Recently, I had a few months of travel which were a harken back to pre-Covid times. While it felt good to feel that familiar excitement about flying to ‘anywhere but within the motherland’, a lot of it was starkly different, serving as a grim reminder of the looming threat of a pandemic that still somewhat surrounds us.
Everything feels like an alternate reality, a grim one at that. Fewer counters being manned, many shops and eateries closed or working with restricted hours or seating spaces, an almost eerie silence that rings through the corridors which now feel hollowed out. That said, the almost palpable anxiety is most present among the travellers. When I made my first sortie, travel hadn’t entirely relaunched, so it was still all about sparsely populated empty airports. However, the next few trips and I could already see the change. “Revenge tourism” is the term being thrown around, but I don’t think it correctly captures the emotion at large. People aren’t travelling to prove anything to themselves or anyone else for that matter, they are merely grateful to be able to get out and explore.
To that end, airlines are happy to have the crowds back—all the flights I flew were near full—and while check-in counters are still being manned with restricted staff, some airlines are faring better than others.
My longest flight this time has been to Melbourne, and I was flying with Singapore International Airlines with a short layover at Changi—one of the finest airlines flying out of the one among the most flyer-friendly airports in the world. From the check-in to the food and wines on board to the service, nothing was out of line. The lounges were a bit packed and service did seem affected, but outside of that, everything else was executed perfectly as before. The new flat seats aboard the crafts—while not my personal favourite, I prefer their older train berth-style flatbeds—are being touted as one of the finest in the industry and even I will admit that, albeit a bit cramped, I did sleep like a baby for two out of the four legs of my flights. The wine lists onboard remain among the finest, appointed with much passion and professionalism, something that many equally big airlines get consistently wrong.
Another set of flights I took was with Emirates and this is a brand that seems to understand luxury rather well. From a dedicated first floor for lounges from where one can access the planes directly to seamless shopping and spa experiences at airports, they seem to have thought of them all. Well, maybe not kids, because in that department, I much prefer Changi, where you have a movie theatre, a butterfly garden, and many other ways to occupy the younger travellers. And their food court a la hawker centre remains one of my favourite stopovers for food world-wide. But when it comes to shopping, Dubai T3 has few rivals.
While the lines at immigrations, customs and security remain long and slow-moving, most airports are cognisant of this and are trying to manage crowds better all while keeping everyone, including themselves, safe. I felt lucky that I was only visiting airports for long-haul flights because when it comes to inter-Europe flights, or even flying within Australia, the domestic terminals were complete chaos.
So, should you get out, by all means, plan well in advance, account for contingencies, and prepare yourself for a little extra discomfort (and that includes having to wear a mask for the entire duration of a long-haul flight) but know that once you get there, in a reversal of adages, it’s the destination and not the journey that will matter.
All in all, the pandemic has made everyone realise a few things, that alcohol isn’t just a drug or a luxury but a tick on basic grocery lists, that to travel, is indeed a privilege and we should appreciate the opportunity no matter how near or far it takes us, and lastly that with the right kinda’ spending, even our modest homes can become much coveted castles of comfort.
(The writer is a sommelier)