On the 25th of March, 2020, amidst the strange global pandemic of the corona virus, I take up the offer by the Austrian government to fly from Barcelona to Vienna. And flying in pandemics surely is quite an experience. Find more of my reasoning here.
So what happens on a corona repatriation flight?
The emptiness of such a big airport like Barcelona Prat is eerie. A place that usually bustles with life and travelers and tourists and people of all ages and sizes is reduced to a gigantic, empty echoing hall. A remnant of its former purpose.
All steps are echoed, every cough in the distance is accounted for. What usually is an ocean of noise is now a humbling, quiet place. The “departure” displays were almost void of information. Instead of an endless range of blinking lights, numbers and exotic destinations, there were merely 12 to choose from. When I’m at airports I and I look at the endless list of wonderful places around the world, I usually think to myself “Where would I prefer to go?” Today the choice was reduced to a boring minimum.
Over the next hour the few dozen Austrians would gather around the intended terminal. While we lined up according to instructions, we were given new face masks – ordered to be worn over the course of the entire time on the plane.
After scanning the boarding passes, a big masked man in a white hazmat suit asked every passenger “Are you Austrian?” – to confirm who we were. (there were a few croats on board that would have different instructions to be repatriated).
A few meters further along the boarding bridge, the next man in suit and mask waited. Faceless individuals in military uniform giving orders added to the strange, threatening feel to it. Like experiencing a disaster movie as a background extra, cattled around.
“We’ll be taking your temperature now”. Bend forward, show the forehead (the symbolic bowing gesture, oh dear leader in white) – scan – 36,4. Good to go.
The last masked man before entering the airplane held a tube of disinfectant, asked for the hands, and squirted the smelly gel into them.
The first passengers were seated – all middle rows empty. The distance would have to try to be kept on board as well. A bag of goods was strung over every seat – “snacks” provided, a bottle of water and several papers to fill out and sign.
A bunch of confusion which papers were meant for whom, some directions about the impending quarantine, and harsh Viennese accents complaining in their subtle racist attitudes on why some of these forms are in English. “Our language is german!” the frequent complaint was.
Next to the usual safety instructions that were ignored as always, the faceless military men tried to explain who would have to fill out and sign which papers – but giving instructions through facemasks are rather blurry and hard to follow.
And yet somehow we all managed – and the flight commenced.
I blocked out those Austrian dialects from all sides by mostly listening to music. The tension was palpable. Some people talking nonstop in excitement and nervosity, others frozen in fear – others complaining about the ones talking nonstop.
I just stared out the window. The feeling was strange – knowing that flights all over Europe were more or less suspended. The sky as empty as the airport – adding to the sense of fascinating disaster. I looked outside. Watched the sunset, sad to have left home.
After landing, the procedure continued. “Due to safety instructions we will only let ten people off board every 5 minutes”. More complaining ensued – but the people complied.
Thankfully I was in row 7. Out very quickly – to be greeted by a friendly man from the ministry to give my signed document consenting to self quarantine. A herd of policemen and women watched from the distance, a quick passport check, and a final check of temperature. 36,4. Same same.
Another empty airport greeted me. Going to the luggage belt, the airport announcer addressed specifically us new arrivals. Stay distant. Conform to quarantine.
Yes big brother. I shall.