I saw only one aeroplane yesterday. It’s so eerie seeing the sky empty of planes.
Not long before lockdown we had Extinction Rebellion telling the world to stop flying. Looks like we listened.
I have read that pollution levels are dropping more each day. Not just in the UK but in cities all over the world. And that this coronavirus crisis could trigger the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions, more than during any previous economic crisis or period of war. Ironically, since Covid-19 affects the lungs, those of us who are not infected are breathing more easily. Asthma sufferers are feeling better too. And we all know that we can now hear birdsong far more clearly. Not just at dawn but right through the day.
Last year OH (other half) and I did our bit for the environment. Instead of flying to France we made two long, relaxing train journeys from Kings Cross to Marseille. I say long but when you factor in the time you would normally spend getting to the airport, the time you spend in lines to check in your luggage and go through security, the time you spend hanging round at the airport waiting to board your flight – only to find that it has been delayed – then the train journey isn’t that much longer after all. And you arrive at your destination far less care worn and harassed.
In my advertising days I wrote press ads for Sealink Ferries. We used to say that your holiday began the minute you were on board. Train journeys are just the same. But not, alas, plane journeys. And now they’re telling us that if we are fortunate enough to get this lockdown relaxed and decide to fly abroad again that we will probably experience four hour waits at airports. Those of us who have used EasyJet won’t find the idea of four hour delays so unusual.
One of my early memories of flying was travelling to the States to meet my American relatives. I was 21. On the plane I was sat in-between an elderly woman (probably the age I am now!) with a weak bladder and a much younger woman who was heavily pregnant. They took turns throughout the flight in getting up to go to the loo and as a consequence I didn’t get any sleep.
Over the years OH and I have travelled extensively. One time we had been visiting the States with our two small sons in tow and bought loads of books to bring back to the UK.
At Kennedy Airport, when we checked in our luggage we found it was seriously overweight. We could not meet the extra cost they demanded we pay. What were we to do?
I’m speaking here of a time long before the kind of security we have today, when there was far greater freedom and barely any security at all at airports. But even in those far off days your luggage still had to adhere to the required weight.
Seeing our anxiety, the guy at the check-in desk suggested that we ask someone else to take the luggage on our behalf. Imagine doing that today! “Just find a lone businessman who isn’t carrying any luggage and see if he’ll take yours,” was his advice.
I approached every available guy who looked friendly. Some seeing a young woman approaching them looked just a little bit too friendly. “What have you got in there?” they would question, pointing to my baggage. “Drugs?”
“No just nappies” (diapers) I would say sweetly, “and a few books.” Eventually one kind guy took pity on us and checked in a case on our behalf.
However, when our plane landed at Heathrow it was met by a posse of security guards and we were escorted off the plane into a private area where we were cross examined. Our luggage was opened up and thoroughly checked before allowing us to continue with our onward journey. We still have many of those books – the Berenstein Bear stories are now a particular favourite with our grandchildren.
More recently, about eight years ago, we were travelling from Taiwan via San Francisco and thence on to Washington. First we had to go through immigration. Our man asked us the normal questions. Where were we going? What was the purpose of our visit? And so on. OH produced the required documents and showed them. Normally, when people see that OH works in cancer research they are really interested in his work and we have never had any problems. However, this time, the passport guy – whose name I remember was Michael Lee – frowned.
“I regret to tell you,” he said seriously, “that you will not be allowed into the United States of America.”
The earth could have swallowed us up we were so astonished. Rooted to the spot. Dumbstruck. Not allowed into America? Why? What on earth were we going to do?
But before we could say anything, the immigration official smiled and said, “April Fool!” Followed by, “You should see your faces!”
We had left Taiwan on April 1st – and here in San Francisco it was still April 1st. Who has ever heard of anyone in immigration making a joke – ever? We wondered afterwards if he had been saying it to all the people coming through or had just singled us out? We will never know.
© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems