (Casual wave.) Keep walking.

Then there was the interesting adventure from Toulouse back to London Gatwick. There was the sum total of two important people working on the border patrol when we landed. Five planes arriving at the same time. Fun. The automated passport machines broke down — like most of them. I looked around me. The traveling public was flipping out and they were not having fun.

Next, I traveled to the Isle of Man and, short of a landing pass and a vacc cert, they were pretty laid back about the whole thing. No one wore masks on the plane, not even the flight attendants. I sat there, all masked up, doing my people watching thing. There is still the beast of Covid around, folks and we are in very close proximity to each other. Wouldn’t a mask be a smart thing to wear? I’ve got kinda attached to mine — all 100 of those washable boogers.

The last leg from London Heathrow to San Fran was the most amazing mesh of travel craziness I have yet encountered. “You must have a clear Covid test to enter the United States.” Ah. Triple vaccs not enough, we must get a clear Covid? (You don’t need any Covid testing to enter the U.K. these days.) I hadn’t received that memo with bunches of time to spare, so off I go. Right, need to have this clear-to-fly thingy before I check in for the flight. Check. I will receive my results by 10 p.m. prior to my flight the next day. Adulting all in order.

Clear Covid arrives a tad before 10 p.m. that night and I endeavor to upload to the flight clear portion of my airline’s website, so that I can check in for the flight. It is not accepting it. Wait. It tells me my clear void has expired. Umm, I am flying tomorrow, I just got the results, how can it already have expired? Ahhhh, I got the wrong test. I have to get a more expensive test that gives the results in three to five hours. I book the test and off I go to the testing site.

Luckily, I am staying close by. I am in line at the test site and other people are talking about antigen tests that come back within 30 to 40 minutes. Why did no one tell me about those? I am flying later today, and the other test would make it pretty tight to be timely about checking the bag and actually making the darn flight.

“We are not able to make the choice of the Covid test for you,” says the weary Covid check-in lady. Wow. “You might want to cancel the other Covid test,” she finally tells me when I tell her I’m ready to cry, and I was. “OK, the antigen test.” I got it done, went for a coffee at Costa and, lo and behold, the darn thing came through and I got my fit to fly.

No matter the plane was oversubscribed with screaming children and heat such as I couldn’t believe; I managed to get on the darn thing and suffer the near 11 hours home. I could not believe how very difficult it was to make that journey that is so much second nature to me that I can do it standing on my head. The world post-Covid is not for pussies. The rules and the testing regs change all the time and there is not enough staff to help you. Most are on super overtime situations and should not legally be allowed to operate anything at that point, not least a Covid testing site or an airport check in counter.

I get it — the world is in recovery from the most howling pandemic in our lifetime and no one is yet up to speed. But c’mon people, this is not rocket science. Tell the people the tests they need to get and how to get them. Fix your blessed machines and get people back to work.

It felt as if no one expected the world to be traveling again once the world was able to do so. The travel administrators were caught napping and they need to wake up again and quickly. Everyone is planning to go places this year and the powers that be better get woken and get going. I shall be ready to travel once more in the near future with my coat of armor, my attitude and, most definitely, my mask.

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