Glimmer of hope: The mood at Luton airport as England restarts overseas travel

Glimmer of hope: The mood at Luton airport as England restarts overseas travel

LUton Airport at 6 a.m. on the day the overseas vacation trip begins again. The rooms are quiet. Many stores are closed. At the easyJet office, staff seem relieved that things are quieter than expected: last week’s mass brawl was a bad shock. Standing on the escalator leading to the departure lounge, I suddenly realize why I feel disoriented: I haven’t been on an escalator for 15 months. The people are well separated, but they chat quickly.

In Pret a Manger, I meet Abby, British but living in Spain, who is trying for the second time in four days to fly to Malaga. “I had the wrong letter proving that I had to travel,” she said. She had started remote work before the pandemic, which in retrospect seemed like a good decision, but the new bureaucratic demands can be difficult and slow to negotiate.

For now, this new kind of travel, with extra letters and certificates, all the new red tape and barriers, looks like something resurrected at an earlier age of travel: when passengers were carrying all kinds of extra paperwork: copies of birth certificate, beaten (and undoubtedly very unsanitary vaccination records, letters proving you had money in your pocket and a house to go to.

Luton Airport is restarting as overseas vacation travel. Photography: Kevin Rushby

The travel industry certainly has a lot of hope on this day. Alan French, CEO of Thomas Cook, tells me: “Holiday bookings tripled last week and Portugal was the most popular as clients booked last minute getaways to the Algarve, Madeira and Lisbon. By the time summer kicks off in earnest around July, we are confident that most Mediterranean hotspots, including Spain and Greece, will be on the green list. “

Not all companies survived the crisis. In the airport, many shops look closed, the names of the main streets that are gone, perhaps forever: Dixons Travel (all 35 UK airport shops), Victoria’s Secret (25 shops British in administration), Bella Italia (collapsed in July 2020) and Accessorize (entered administration in June 2020). Walking through an airport now looks very similar to the UK’s average high street: patches of light and life amid long stretches of dark.

Some companies have survived after anxious times. Matthew Pack, the CEO of Holiday Extras, which provides, among other things, airport parking, transfers and accommodation, has had dark days. “January 2021 was a low point,” Pack told me a few days before I left. “We had 500 employees on leave and felt like we had to face six more months.” The announcement of the green list was a huge relief. “We had the best working day in six months.”

Luton Airport itself certainly needs the good times to come back. Travel and tourism are the main employers with TUI and EasyJet based here. The only thing the travel industry fears is another setback, another foreclosure. Even now, the financial constraints on travel are considerable. To make this trip to the Algarve, I needed a negative Covid PCR test, which cost £ 200, and I will need to get a second one during my stay in Portugal, at € 100.

For many, these additional costs are just too high, but Noel Josephides, the chairman of Sunvil, is cautiously optimistic: “Once visitors return from a successful vacation, I expect confidence to return. I pray we don’t have the stop / go issues we had last year. “

The mixture of nervousness and hope is reflected in the departure hall. People distrust each other, but end up starting distant conversations that usually begin with an agreement that everything is a little weird. At 8 a.m., cafes get busier and more busy with queues forming. “The public has been unnecessarily frightened by the trips,” says Josephides. “The destinations will welcome us with open arms.”

Many people believe that because everyone has tested negative for Covid and is wearing a mask, it helps allay fears. At the boarding gate, Martha Prudênciu is looking forward to seeing her family in Portugal again after almost a year. “The worst is the uncertainty. Now I am so happy that we can travel again.

As I walk towards the plane, my pockets full of extra paperwork, I feel the same.


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