The government has now given the green light for a quarantine trip to a multitude of vacation destinations.
From Birmingham, you can currently fly to France, Spain and many other holiday destinations across the continent.
Traveling to Europe has returned to a sense of normalcy after countries closed their borders in March.
Now the government allows the British to go abroad without quarantine for a fortnight upon their return to the country.
As the lockout measures loosen, you may be wondering what to expect at the start.
BelfastLive reporter Jessica Mercer booked a return flight and made the trip yesterday – and realized that the trip had changed in many ways due to the pandemic.
Here’s what happened when Jess made the trip from Brum to Belfast:
8:30 a.m. – Gloucester to Birmingham
On the platform at Gloucester Station, there are signs on the ground indicating where people should stand to help with social distancing, but since there were only 4 or 5 people waiting for the train, this n was not a problem.
When getting on the train, everyone kept their distance and the train was indeed practically empty. There were signs asking people to respect the rules of social distancing and to sit by the window.
Fortunately, I and everyone else wore a mask on the train. With three stops to make before arriving at Birmingham New Street, everyone else who got on the train also wore their masks.
9 h 45 – Birmingham New Street vers Birmingham International
Getting off the train at New Street, I decided to look for a place to grab a bite to eat, because I left this morning without breakfast. Having made this trip several times in the past, I knew that New Street station is reliable enough to have just about anything you want – be it coffee, sandwich or even sushi.
However, this time the only places open were WHSmith, Boots and The Body Shop. So I said to myself, “Sure – I’m going to the airport and bring something.”
At the station, there are several places marked by the ticket gates to form queues – but of course, there are no queues. There were around twenty people around me when I was there.
Without the usual open places and the buzz around the place, the station feels strangely calm. There are hand sanitizing stations and hand washing stations, as well as signs reminding travelers to wear their masks.
I head to the platform to take the 10:06 train to the airport.
10:15 am – Birmingham International at Birmingham Airport
Usually, to get to the actual Birmingham International Airport, just grab the airbus, which arrives about every three minutes and takes two minutes to drop you inside the airport itself, where it is only a few meters from security.
However, the airbus was not currently working, probably because it is smaller than an actual bus, which is what you should take instead.
The bus stop is inside, downstairs – but without any clear signs, it is confusing and leads to a small group of confused people with suitcases arriving in part of the ground floor.
Five minutes later, the bus arrives – and it takes us to the airport in about five minutes. Two airport entrances are closed and the only open one is the farthest. At this point, I feel like the weight of my own suitcase is starting to take its toll – and not eating breakfast doesn’t help either.
10:30 am – Airport check-in and luggage storage
Inside, the airport is clearly busy. There seems to be only one man guiding people to their respective queues, and he is directing me to the queue to register with easyJet. The queue is pleasantly short and I breathe a sigh of relief as it moves quickly.
However, the relief was short-lived as I checked in my bag and was then told to go to the “heavy baggage queue” – where everyone seemed to be, even if their suitcase was the size a thimble.
The queue takes about half an hour and during the wait I notice that most of the people in the queue look around questioningly, as if they don’t know what is going on . Many staff members have the same expression.
There are queue changes and divisions for each airline, but the wait is frustrating and I find myself with people in front of me how frustrating it is.
Fortunately, I can finally drop my suitcase and leave for security. Unfortunately, with so many security lanes closed, it becomes confusing and I have to go back to the staff member who directed me when I entered. I feel immense sympathy for this man, whose change must seem to last a year.
11am – Security
Security is also a longer queue than it usually would be, especially right now. In all fairness, with fewer staff due to leave, it makes sense that there aren’t as many security points open. Fortunately, the queue starts to move and I pass without problem.
Although there are several families in the queue, most are people traveling alone or in pairs – with few heading for a summer vacation in Greece, so less likely to be shot for forgetting that they had a bottle full of sunscreen in their hand luggage.
In the departures lounge, I saw that it was unlikely that I would get the breakfast I wanted – again, the only stores open were WHSmith and Boots. To be fair, there were sandwiches, crisps and salads. I was going to buy an egg and watercress sandwich until I heard the tannoy: “Last call for an easyJet flight to Belfast”.
I panicked and ran to the door, only to find a long queue for the flight. Typical. Fortunately, there was not a long wait at the door and everyone was able to board immediately.
12 h 10 – Birmingham à Belfast International
Everything was as usual on the plane, with no spacing – mainly because of the practical difficulties it posed. I always wear my mask, like everyone else. It’s starting to get on my nerves and all I want is for it to take it off and for me to breathe properly, but of course not.
The flight takes place quite transparently and it is good to land on the lawn at home for the first time in months.
Passengers must leave the plane row by row from the front and rear – which is actually a much nicer way to get off an airplane (as long as you’re not in the middle row).
12.58 p.m. – Baggage claim
From the plane to baggage claim at Belfast International. At this point, I’m starving, so while waiting for the bags to arrive, I head out to try to get a packet of Tayto crisps. But when I see the Tayto vending machine, I see that it is completely empty of my beloved crisps. A devastating spectacle.
Fortunately, the baggage started arriving and I was able to collect my suitcase at 1:15 p.m. – and headed for the exit.
The whole trip was more stressful than usual – but it’s just an inevitable product of social distancing, and since it was one of the first days of easyJet’s new flight program, it’s logical that many airport and airline employees seemed stressed.
At each stage of the journey, measures were in place to guarantee social distance and hygiene. However, it was a more tedious journey than it would have been before the lockdown. Plus, if there’s one thing that discourages people from traveling, it’s having all the stresses and strains of travel without any of the little luxuries that make it a little more enjoyable.
In any case, the whole trip was finally worth going home. Hopefully, on the return flight, things will be closer to what they were.