time to explore with esplora

Up Up and away-Air Travel is back!

Writer Patrick J O Brien takes to the skies and in the first of his three part feature states that recovering the confidence of the travelling public is a major initiative that Malta International Airport must ceaselessly pursue

In March 2020, my social calendar was full of chance and jollification. Travel, concerts, Irish friends visiting, networking lunches and events, but the coronavirus changed all that. It came crashing down on Malta and all of us like the plague. 16 months on, the coronavirus woke us up to the fact that our very lives depend on circulation, congregation and chance crossings, maybe more than we knew. The damage of the COVID-19 crisis will be felt for years to come, but all indications are that people have retained their need and desire to travel. The prolonged period of being closed off to the outside world during COVID-19 continue to increase my personal sense of adventure and my search for escapism. So when the tourism season officially reopened and the airport began to welcome the avid traveler on June 1st, I was online to book my island getaway to Sicily on Malta Air.

Before leaving home, I had to think for a moment about downloading my Malta Air boarding pass and my PDF Locator form. Naturally, reducing contact and minimising time spent in the airport is key for us all, so was content in the knowledge that online and mobile check-in is available for Malta Air customers using the Ryanair app . Passengers from Malta are strongly advised to be at the airport at least two hours before their scheduled flight departs, this is to allow for extra airport checks which include new COVID processes. On my arrival the terminal was quiet. That is to say that people are checking in but they’re certainly not having to queue in droves to do it. With airlines making it a requirement for compulsory check in before you enter the departure areas, masks were the rule, not the exception. Though fully vaccinated all passengers must show proof of a rapid or swab test completed 48/72 hours before their selected flight. There are hand-sanitizers dotted all across the airport and plenty of signs asking people to social distance. Shoes off, laptops out, all the standard stuff for most travelers and I was through security in minutes. Due to the drastic fall in traveler numbers Malta’s duty free establishments and F&B outlets whose revenues have been utterly decimated during the pandemic were at least showing some positive movement.

Patrick J.O'Brien

In virus terms boarding is one of the riskiest parts of flying, If you’ve ever queued on a crowded walkway, sandwiched tightly between two strangers, and thought: ‘There must be a better way to board a plane’, here’s the good news: You’re right. The bad news? Most airlines simply don’t care. I give credit to Malta Air staff for boarding promptly our Catania flight but once aboard passengers sat shoulder to shoulder in allocated seats wearing masks at all times . I didn’t feel wildly unsafe, it was psychologically uncomfortable knowing how much time we had spent in lockdown. I kept hoping airline bosses were right when they insisted there was minimal chance of getting coronavirus on a plane. Aboard the plane, I found comfort in prior annoyances, the travelers who managed to bang every armrest on their way to the back rows with their roller luggage, the tugging on my seat as people moved in and out of the row behind me, only outdone by the immediate reclining of the seat in front of me,. And on what planet is it OK to listen to your mobile on your device without headphones? But after so many travel-free months, all these

irritations quickly faded. Travel of course, won’t be the same as it once was, but maybe that won’t be a bad thing. Cities will be quieter, UNESCO World Heritage Sites won’t be over-crowded and the skies will be less polluted. The planet has had a breather, and although the tourism industry has been suffering massively, the pandemic has taught us a vital lesson that travel is a privilege and not a right. As with anything during the pandemic, what is true today could change tomorrow. While the current outlook for E.U. travel looks hopeful, there’s no guarantee your trip will go according to schedule. Included in the E.U. guidance is an “emergency brake” that will stop travel between places where cases are spiking to reduce the risk of spreading new variants. Having dusted off my old travel know-how, familiar annoyances on the road were eclipsed by the joy of reconnecting with airports Even with the dread that may accompany it for many, travel is a liberation.