Last Friday, I went on my first flight for over four months. For the vast majority of people on this planet, a four month gap in travel may not even raise an eye brow, but for me it was beyond strange.
I’ve already explained how so many of my planned trips had to be cancelled, including several to Dublin and Barcelona for work. If it hadn’t been for COVID-19, I’d have been on a plane several times a month each month since March.
To put this in context, I hadn’t planned on travelling just to get out of London (though that was a handy bonus). Last Friday was my mum’s 70th birthday and if things had gone to plan, we’d have been enjoying the weekend in Sitges on the beach.
Sadly, a global pandemic put a stop to that.
So, we organised a surprise visit to Scotland to see her and celebrate this milestone to get her. I still can’t believe we managed to get it past her, and ended up surprising her at my sister’s house. She was, quite literally, speechless!
A day of firsts
Actually, Friday was also the first time I’d been on the tube in four months. And the first time I’d been on an overground train in four months. And an airport! So if I’m honest, it had the potential to be a tad overwhelming.
The tube journey was relatively painless. It was at about 8am and the Jubilee Line was miraculously quiet. The Heathrow Express was similarly empty, so the journey out to London Heathrow wasn’t too bd at all. If I hadn’t have been wearing a mask, nothing would have seemed out of the ordinary at all.
The airport was significantly quieter than usual, but as this is Heathrow we’re talking about, there were still a lot of people milling about. As Gold Card holders, we were able to use the First Class check-in and quick access to the lounge. So I didn’t experience the main security checks and have no idea what they were like.
First Class security was well organised, but the fact that there was only one line open made social distancing a bit harder than it needed to be. COVID-19 made both I and TheFrankFlyer conscious of everything we were touching and of course had to take time to clean our hands (and belongings) just as soon as we recovered our stuff from the scanner.
Before we knew it, we were in the First Class Lounge and it finally felt like old times again.
Usually, the First Class Lounge brings me immense joy in the morning. Superb coffee and a delicious breakfast buffet more than makes up for any early start to get there. Sadly, COVID-19 restrictions meant the buffet – all self-service, in fact, was closed. Obviously! The last thing you want during a pandemic is the public using the same utensils to grab food and make drinks.
But BA had installed an ingenious system to work around this. Each socially distanced table had a unique QR code. When scanned, it pulls up an online menu for drinks and breakfast. Within minutes, I was enjoying a Full English, some coffee and a cheeky glass of champagne.
While I much prefer selecting my own food, the service was amazing, Super friendly, but also careful to maintain safety and social distancing. I enjoyed a lovely socially distanced chat with one of the team as I went looking for a quiet place to call my mum from.
(I was keen to maintain the illusion that we were staying in London, so told her I was calling from a Starbucks!)
After a brief stop at the Duty Free to get some birthday champagne, it was time to board our flight. Again, all change due to the virus – but actually, I really hope this is a change they keep forever!
Just like in Japan, the plane was boarded from the furthermost seat rows. So the back of the plane got on first, followed by everyone else, in groups of five or so rows. This meant, that as we were in row 7, we were among the last to board, there was minimal queuing and no hanging around the entrance to the plane. On boarding, we were each given a small plastic bag containing some anti-bacterial gel.
Service on board was great and you could tell the cabin had been freshly cleaned. Still, it didn’t stop us wiping down our surfaces with wet wipes! There were some additional announcements about the importance of keeping your masks on (though some passengers had to be reminded – a few times) and I spent the remainder of the flight as I normally would – engrossed in a podcast.
Yes, it was incredibly weird to be back on a plane and in such an enclosed space with so many strangers. But it was also strangely comforting to be doing something so normal after months of weirdness and lockdown.
Edinburgh Airport was operating under the slightly more restrictive Scottish opening rules, so most shops and all bars were still closed. This included all airport lounges, so we spent our pre-boarding time in Caffè Nero (Oh the humanity!)
Our return flight was the mirror image of the first one, but I couldn’t help but notice on arriving in London just how few people were wearing masks compared to in Scotland.
Our turn journey home was quick, but again, a significant number of people on the carriage were maskless, making me wonder who’s enforcing the rules and why people think it’s still okay to flout them.
All in all
On reflection, this had the potential to be uncomfortable and anxious, but it wasn’t so bad at all. I’m glad my first flight was a short one and started with a very comfortable experience in the lounge.
It was nice to get out of London, see some Scottish countryside and inhale some clean air. And of course, wonderful to see my family and spend some quality time with them all.
This will probably be my last flight for a while, seeing as our rescheduled trip to Japan now looks to be cancelled. Again.