A Masked Flight II

Singapore to London

Changi Airport Singapore

Landing in Singapore, we’re asked to remain seated. We are to disembark in groups, so there’s not going to be the usual rush to retrieve hand luggage and stand in the isles packed like sardines waiting for the doors to open. I’d read in the Singapore Airlines email that groups to connecting flights would be given coloured wrist bands and escorted to the appropriate gate. First off are all those catching a flight to Manilla (that’s one of the red zone countries). I don’t see anyone getting off down in economy. Then, to my surprise, the rest of us can disembark. A woman at the end of the walkway just indicates London Heathrow to the right. There are no wrist bands or escorts, just an eighteen-minute walk to gate A15. Changi Airport is not quite as deserted as Auckland. There are staff in PPE doing various tasks or standing around and everyone is wearing a mask. Gate A15 is not open yet so I get chatting with a fellow Kiwi who is travelling to see his seventy-one-year-old partner – the love of his life. She has Parkinson’s and cancer and he wants to take her back to Aotearoa but he’s not sure if New Zealand Immigration will allow that.

Over Indonesia

It’s time for a new mask – I’ve worn this one for over ten hours and a fresh one feels better. Wearing a mask for the first time, on this journey would be hard and once again I reflect on the practice gained on the Waiheke Ferry – only forty minutes though. However, I’ve not felt the least discomfort nor difficulty breathing

We are boarding in groups again, but first, a large contingent who have been sitting in a separate area are being escorted onto the plane by staff wearing PPE. The passengers are all wearing green wrist band. I wonder where they have come from and if they are sitting in a separate part of the plane. This AB 350 is fuller that the last flight but there is still only one person to every three seats. We have fourteen hours ahead of us.

Eat (the food is tasteless), sleep, read (a bit of James Baldwin), play games, attempt to watch a movie. The Avengers is three hours long – I lose interest after fifty-nine minutes as the plot has not even got going. Sleep.

We arrive early due to a tail wind, at 3.16pm. There is no managed disembarkation and no sign of the red country passengers with green bands. Perhaps the have already gone or are waiting somewhere to follow us. There is hardly anyone about so I follow the signs to the electronic passport recognition gates. These include other passports like Aotearoa NZ, Australia and Canada etc, but not Europe. There’s a small queue and three officials checking our documentation (The locator form and the evidence of a negative Covid19 test) before moving on to the electronic biometric gates. I’m recognised, in spite of my relatively recent beard and move onto the baggage claim hall, passing long lines of red zone people. As this list is mostly from Africa, Indian subcontinent and South America the people queuing are various shades of brown. They are returning because they are British or have residency. In the Baggage Hall I approach a monitor to find out which carousel will deliver my bag. A worker shoes me away as I’m coming too close to the red zone people being escorted by staff in PPE.

Do not sit on seat

It’s carousel number three and my bag is waiting. This has got to be that fastest exit at Heathrow ever. Geraldine is on her way, so I decide to relax with a coffee and something to eat at Café Nero. It’s take-away only – the seating area is blocked off and nearby seats are occupied by people or signs saying Do Not Sit Here. It’s a familiar sight from New Zealand’s lockdown, it’s just a shock to realise that Britain is still in the equivalent of our level three. The coffee and snack turn out to be a mistake as I have to manoeuvre my two bags whilst clutching hot coffee and other comestibles.  I’ve texted Geraldine to say I’ll make my way up to the drop off place at the top, having looked for a pick-up place on the ground floor, where red zone people are being loaded into coaches destined for quarantine hotels. Geraldine turns out to be at Nero’s so I retrace my steps and we greet with an elbow touch – no hugging and kissing yet. By this time, Heathrow has got busier and traffic into town is fairly busy. The Sat Nav wants to send us around the M25 which will take longer, so we confuse it by going through town. Geraldine is worried that we’ll get delayed by the ‘Kill the Bill’ protest, which our daughter is attending – good for her – but it’s all over by the time we drive along the embankment, through the City and Whitechapel to Stepney Green. The Family have brought me groceries and it’s just a matter of finding which box the kettle in packed in to make a cup of tea.