Travelling in the Corona Times
We were about half way through June when it seemed that the corona madness in Europe was close to an end. All sorts restrictions were being lifted and borders began opening. I was so much excited as it started to look like we were actually going to leave for our holiday in France after several months of no travelling. My euphoria was so strong that I also immediately purchased flight tickets to Cyprus and I wanted to keep on buying more tickets. Thank god I didn't make it. The corona madness took just a few days break and then returned in a different shape. Most countries turned away from abolishing travel restrictions and started making up all sorts of nonsense complications for people who'd like to travel. Starting with online forms and ending with corona tests which cost more than flight tickets. My travel mood started leaving me fast.
Fortunately, France belonged and belongs to the handful of countries that opened to all EU states with no restrictions (and after 2 months there's still no apocalypse happening there). And so I carefully started looking forward to our holiday again. That was before Lufthansa, which we were supposed to fly, received the 9 billion euros financial aid from the German government. One day later the airline cancelled 70% of all their flights. They got the money, so why bother flying... The cherry on top was the fact that they didn't even inform any of their passengers. It was a pure coincidence that I logged into my Lufthansa account and discovered that our flights got cancelled.
A shitstorm was already going on on Lufthansa's Facebook by that time. That's because the airline didn't just cancel the flights. They also didn't allow people to rebook their flights online. So hundreds of thousands of customers had to call Lufthansa's call centers which were absolutely swamped. Many people didn't get connected even after days of waiting. I managed to get in touch with their call center in Canada (there was no chance with any European branch). In the end I had to call several times because the agent on the line was not even able to look up possible connections in their own reservation system. Therefore I had to make up my new routing by myself and then tell them to book me on that. And then it was finally time to start looking forward again.
We really are going
The day of departure was July 22nd. I spent the week before departure checking our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, French Embassy and French Ministry of Interior websites. It still seemed that we'd be able to depart with absolutely no nonsense measures. As I was also reading the news about travels to other countries such as Croatia or Greece, it seemed almost unbelievable.
Two hours before departure we parked at a parking garage directly at the airport. At least one good thing we can thank for to corona. One year ago we couldn't even think about paying for airport parking. But this year the cost was just a bit over 20 € for the whole week.
While walking to the terminal building, we could already see the impact of the pandemic. The silence all around was post apocalyptic like. The terminal itself was almost empty. But still I was happy we had arrived two hours ahead, as Lufthansa prepared another surprise for us. The agent who changed our reservation didn't include the checked baggage which we paid for. Fortunately I was ready for that and I had printed out the payment confirmation, but still it took some time to sort it out at the check in desk.
Despite flying to a Schengen country, we still had to pass a passport check. Another corona measure. At least the policemen informed us that it is NOT mandatory to wear masks inside of the terminal.
Our flight was scheduled to depart from the absolutely farthest away gate, so we walked through the entire airport. It was an interesting sight, as most shops and restaurants were closed. The long corridors had just a few people roaming in them and they were all heading to the same gate as us.
The area around the gate was slowly getting crowded and when the boarding started, there were roughly 80 people waiting with us. A few days before departure I read that planes departing from Prague have the average of 7 people travelling on them, so this crowd was quite a surprise. The boarding was organized in groups because of social distancing, which turned out to be another nonsense as all the groups then gathered in the narrow and crowded jet bridge.
Lufthansa scheduled the Embraer 195 for this flight. A small aircraft that has just 2 seats on each side, which is always pleasant. The plane was 100% full. #socialdistancing, but only when it's convenient. The on board service consisted of a bottle of water and flyers with strict instructions about who can and who can not enter Germany.
Health protection for the win
50 minutes later we landed in Frankfurt. The deboarding was organized in groups. After deboarding all the groups gathered on a crowded bus.
We had 2 hours of waiting for our connecting flight ahead of us. The Frankfurt Airport was busier than the Prague one. Since the zero on board service, we wanted to have a coffee somewhere, but all the coffee shops and even vending machines were closed. There were flyers everywhere informing us that this is a measure for protection of our health. There was an only single coffee shop opened in the middle of the terminal, that logically had a roughly 2km long queue of people in front of it. You know, for health protection.
Boarding was organized the same way as in Prague, only this time the aircraft was a full A320, so the jet bridge was crowded even more. The flight assistants were honoring the social distancing, therefore providing no assistance during boarding. This resulted in a huge mess in the overhead lockers, which caused half of the passengers including my wife sitting on their carry ons. The on board service consisted of a bottle of water and three different forms required to enter France. That's what we were told. I had the suspicion that it was bullshit as travelling to France from all EU countries was completely restriction free, but we filled out the forms anyway. Of course nobody wanted them in the end. I have no idea where the legends about German perfectionism and ordnung came from. Any experience I've ever had with Germany only always caused me trauma.
Ah, sweet France, finally. The entry to the country was the same as usual - no policemen, no forms. We simply got off the plane, took our baggage and went straight for the tram. What followed was an amazing one week holiday. It was incredibly relaxing and we also got to see and experience many things. If I look away from the mandatory masks on public transport and in shops, I wouldn't say the holiday was any different from previous years. But there will be a separate article about that. For now allow me to hate on Lufthansa a bit more.
The way back was the same as the way to France. With the sole difference of the check in agent in Nice, who was not helpful at all and wanted to force me to pay 25€ for checked baggage again. Thankfully I still had the payment confirmation on hand so I succeeded in argumenting my way out of paying extra.
This time we flew through Munich. Our A319 was again 100% full. The on board service? A bottle of water and German government flyers. We landed exactly on time, but then we taxied around the whole terminal with many free stands only to end up at the last one, which God knows why had some cargo unloaded on it. Therefore we had to wait for the cargo to be moved away. This mess was farther away from ordnung than India. We got off with more than a half hour delay and had to run across the whole airport to catch our connecting flight.
Thankfully, the flight to Prague was my shortest flight ever - the GCD was only 266km and take off to landing took just 29 minutes. I wouldn't even mind no on board service on this flight, althought I don't doubt that Ryanair would manage to cover drinks, food, souveniers and lottery even in those 29 minutes. And all that with a smile.
So this was our trip to France. Our tickets to Cyprus are for September and we are already pretty sure we are gonna cancel that, as Cyprus came up with mandatory Covid tests and we are not in the slightest mood to go through these. Thankfully, this flight is supposed to be with Ryanair which allows free change of dates and destination in the current situation (unlike many of the "big" fancy airlines). Maybe we'll fly somewhere else, but most probably we'll just postpone completely. And if we're gonna travel somewhere in the near future, it will be probably one of the neighbouring countries by train or by car, as they allows more flexibility in case of some new mind derangements of the countries' governments. We'll see. Hopefully we'll see better times coming. In any case, I'm sure about one thing - this summer was my first and last time ever flying Lufthansa.