I flew from London to Dublin to be with my family during the coronavirus. Here’s what it was like to fly in Europe as it shuts down over the outbreak.

Sinéad coronavirus airport

Sinéad coronavirus airport

A composite image of me waiting in a very quiet Stansted Airport, and the empty security area.

Sinéad Baker


The novel coronavirus has created a nightmare for the airline industry, as reduced travel demand and countries shutting their borders means dramatically fewer passengers on flights.

I live in London, but decided to fly back to Ireland, where I am from, on Monday night to be with my family in light of the coronavirus.

I live alone in London and, with Business Insider’s office closed and virtually everyone working from home, I faced the prospect of no human contact for an unknown amount of time.

I had been self-isolating for a week before traveling, and booked my flight and flew before the UK issued guidance on travel abroad. I will also not be leaving the house in Ireland, and am distancing myself from my family in the house.

I flew from London’s Stansted Airport, which was almost entirely deserted, and my flight was the emptiest one I’d ever been on.

My experience isn’t unusual: So few people are flying and so many flights have been canceled, major airlines on the European continent have been issuing warnings about their future. UK airports have warned that they could close within weeks without government intervention.

Here’s what my experience was like.

I flew from London, where I live and work for Business Insider, to Ireland, where I am from and where my parents live.

London Liverpool Street

My walk to the train station in London.

Sinéad Baker


I chose a late flight — at 10 p.m. — so I could work a full day and also avoid rush-hour crowds. London’s Liverpool Street Station, where I took a train to the airport, was still pretty busy when I arrived at 7 p.m., but less so than normal.

London Liverpool Street

London’s Liverpool Street Station — which is near many major companies and train lines — was busy, but not as bad as it would on a normal Monday evening.

Sinéad Baker


My train was also pretty empty, making it easy to keep my distance from other people.

London’s Stansted Airport looked much more different. Stansted — one of the UK’s busiest airports — was practically deserted when I arrived. There were almost no passengers or airline staff to be seen.

Stansted Coronavirus



Sinéad Baker


My flight was with Ryanair, one of the world’s biggest airlines. But they only had a few desks open, and there was almost no one using them.

Ryanair coronavirus



Sinéad Baker


The entire departures and security area looked closed, which caused me a second of panic. But it turned out they had only opened one small section of the entrance.

stansted coronavirus

Most of the entrances to the security area were completely closed off.

Sinéad Baker


Only one security scanner was open in the entire airport.

stansted coronavirus



Sinéad Baker


The flight information display system showed a few flights out that night, but many were cancelled.

stansted coronavirus



Sinéad Baker


The canceled flights were all to Marrakesh, Morocco.

Morocco announced it was banning all international passenger flights to and from the country from Sunday onwards, and was operating some “exceptional” flights to take citizens home on Monday.

The duty free section was practically empty, and I saw far more airport staff members then I did other travellers.

stansted coronavirus



Sinéad Baker


Many shops had closed completely for the night. It’s not unusual for some shops to close up later in the evening, but there were fewer open than I had ever seen at this time.

stansted coronavirus



Sinéad Baker


The shops that were open weren’t exactly heaving with visitors, either.

stansted coronavirus



Sinéad Baker


The airport’s main seating area was also pretty empty, with those who were there sitting far away from each other.

stansted coronavirus



Sinéad Baker


Strangers obviously tend to sit quite far from each other anyway, and I didn’t see people taking any other visible precautions, like using sanitizer or going to the bathroom to wash their hands.

The airport’s biggest screen, which usually shows flight information, was turned off completely.

Stansted coronavirus



Sinéad Baker


While it was obviously nice to have no crowding and queues in the airport, the emptiness made the public-health crisis seem much more immediate and stressful. That might have been a good thing, though, helping to ensure that everyone remained careful.

Sinéad Airport Coronavirus



Sinéad Baker


And yes, I later realized that I was touching my face in this picture — which is advised against by health authorities.

I washed my hands multiple time during the journey, and used hand sanitizer as well.

I didn’t wear a mask, though. The CDC does not recommended that healthy people wear them, and to keep them on shop shelves for healthcare professionals, those who are unwell, and those caring for other people.

I had checked in a suitcase so all of my liquids were in there — except for my small bottle of hand sanitizer for the journey.

Sinéad coronavirus



Sinéad Baker


My flight wasn’t totally empty, but most passengers had entire rows to themselves, and some rows were empty. It was the emptiest I’ve ever seen this route, which I fly multiple times a year.

ryanair coronavirus



Sinéad Baker


The flight crew did not make any reference to the coronavirus, but I noticed the flight attendants wore gloves and collected garbage more often than they usually do.

Upon arrival at Dublin Airport, I found no lines at passport control — though I have almost never seen them during my late-night journeys home.

dublin airport coronavirus



Sinéad Baker


I did, however, notice extra public-health posters and airport workers giving out leaflets and talking to travelers. There were more signs at Dublin than at Stansted.

dublin airport coronavirus



Sinéad Baker


Many people I spoke to had similar experiences flying. This is what it was like on an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to Edinburgh, Scotland, on Monday evening.

Aer Lingus coronavirus

The plane was almost entirely empty.

Courtesy of Kelly Horn


And this it what it was like in London’s Gatwick Airport, the UK’s second-busiest airport, on Monday evening.

Gatwick Airport



Courtesy of Kathleen McNamee


Now that I am home, I can stay inside the house and keep my distance from my parents. This photo, taken by my dad, shows how close they are willing to get to me right now.

Greystones

My mom removed a lot of the decorations from around the house to reduce cleaning.

Sean Baker


(And yes, I see that I’m touching my face again — but I promise I didn’t touch my eyes, nose, or mouth!)

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