- I flew from London to Dublin on Monday night, and it was a truly eerie experience.
- London’s Stansted Airport was almost entirely deserted, and I had never seen a flight so empty.
- I flew one day before the UK government advised against non-essential travel abroad, but the impact that the coronavirus was having on European travel was already stark.
- Only one security line was open, many flights were canceled, and most shops were closed.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Only one security scanner was open in the entire airport.
The flight information display system showed a few flights out that night, but many were cancelled.
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.
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.
The shops that were open weren’t exactly heaving with visitors, either.
The airport’s main seating area was also pretty empty, with those who were there sitting far away from each other.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And this it what it was like in London’s Gatwick Airport, the UK’s second-busiest airport, on Monday evening.
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.
(And yes, I see that I’m touching my face again — but I promise I didn’t touch my eyes, nose, or mouth!)