This week, for the first time in a year, I got back on a plane. A long haul. To go to Asia. Then another one, to come back, very quickly.
I hadn’t been back in an airport for twelve months, coming back from a meeting in Silicon Valley, without imagining that I wouldn’t be coming back for so long.
On my way to Roissy CDG a few days ago, I wondered what I would feel when I arrived in this previously so familiar place; and how this long absence, this long abstinence, would have changed my outlook on air travel, and travel in general.
It only took me a few minutes, after entering the airport, to understand that I didn’t feel any particular feeling. That this long awaited trip was nothing more than another trip. That the long parenthesis was erased in a few moments. It was as if I had come here a few days before and not twelve months earlier. As if this particular year, which was not at all empty for me, seemed bland enough to be nothing more than an interval without duration and that an amnesia had struck my memories of these long months forced to be sedentary.
This feeling was, at the beginning, like a disappointment: what, me who loves travelling so much, finding them again makes no impression on me? I, who attach so much importance to the passing of time, now these twelve months have disappeared without a trace? Did I have such an intense need to make them disappear, to put back together the pieces of my life, forgetting this nightmare, even denying it.
There is no doubt what many have felt or will feel in the same situation. And that almost everyone will experience the same when the pandemic fades away: the urgent need to return to the life of the past; as quickly, as banally as possible, erasing all traces of those months, (or perhaps even years) that were so trying. Many will succeed, and forget.
For a while anyway. Because these years will not be without traces. And that, whether we like it or not; in the long run we will have to live differently than before. I quickly became aware of this: because, throughout this journey, this feeling of banality, of returning to the same, moved away, as I became aware of some strange and shocking situations: how many reckless people in airports! How many gaps in the test controls! So many useless forms that were never checked! What lightness in the documents passing from hand to hand between travellers, policemen, customs officers and airline staff! What a lack of awareness in the distribution of meals on board!
Why close the restaurants if it is to leave two passengers with their seats glued together, eating, drinking, exchanging dishes or bread, even conversing, without masks? Why ban shows and concerts when people crowd together for hours in long queues or waiting rooms without any real distancing; and without anyone really checking whether they are wearing their masks properly? Why make all airport and airline staff take so many risks, if only to prohibit, at the same time, restaurant, theatre and cinema staff from taking much less?
I plead for no more lax solution than the one we have today. And I am not saying here that restaurants should be opened or on the contrary that meals should not be served on board planes or trains. The only solution to this crisis is in the vaccine, and that’s all we should be talking about, and the conditions that must be met to produce much more and much faster.
And then, it will be necessary, as I felt during this return to the air, not to forget anything of what we will have learned in the crisis, precautions that we will have to continue to take, seriously, in the long term, to prevent the return, almost inevitable, of another pandemic, which, in particular, could come back to us by means of transport, and more particularly by air transport.
To make sure that what felt like a brief interlude really became one.