On the 25th of March I took a repatriation flight from Barcelona to Vienna.
Published in METROPOLE Vienna.
First off, seeing such a big airport like Barcelona’s El Prat so deserted is eerie. Usually bustling with life and travelers of all ages and sizes, It’s reduced to a gigantic, empty hall, a remnant of its former purpose where the few noises echo through the terminals.
Every step is heard, every cough in the distance accounted for. You can hear a pin drop – literally. The “departure” displays were nearly blank. Instead of an endless range of blinking lights, numbers and exotic destinations, there were merely 8 to choose from. The personal game I like to play at the airport, wondering “Where would I prefer to go,” was woefully brief, reduced to a boring minimum.
Over the next hour, the few dozen Austrians awaiting repatriation would gather round the intended terminal. As we followed instructions and lined up, we received new face masks and were ordered to for the entire duration of the flight. Faceless individuals in military uniforms giving orders just added to the strange, menacing feel – like being in a disaster movie as a background extra, shunted around like cattle.
After scanning our boarding passes, a large man in a mask and white hazmat suit asked every passenger “Are you Austrian?” – the confirmation was needed, as there were a few Croats with us that had different instructions for repatriation.
A few meters further along the gangway to our plane, the next man in hazmat gear waited.
“We’ll be taking your temperature now”. Bend forward, expose your forehead – literally bowing to authority – scan. 36,4 degrees – good to go.
The final hurdle was yet another hazmat suit holding a tube of disinfectant; in turn, he asked each of us for our hands, squirting the smelly gel into them.
As we were seated, I noticed that all middle rows were empty; we were instructed to maintain our distance while on board. A bag was strung over every seat – full of “snacks,” a bottle of water and several papers to fill out and sign.
Confusion ensued as to which forms were meant for whom, as well as instructions about the impending quarantine; harsh Viennese accents complained with subtle Austrian chauvinism about forms in English. “Our language is German,” the frequent complaint was.
Aside from the usual safety dance instructions, the faceless military men tried to explain which papers had to be filled out and signed by whom – but their instructions, spoken through facemasks, were rather hard to follow.
And yet, somehow, we all managed – and the flight commenced.
I blocked my fellow Austrians speaking in dialect from all sides mostly by listening to music. The tension was palpable. Some spoke nonstop out of excitement and nervousness, others were silent, looking fearful – perhaps most Austrian of all, a few complained loudly about those talking nonstop.
It was strange, yet fascinating. Flights all over Europe were more or less suspended, and the sky was as empty as the airport, adding to the sense of disaster. I stared outside at the sunset, sad to leave my home in Barcelona.
Upon landing, it was back to business. “Due to safety instructions, we will only let ten people disembark every 5 minutes.” More complaining– but everyone complied.
Thankfully I was in row 7, and got out very quickly – only to be greeted by a friendly man from the ministry who had me sign a document consenting to self-quarantine. A herd of policemen and women watched from a distance as I went through passport control, then a final check of temperature. 36,4 degrees – still the same.
As I claimed my luggage and walked through another empty airport, the PA system specifically addressed us new arrivals. Stay distant. Conform to quarantine.
Yes, big brother. I shall.