The title is reminiscent of an incapacitated, stricken bird trying to fly again. Desperately. But I am talking about my dear wife and I boarding a plane almost after 16 months, during which time we had all developed a morbid fear of getting into a flight due to the raging pestilence. While we, like hordes of others, were immobilised by overwhelming paranoia, we did notice that many others were indeed flying around as if things were very normal - be it for work or a vacation. When we spoke to such people and wondered why they were being reckless, they looked at us in a very leering and mocking way to convey their contempt for lily-livered folks like us, for just being cautious. Just before the breakout of this Covid 2 menace, we decided to loosen up a bit and take a flight ourselves, even though our mindset was that of one negotiating a minefield.
Seemingly the precautions being taken by the airlines were thorough and impressive. But as usual they turned out to be only on paper, literally so. While booking tickets, we are made aware of the need for a E-pass for travel, to be printed and kept ready for verification while checking-in. Same was the case with a self declaration about flier's current relationship with Covid - to confirm that he or she does not suffer from the virus. We were even advised to register the plate number and name + phone number of the driver of the vehicle we would use to get away from the destination airport. Very pleased with the strict monitoring being done, we got everything ready and submitted the papers along with the single sheet boarding pass usually handed in. Got a rude shock when the airline representative almost threw all the papers out, taking only the boarding pass. She sweetly smiled and said she did not need anything else, since they were not asked to check them. For that matter, even at the destination airport nobody would have bothered even if one was carried out on a stretcher with a couple of oxygen cylinders attached to the nostrils. So lax was everything, we just breezed into the outside world and our car without a soul asking us for any shred of document to verify anything.
The check-in line, as usual, had the normal bunch of eager beavers, jostling because there was not enough space for social distancing - three sets of passengers standing in a 6-foot line. I guess the airline staff were jut focusing on the 6-foot-rule without worrying about how many people were being packed into that space. People were pretending to be aware of the requirement but simultaneously trying to push their way through check-in quickly. The chap directing people was very peeved when I refused to move closer to the counter, to stand two feet behind the previous passenger. He probably found my conduct extremely inimical to the interests of the airline and passengers. Some people behind us in the line were also expressing their discontent with my fussy behaviour in a well orchestrated chorus of murmurs. The security area was a better controlled because it was less crowded and the police khaki was omnipresent.
All the seats in the waiting areas near the boarding gates were fully occupied, without any concern for social distancing and we realised that this was just a trailer for the seating inside the plane. In the South Indian restaurant fliers were cramming idlis, dosas, assorted vadas etc into their mouths, as if they believed that meal to be the very last one of their lives. Boarding process was very normal, a congested line waiting on the jetway to get into the plane, people scrupulously avoiding to leave even one foot space between them. As we entered the plane, we saw the cabin crew clad in PPE gowns and they resembled personnel in a nuclear facility which has recently been decommissioned, but was rumbling to get rough again. They generally stayed away from the passengers as if every one of us was thoroughly infected, to be best kept at as good a distance as the plane's interiors would permit. I guess only they were trying to practise social distancing to the extent practical!
During the transfer from the terminal to the plane, somewhere along the line we all got face shields and PPEs for middle seaters. The quality of the face shields coupled with our own breathing ensured that within a minute, our entire outlook became very hazy and misty. Almost as if we were airborne with all doors and windows open. The middle seaters who got the PPEs early, wore them grimly before occupying their seats. Those who did not think too much about the process, tried to get away by waving the PPEs in the face of the cabin crew, without even opening the package. When told to wear them, they had to do some acrobatic wriggling at their seats, sitting or standing, to squeeze themselves into the gowns. With space being scarce for a dressing room, some thrashing about wildly was inevitable, guys inadvertently hitting (or may be deliberately) the neighbours on both sides a few times in the bargain. Some neighbours reacted angrily and the rest of the flight saw simmering tension throughout. To add further discomfiture to others, the middle seaters invariably had the knack of boarding late, forcing the aisle seaters make way for the moon-walkers in white gowns.
The cabin crew made the announcements much more rapidly than usual, being in a hurry to move away from the contaminating looks of passengers. Not even a gulp of water was served. And the flight itself was over quickly. The crew seemed to smile inside their PPEs for the first time, glad to be free of company.
My dear wife's assessment was that the only differences in a Covid flight were the face shield and white gowns. And both those features caused more strain to the passengers. We concluded we desired no more flights for a while. Safer and more comfortable on the ground.