Flying in Covid-19 Era

The difference between safety and none

It is 1316hrs and I’m headed to Edinburgh airport. It feels like a million years ago when I was last at the airport. Back when we were cave people and shaking hands was kind.The Coronavirus crisis has curtailed everyone’s movement. I badly want to see how flying has changed.

Just as the Airport Link Bus approached the final stop, I remembered I didn’t have on me one important document; my passport. I thought I carried it but the image of the blue- covered piece of legality lying peacefully on my bedroom locker taunted me. I had to go back.

A taxi from the airport to my flat and back cost me slightly above thirty pounds. How expensive improper planning is! My flight was scheduled for 1715hrs but I knew I needed to get there early. There were many changes with regards to physical distancing as Easyjet had suggested when sending my boarding pass.

The new normal

Which takes me to the first time I came to the UK. It was also the first time I flew anywhere outside Kenya. I had never even been to JKIA. This is the largest international airport in Nairobi. Never needed to be there. Nobody in my family had ever left the country or returned to give me an excuse to go to the airport to pick them up. We didn’t even have friends overseas.

When the agent I dealt with sent me my ticket, I was supposed to Check in and print a Boarding pass. That language was new to me. As far as I was concerned, aeroplanes operated like Mat za Githu. All I had to do was hop in and hop out. It was not to be.

My best friend, Flo, looked at me with unconcealed wonder. Catherine, a twedi something, seemingly exposed girl who hadn’t a clue about planes and flying. She ended up doing the check in and boarding pass printing for me. She was to also take me through the whole process of flying and what to expect. I had a checklist.

To avoid being a nuisance, I didn’t ask her what a boarding pass was. I asked another friend; Maggie. She is like a mum to me so she wouldn’t deny her daughter some education on boarding passes. Ha ha. I met her at a school where she works and she patiently explained about boarding passes and gates and terminals. Boy , haven’t I come from far!

I thought about this in the backseat of the taxi as I came back to the airport. I was on time. My passport and my tiny purple cabin bag with me. I chose the mini suitcase for her colour at the shop;purple. Purple screams royalty. I am in the Queen’s land so there you go.

She also stands out in the school of other suitcases. You will always notice her toned behind as she waltzes down the carousel without a care in the world. Many times I’m tempted to let her make another round before picking her up. She strikes me as one who loves the attention she gets. Some would call it a vanity, I call it confidence. I like confident suitcases.

A lady’s voice is reminding everyone over the PA systems about wearing face masks and social distancing. We are trying even as the security checks prevail. Cute masks, smiley masks, oversized masks, tribal masks. It is a sea of face masks and sweat. Especially sweat.

The temperature is somewhere near 20 degrees Celsius and that is very hot for any city in Scotland. I think I’m melting under my clothes. I have been trying to lose weight for a while now and melting sounds like an excellent way to achieve my body goals. Melt away chubby bum bum melt away…

1650hrs and the beautiful Easyjet flight attendants are explaining about security protocols inflight. This time I listen. I had forgotten where my safety jacket is supposed to be. The plane is half empty. I notice this as my attention drifts away from the two flight attendants who are wearing Snow White face masks.

My seat is 14A and it is near the window. I do not know if it is supposed to be that way though. Until now, I can’t tell whether A is the aisle seat or the window one. I usually wait for other passengers to come and claim their seat but today this plane is half empty. I get to keep the window seat. 1655hrs and there is a plane packed at the airport screaming HOP! In dark blue letters. Sounds like graffiti I’d find back in Nairobi on a Matatu. Yes I miss Matatus big time.

Save for the passengers travelling as a family (read couple) , everyone else is encouraged to seat by themselves. I like the way these flight attendants are smiling with their eyes. I am seated across a missus and her pink earphones. I momentarily look at her then focus on my flight details.

We are one heartbeat away from take off. The captain fluidly begins to taxi away. This is my favourite part. I notice another plane crying HOP! take off before us. She starts out like a giant eagle, lifts her wheels then kisses the clouds nose first and becomes a baby sparrow. Then it is our turn.

I enjoy the moment when the captain accelerates just before ascent. I love it. Speed thrills me. Is it such a bad idea to have a race rally using planes? I have been thinking about writing that to airlines. They need to factor it in their future Olympics or something. The adrenaline packed mini rally is my starter juice. I live for this moment. I fly for take offs.

The tiny flaps on the wings of the plane open and close. They open and close. Like a baby’s mouth they open and close. We are airborne and she hides her legs into the fuselage. Gate 18 and 17 of Edinburgh airport fade in the distance as does the aeroplane parking lot that is the entire airport. All I see are dots and spots of buildings. We tilt on one side and I know we are headed to the windmills.

I see them. Three of them. They look like angry three-armed women flailing their hands in the wind. Unstoppable. The pilot does whatever pilots do with those windmills (can anyone explain to me, thank you) then we are South-bound to London.

I marvel at nature below until the plane disappears into the clouds and all I see is layers of clouds. Some still, others moving. They look like heaps of cotton wool left in the skies by a creative God. Whenever I fly, Juu Angani plays in my head and now it is. It is a Swahili song by Ambassadors of Christ Choir in Rwanda. For some reason I do not read the novel I am holding. I am too distracted.

I focus on Pinkie. She has been coughing for a while now. Short little bouts of cough. Sporting a once white pair of hot pants exposing her sufficiently tanned lanky legs and a black top, she embodies dietary discipline. She coughs under the pink face mask. The nurse in me hopes she is alright. She smiles with her eyes probably to indicate that all is well. She then places her immaculately sculptured legs on the seat and filed her nails away.

She was bewitchingly gorgeous and she knew it. She opened her pink purse and removed some fake nails and started gluing them to her own. So effortless. She removed her face mask for a while to take a selfie. Instagram influencer, I told myself. She buttressed the photo with a short video where she fluttered her fake lashes exposing her pink eyeshadow and Cleopatra eyes.

Just then a flight attendant passed by and asked her to put her legs back on the floor and wear her face mask. She was however free to remove the mask, eat then wear it again. Pinkie frowned. Perhaps at the suggestion of eating. Girls with such bodies don’t eat. They smell food. They feed on the aroma of meals and they are satiated. Girls like me however, gain weight just by looking at pictures of foods.

The clouds outside are breathing and the air is flowing in tiny wisps atop each batch. The gentleman on seat 13A in front of me is singing to some music from his headphones. I miss listening to music in Matatus. Shouldn’t they play music in planes too? Safety and security reasons you say? Ah , alright mother. Alright.

50 minutes later, the captain’s voice resonates through the cabin and announces our imminent arrival at London Luton Airport. The descent begins. My ears start hurting. I chew my gum like my life depends on it.

I didn’t know about decompression syndrome until that maiden flight outside Kenya last year. As the Etihad Airbus descended towards Abu Dhabi International airport, my eardrums almost burst open. I was sure I would die. Either that or have cerebrospinal fluid rush out of my ears. What is a person without their brain juice?

I couldn’t hear myself think leave alone others speak. The only remedy that has so far worked for me is chewing gum. I chew gum with unmatched vigor. I chew gum like it hurt me. Probably to squeeze life out of it as I save my own.

Being UK, I wasn’t surprised to find it raining in London and my host stuck in traffic. The vicissitudes of UK weather pattern makes one blush. A climate for books. Geographical books.

Though changes have come with Covid-19 pandemic, getting a chance to travel is still a blessing. What we aren’t sure of still is, when will this end? Will it ever end anyway? Until then, safe skies everyone.

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