Roz Colthart describes her recent convoluted and logistically complex journey from the Maldives to her home in Edinburgh, where she runs Salon Studios.
So, what is it really like to travel at the moment? Last week I was lucky enough to get on a repatriation flight from the Maldives to the UK. This flight was only available to book through the British Embassy and a very basic service was offered. There were 46 of us on a plane that had capacity for 250 people.
Leaving the Maldives was very impressive. We were advised in advance we would not be permitted to travel without latex gloves and the all-important N95 mask.
As you can see in the photo, all airport staff were fully protected – clear screens, masks and gloves as well as shoe coverings and aprons. Duty free and Costa Coffee were open in the departure lounge with the necessary social distancing measures put in place (wise move MLE… we all need our morning coffee!).
On the first flight, the Sri Lankan crew were dressed head to toe in PPE including masks and goggles. As the flight was about a fifth full, you would think that there would be social distancing in place, but No. We were all put together in a small section at the back of the plane for weight distribution with the middle section completely empty.
Arriving in Sri Lanka for our transit, we were all sprayed down with disinfectant on arrival and had our temperature taken on three separate occasions. Airport staff were very well protected again.
The second flight from Sri Lanka was very basic. A litre of water was provided for the flight (something that all airlines should consider for normal flights, although I don’t love the plastic bottle). All in-flight entertainment was switched off due to it being touch screen and the flight attendants wore masks and protective aprons at all times.
It was very reassuring to see the measures taken. Fortunately, I had a packed lunch which more than made up for the basic food service but to have no entertainment made the 11-hour flight feel so much longer. The cabin crew told me that they were used to these very quiet flights, in fact their flight in to Sri Lanka had just one passenger on it. Imagine that, having an entire A330 to yourself!
The cabin crew told me they said they didn’t mind wearing the additional protective clothing and that they quickly got used to it. It may be something we have to get used to seeing for the foreseeable future.
On arrival in the UK, although we had arrived in another country, it felt like we had arrived on another planet. A planet generally untouched by Covid. No temperatures were taken (quite shocking compared to the three temperatures we had taken in Colombo), no PPE was worn by staff and other than it being very quiet, it was a normal arrival experience (with the exception of super-efficient luggage delivery).
After an overnight in London before flying to Edinburgh, I returned to Heathrow to make the final part of my 34-hour (door-to-door) journey. Heathrow had a number of signs around the airport advising social distancing rules be enforced, but it was unrecognisable compared to a standard Friday morning rush hour.
Social distancing measures were in place in the security queue and for boarding the plane. The only two shops that were open were Boots & WH Smith.
Onboard the plane, efforts were taken by BA to leave a seat free in each row but, of course, you are still very close to the rows in front. Despite BA advising passengers to wear masks, many people were without masks for the duration of the flight. BA cabin crew wore their mask and gloves throughout the flight and ‘basic’ refreshments were on offer.
On arrival at Edinburgh airport, the baggage hall remained in darkness as if the airport were still closed and had forgotten that a flight was due to arrive. Maybe they are trying to save money on utilities?
Walking through the airport it was interesting to see the lack of PPE throughout, so I really have to take my hat off to Male and Colombo for organisation and taking all measures they could to protect everybody. In comparison, Heathrow and Edinburgh felt a little unprepared, but really by this point, after six flight cancellations and a lot of organisation to get any plane back to Edinburgh, I was just happy to be home!