How to travel in a post-pandemic world
A man was crying at the check-in desk at Barcelona airport.
I was in the Vueling check-in queue for my flight to Brussels. The airport was busy – the Vueling check-in team were handling departures to destinations across Europe.
I wasn’t close enough to the front of the queue to hear what had transpired that had reduced the man to tears, but his sobbing was clearly audible to everyone. Trying to decipher the body-language of the woman from Veuling, it seemed clear that – for some reason – the man wasn’t able to check into his flight.
His sobbing continued. He was moved aside so that other passengers could be checked in, his sobbing continued. He pulled out a laptop and appeared to be looking for something on-screen, his sobbing continued.
I ran through the possible scenarios that might have reduced a middle-aged man to tears in Barcelona airport on a Sunday afternoon, but the variables were endless. To be honest, every journey I’ve made recently has almost reduced me to tears for innumerable reasons.
Travel can be a bit stressful and overwhelming at the best of times, but there’s inevitably some additional anxiety as we try and navigate our new-normal.
Things keep changing
The roll-out of the vaccine appears to be bringing a bit of stability into how the world operates, but things are still changing. Every trip feels a bit like you’re starting from scratch as you double-check the requirements for your destination, and also the requirements for your return.
I’ve had a few false starts with some destinations not recognising my UK-issued passport certificate, but across Europe that now seems to be pretty much sorted.
Each country is operating their own Passenger Location Form, and you’ve got to complete a new form each time you enter the country. You’d imagine that Europe will try and find some universal solution to this, but in the meantime it’s a bit of admin that you need to be on top of.
These different forms all need to be checked by the harried airline staff who are responsible for getting you on the plane. If you’re organised – and travelling by yourself – it’s relatively straightforward. If you’ve got children that you also need to account for, I’d imagine that it must be a bit of a headache.
I’ve also got one eye on getting back into the UK. They’ve announced that they’re planning to change their testing requirements – which currently make no sense – but it’s not clear when those changes are going to come into effect. I guess we all just keep playing it by ear.
I’m pretty good with technology, and filling out forms that need to be filled out. A QR code doesn’t phase me. I’ve also now done enough post-Covid trips that I’ve kind of got my head around how airports are functioning and the questions that I’m going to be asked along the way.
However, I still get performance anxiety – as I approach each flight, I worry that I’ve slipped up somewhere, forgotten something, and maybe won’t be able to board the flight.
That anxiety isn’t helped when you encounter something that doesn’t make sense or doesn’t seem to be working. For example, in the last few days I’ve been preparing for my flight from Brussels to Barcelona – flying with Vueling. I’ve flown into Spain with Vueling before – I felt confident that I knew what Vueling needed to see and what the Spanish authorities would require. Vueling sent me an email asking me to upload my documents so they could be pre-checked. I did that and Vueling responded that there was a problem with my documents. That’s when I start to panic a bit.
Ultimately, my documents were fine. My travel all went smoothly. I panicked for nothing. But it’s an emotional roller-coaster that is a bit exhausting.
Will things get better?
It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the vaccine solutions have become effective enough to reduce Covid-19 to an endemic health issue. On that basis, you could argue that we could safely remove a lot of the health precautions and administration from the travel experience.
However, I’ve got a sinking feeling that this is going to be how things are done for the foreseeable future.
We know that once “safety” requirements are embedded into the travel industry, it’s almost impossible to remove them. Think about the restrictions on taking liquids onboard a flight.
The reason we can’t take liquids onboard a flight is because back in 2006, security services detected a plot to smuggle explosives onto planes using liquid bottles. However, it seems to be fairly widely accepted that the liquids rule is now superfluous – but it hasn’t been removed because the screening for liquids has effectively been built into the airport experience.
Airports don’t seem to be interested in making things easier for travellers, let alone remotely pleasurable.
Are tears the answer?
Sometimes it can feel good to have a solid cry. It may not change anything, but it’s always better to let your emotions out rather than bottle them up inside.
But don’t expect a bout of tears to generate much sympathy from anyone in an airport. The airline staff are too busy to try and sort you out, and other passengers are too focused on ensuring that their own paperwork is in order – if you can’t hold it together then step aside and we’ll all be one step closer to getting on that flight.
Is it worth making the effort to travel?
There’s nothing easy about travel in this new-normal. You could mount a really robust argument that you’d probably be better off staying at home, or opting for a staycation somewhere nearby.
But personally, I’ve had enough of staying at home. I’ve stared at the walls of my flat for too long. Staying home is so fucking boring.
There’s nothing easy about travel, but I’ve got a life to live. There’s cocktails to be drunk, there’s tan-lines to expose, there’s a world to explore.
This new-normal of travel may be an emotional roller-coaster, but it’s a ride I’m willing to take.