Lifestyle & Culture

Stephen Heiner in Paris: My first flight since lockdown (and the 10 things I learned)

I have a friend who works at Emirates who has kept me filled in on the lean and bare bones conditions of the flights they are still running. Hence, I was prepared to be tossed a box of cold food then watch the flight attendants disappear until right before landing. This wasn’t the case. Not only did we have a beverage service, but we had hot food (“Would you like chicken or beef?”), followed by tea and coffee service, followed by ice cream service. Then, hot calzones and another beverage service before we landed!  

Cheers, Aer Lingus. 

Seventh rule of this current phase of travel: in-flight service might be the same. Enjoy!

What wasn’t the same was the mask requirement. We were told that we had to wear them the whole flight, but obviously we had to take them off to eat. Since we were in an enclosed space, using recycled, non-medically-treated air for all seven hours of the flight, taking off the mask to eat would have been all the virus needed to get from one of us to all of us. So, it’s a bit of security theater, like taking off your shoes when going through security, but I understand the airlines probably wouldn’t be allowed to fly if they didn’t participate in this charade.

Neverthless, some of us lingered over our meal a little longer, enjoyed the “authorized” masklessness, but after the service the flight attendants were really only there if you hit a call button, so you could feel free to be as masked or unmasked as you wanted to. I have only worn a mask when required to in Paris, which is to say, on public transportation, so these two flights were the longest I’ve ever worn a mask for any reason in my life, and that might be a challenge for some. 

Eighth rule of this current phase of travel: be prepared to wear a mask the entire time you are on the plane, and perhaps when you are in the airport as well. Make sure it’s a comfortable one.

When we landed in Chicago I realized that the pre-clearance I had gone through in Ireland wasn’t entirely valid because of the additional measures being taken in the US. We had to turn in a CDC form, similar in quality to the one that I had to turn in on arrival in Ireland. However, it seems half of the passengers of our flight were given this CDC form at the gate and the rest of us grabbed one of the photocopies in the customs area when we landed.  

We then got into another line in which we were orally questioned as to whether we felt any symptoms or had been to China, Iran, or Brazil in the last 14 days. After answering no to all of the above, I was sent to another line where my temperature was taken contact-free (I was 97.5 degrees Fahrenheit – the plane must have chilled me) and again asked where I had been in the last 14 days, specifically if I had been to one of the three aforementioned countries. When I answered in the negative I was given a handout and told that I should “self-quarantine for 14 days.”  I smiled, nodded, and went to get my baggage. 

Ninth rule of this current phase of travel: You might get to go through customs for the same country multiple times. Bear with it.

Chicago isn’t my final destination, but flights to destinations that are not major hubs are two to three times more expensive at the moment, hence I’m on a DIY layover, in which I self-transfer to the domestic airport in Chicago, Midway, and take a $50 Southwest flight on to Kansas City. 

Tenth rule of this current phase of travel: be prepared for a comedic sequence of planes, trains and automobiles as none of the regular transfer/conveniences can be reliably counted on. Don’t assume; call ahead.

How long will this state of affairs last? As you should know by now, nobody knows, and anyone who claims to know is just guessing. But what is certain is that the chilling effect on travel as a whole is rippling out worldwide. Those closed shops and empty queues and empty seats are harbingers of an untold disaster much worse than even the most hysterical headlines tell us. 

In one way the disaster is economic, yes, but there’s a psychological toll as well which can paralyze people from even considering travel. I remember being told some time ago about research that showed people were more “happy” before and after a vacation: before because of the anticipation, after because of the revisiting of the memories. In those pre-Covid times we seemed unable to be present and savor the vacation while we were on it at least as much as we anticipated or revisited it. 

But we are now in a time in which we can’t anticipate “normal” (again, whatever that term means) travel. All we can do is plan lightly and curb our expectations. If we can adopt the right attitude when we travel in the weeks and months ahead, not only can we start to create necessary momentum to once again give our fellow friends and humans the confidence and desire to travel, but we can also take a moment to be grateful for the privilege of traveling when so much of the world is still locked down. 

 As we do so, we might recapture, however cautiously, however tentatively, that joy we take when seeing new places and old faces.

About the author:

Singaporean-born American Stephen Heiner has been living in Paris since 2013, what he hopes to be a permanent home after living in Asia and the United States for most of his life. While he has an undergraduate degree in literature, he also has an MBA, and he’s very much the man who enjoys studying financial statements as much as he enjoys reading essays by G.K. Chesterton or James Howard Kuntsler.

He visits his family in the U.S. and Singapore each year, but in the meantime enjoys his dream city, which he finally had a chance to move to after selling a company he built over a number of years. 

You can find him on twitter and instagram @stephenheiner.

You can also follow his immigration journey on, where Stephen also offers consulting to those interested in relocating to, and/or making a life in, France.

See more of Stephen’s posts on Dispatches here.

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