What would be the most used term other than COVID-19? For me, it would have to be social distancing. Nowadays, we eat, sleep, breathe and ‘social distance’. It’s something that has become the new normal, and we do it without evening thinking. Untill this week I didn’t really consider or think about social distancing,untill I moved back to the U.K. Shifting from one home to the other.
If you don’t know me, that means it’s Kathmandu to the U.K. We can all agree, times are hard, and a lot of our livelihoods have taken a hit. In Nepal, the lockdown was opened however international flights weren’t available till August 1st. Recently, I’d also heard rumours of another lockdown being announced, so I didn’t want to be stuck in Nepal with little income.
Luckily, the British Embassy advertised on their social media channels commercial flights organized by Qatar Airways. The trip would be able to be booked through a local travel agent in advance.
When it came to me finding out how much the price was, my heart nearly skipped a bit. The price was $1300 for a one-way ticket from Kathmandu to London Heathrow! That was more than double for an average single and more than a return flight ticket.
Despite the surcharge, I gritted my teeth and let my bank balance take the hit. As the international flights were another month and a half away, also with potential rumours of another lockdown, I didn’t want to risk it. From my perspective, I thought it would be easier to pay more and look for work once I was in the country. Then wait until I got back once flights resumed and then had to undergo a 2-week self-quarantine.
When the day came, I had to arrive at Tribhuvan Airport 3 hours before my international flight. It was a pretty standard procedure for what I usually did. Once I entered the airport, I waited to stand in the queue to check-in. Before COVID, 2020 was the year, Nepal had invested on tourism, dedicating the year to it. Some of the funding from this budget went to renovating the international airport.
Standing in the queue, I began to notice some changes they made to the airport layout, such as the tiles and some of the desks. Similarly, in the line, they managed to place footprints on the floor to indicate the two-metre rule.
After Checking In
Once I’d checked in, I had to wait in a queue for around 25 minutes. Instead of going straight into immigration, they held me back. It turned out; the airport was only letting so many people step into immigration at a time to manage the social distancing and flying. When it was my turn, I had to use a hand sanitizer with the foot pump and wipe my shoes on a mat before getting the escalator.
Immigration also didn’t require me to fill in the forms. Once through I went into the newly renovated departure lounge, I sat down into a chair. Seeing the departure lounge in this new light was much better than the previous and a spacious one too! There were signs on seats not to sit down to also implement the social distancing. The only qualm I had, was that once you’re fully in departures, there are no coffee shops or restaurants to purchase a drink. Luckily, there is a water fountain that you can use.
Social Distancing and Flying Qatar Airways
After waiting for some time, I boarded on my Qatar flight. As I was one of the last customers to board, I’d noticed how the business class was not in use. No one was sitting in business class. Once I sat down to my allocated seat and was ready for take-off, I was content. Qatar had managed to assign seats, so the social distancing and flying were maintained brilliantly.
Not just that, throughout the whole flight all of the flight attendants were wearing efficient PPE. They were wearing masks, gloves and full-body suits protecting themselves and the customers from the transmission. I thought it was brilliant; they looked as if they’d been in a meth lab. Similarly, I felt sorry at the same time for the beautiful air hostesses as I didn’t know if they had makeup on or not prior.
After the five hour flight, I arrived in Doha and found it incredibly eerie. Since offboarding the trip, I walked through immigration with no checks. I don’t know if it was due to not needing to or COVID, but I thought it was strange no one was operating security. At Doha airport, most shops were closed apart from a few food outlets. Social distancing was done exceptionally well, and the sanitization of areas was regularly done.
Doha to London Heathrow
In comparison to the first flight, this long haul flight was packed! Business-class was extremely busy, and so was the economy. A few people I’d observed complained to the stewards and flight attendants as Qatar had overbooked them! Which meant no social distancing and flying on some rows. However, the staff were wearing PPE and delivered to a high service. The only complaint I had was that they didn’t serve drinks as much as they did on the other flights I’ve flown with Qatar.
Arriving at London Heathrow
London Heathrow is one of the most famous airports in the world. While I’ve travelled many times through Heathrow, this time it finally clicked why it has such an excellent reputation. Before entering immigration at Heathrow, I got redirected to fill in a form about where I’ve come from and where I’m staying for my quarantine. I did it on my mobile, while others had to go to a tablet station and fill it out (if they’d not filled it in advance). While many people complained in the queue, I’d like to highlight my gratitude and praise to the British border force.
A few men were working in the airport who took their time and extreme patience, helping people fill in forms. They even helped me and made me feel comfortable with how I was getting on. The customer service they did for their job was above and beyond.
Moreover, the high service did not stop there. As I was about to go to the baggage reclaim another member of the airport staff offered to help me look for my carousel and ask if I needed any further help. To be honest, I was perfectly fine. However, the genuine expression and empathetic tone in the man’s voice was incredibly warming.
After picking up my bag, I got the tube back to the train station and then a train up north to Newcastle. Finally, after travelling 24+ hours, I was in the comfort of my family home. Typing this post, I feel a sense of sadness, that this pandemic has brought me to the other side of the world. Yet even though I’m more connected with my family, I know that I’ll be back and I will be with my Nepalese family soon.