Welcome back to the Ugly Truth series! A section of my blog that exposes the 'other', not so perfect side of travelling. Check out my other Ugly Truth posts here to hear about missed flights, visa issues and being stranded in Africa during a worldwide pandemic...
However, this Ugly Truth post is all about the absolute struggle of trying to get to the airport for an early morning flight, and once there, my experience of flying during corona virus. (Hint- if it's on this series, it is not a positive story).
So my two sisters and I recently booked a trip to Greece. The plan was to book a cheap flight to Athens, then catch boats onto Mykonos and Santorini. Of course, a European holiday is never as cheap as it looks at first glance, and an eye watering amount later, we were anxiously wondering whether we were even going to be able to go on the trip. As Covid-19 cases in Greece slowly rose, other surrounding countries began to go back into lockdown, or demand proof of a negative test before arrival. And on top of that, as we were coming from somewhere with one of the highest rates of infections, we were worried they would block UK arrivals before we even got to pack our bags.
Thankfully, we got to the night before our flight and everything still seemed to be going ahead. We were booked for 8am the next day, so after an anxious wait for our QR codes to arrive, we set our alarms for 2:15am (!) and attempted to get in a few hours sleep.
SIDENOTE: If you are planning a trip to Greece, please remember that they have bought in new rules stating everyone entering the country needs to apply for an individual QR code. You need to apply at least 74 hours before your trip, and the code should be emailed to you at midnight the night before your flight. I have heard so many horror stories about people not applying for the code in time, or not knowing about this, and then being denied entry. From what I've heard, the Greek authorities are being very strict about it!
The plan was to leave the house by 2:30am, drive two and a half hours to Luton airport, where we first needed to drop off the car at a longstay car park, then catch a Park and Ride to the airport for 5:30 am. Due to Corona, we weren't sure how strict the airport would be, so we wanted to make sure we left enough time for delays.
Turns out, we didn't leave enough time.
The drive to the airport was really difficult. I hadn't really factored in quite how tired we'd be after only a couple of hours sleep and 64 miles down the M4 is enough to send anyone snoring. However, we made it there in good time- until we arrived at the postcode the car park had given us, to find nothing there. Confused, we followed sign posts instead to 'Long-stay Airport Parking'. We found it, and took a ticket from a machine to enter through a barrier. We quickly worked out this wasn't the right place, but when we tried to leave the barrier wouldn't accept our ticket and just kept repeating the same message; 'ticket not recognised.' We struggled for about 15 minutes, then tried to press the HELP button on the machine. But as it was before 5 in the morning, the call just kept ringing out. We were starting to panic, because we were running out of time and still didn't know where our real car park was...
We googled the name of the car park we were currently trapped in, and tried to call the number listed but again no one picked up. We literally didn't know what to do. The car park was totally empty, so there wasn't even anyone we could ask for help. We kept desperately jabbing the HELP button and miraculously, after about 30 minutes, someone picked up. They lifted the barrier for us, and we set off with a new post code for our car park. But this one took us to yet another wrong location! At this point my sister began to stress we had been scammed, which would mean we had to find new parking in an area we didn't know, at a ridiculous time in the morning. We had now been searching for parking for about forty minutes, and we were starting to get anxious about actually missing the flight. We decided to try and circle back around once more- and then my sister suddenly spotted the car park out of the blue.
We raced in, dropped off the car at lightening speed and then boarded the park and ride. It was a minivan with about 12 seats very close together. I assumed the driver would be taking less passengers at a time due to social distancing, but he crammed it totally full of strangers. When someone asked if we needed to wear masks, he said no. His own mask was hanging uselessly around his neck. My sisters and I wore our masks anyway, but we were the only ones on the bus.
When we arrived at the airport, we couldn't believe how busy it was! Definitely one of the most packed airports I've ever been in. I was expecting really stringent social distancing rules and regulations but our experience was the total opposite. People were crowded together in queues and there was no markings on the floor to ensure everyone kept two metres apart.
We arrived just in time to rush through security, then had to go straight to our gate to board the plane. Again, there was no real social distancing as everyone was packed into a small waiting area and then stuffed onto a bus. The plane was full to capacity and even though you had to wear a mask, a lot of people were taking them off which was frustrating for people trying to follow the rules.
To be fair, I have seen a lot of people praising airlines for their handling of the pandemic, and I do massively appreciate it must be hard to control such a large number of people. But my personal experience of flying during corona virus wasn't great. If you are quite relaxed about it all, then it's absolutely fine but I think if you are still a bit worried, maybe try to avoid flying for a while, or try to fly at very unpopular times to avoid the crowds and packed planes. I would love to hear other peoples experiences of flying so I can compare!
Overall, the entire experience- trying to get to the airport early in the morning, once again very nearly missing the plane, and then flying during a worldwide pandemic turned out to be a very stressful period of my life. But as the pilot announced we were starting the descent into Greece, and I finally caught my first glance of Athens, it suddenly felt a whole lot more worth the ordeal.