Boarding for my flight to London opened without any fanfare whatsoever and everybody just strolled forward.
In Business Class, again(!), Olga introduced herself, brought me a fresh orange juice and offered to hang my hoodie up in the wardrobe.
The wardrobe? There are wardrobes…
“No thank you, Olga,” I said. “I’m cold…”
…which I have to say is something of a novel experience.
Two Irish lads had commented on this as we headed down the walkway. Had they flown in from Bangkok too?
Yes, en route from Melbourne and once in London, they had to get to Birmingham to get home to Ireland. I, meanwhile, had to get across to Gatwick to fly to Dublin in order to get to Manchester.
The lads were considering walking to Birmingham having had a look at the available trains. They reckoned it would take then a few days but if they walked they wouldn’t be in contact with anyone.
I was sitting in a larger Business Class section than in the first leg of the journey but it appeared that not every seat was taken. Far from it.
There were only two of us, sitting a good three metres apart.
My main concern was finding the button to set up the bed option.
I was ready for another nap, but then Oga came past with the newspapers (none in English) and another steward handed me the wine menu saying they’d be serving breakfast.
I want sure I was hungry but the breakfast menu looked good. I’ve never been given a menu on a plane before.
You usually hear the three options (if you haven’t pre booked a special meal) and by the time they get to me I always end up with whatever is left.
This was a VERY different experience… table cloths, cloth (not tissue) napkins, metal cutlery, with knives that would actually cut something.
So, clearly it is anticipated that people with the likelihood to be violent are thought to fly only in Economy. There is something incredibly ludicrous about assumptions in relation to people with and without money or perhaps, more accurately, about how people choose to spend their money.
And how was the food? Really rather tasty. Whether that had something to do with presentation (on crockery rather than in a vacuum sealed tin) or the actual preparation, I don’t know.
After a nap, I woke up just in time to watch as we flew up the Thames towards London.
Heathrow Airport, any of the terminals, has never been a pleasurable experience in my view… and today was…
…exactly the same as on prior occasions.
Have low expectations, you’re never disappointed. Often pleasantly surprised but never disappointed.
After the incredible friendliness and politeness shown throughout Asia, New Zealand and Australia, landing in Heathrow and meeting staff who don’t even bother to acknowledge a “good morning” is embarrassing.
On disembarkation, as one of a limited number of flights landing, passengers lined up at the automatic passport scanners.
Number six, the one I was standing next to, didn’t open. I watched three or four people use each of the others and attempted to get the attention of a member of staff.
After three attempts… let’s call him… Surly informed me: “That one isn’t working.”
Wouldn’t it have been helpful to tell me that? Or have a sign there?
The friendliest member of staff was one of the porters pushing the baggage trollies: “Morning,” “Excuse me,” “Thanks very much, love.”
That was a pleasant surprise.
So, without any temperature scanning, I left the airport and met Gabor who was driving me to Gatwick. (Honestly, don’t ask me about this convoluted route home to Manchester).
The M25 was quiet though Gabor said it was the centre of London that was really deserted at the moment. We talked about the impact of coronavirus on people whose jobs depend on travel and tourism.
He told me that Hungary has suspended rent, mortgage and loan repayments until September which is great for his friends and family, while he will do the best he can to manage.
Gatwick was a completely different experience to Heathrow. No temperature screening again but the staff were incredibly friendly, obviously from a physical distance.
The staff were cheerful here. The atmosphere, even during these strange times, was nice.
One lady laughed sympathetically when I explained I was struggling with a scanner because I had to take off my spectacles but couldn’t see the instructions on the screen as a result.
It’s not easy having rubbish eyesight.
The airport was quiet. At the check in desks, because of limited flights, the queues stretched across the airport rather than winding around – it allowed passengers to create distance.
All of the restaurants were closed. Food was available from Marks and Spencer and WH Smith.
Upstairs in Departures, even WH Smith was closed but the staff were using the time for stock clearance while singing along to 80s classics.
Their rendition of Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ was a real high point. I was disappointed when it was time to board the flight.
Next stop: Dublin. There was no temperature screening, just a leaflet for arrivals into the country and advice on isolation.
It had been over 24 hours since anybody checked my temperature. I was no longer used to sailing through life without anyone brandishing a thermometer to my head.
No, I wasn’t home yet. Scenic route.
Both Gatwick and Dublin were incredibly quiet. It is a decidedly odd experience to walk through a deserted airport.
They’re usually so noisy but both were eerily quiet. With shops and cafes closed there was no music or relentless advertising.
At Dublin, it was only the coronavirus warnings on maintaining a distance of 2m that broke the quiet.
Looking around, the advice was definitely being followed. If I’d wanted a conversation with the person closest to me, we would have needed to learn semaphore.
A couple of hours to wait before boarding the final flight home to Manchester.
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