Travel News

Has the shadow of Covid finally departed?

Simon Calder’s Travel

Until this weekend, a Qantas passenger who happened to doze off during the 800-mile flight from Darwin to Alice Springs could be forgiven for thinking the plane had diverted to Hong Kong.

The city in Australia’s Red Centre is the home of Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage. For much of the past four years, the dry heat of the Outback has embraced a large part of the fleet of Cathay Pacific – arguably the airline most affected by the Covid pandemic. With a single hub on the edge of the nation, China, which experienced the most draconian travel restrictions, the “CX” schedule was so thin it made a skeleton service look well nourished.

The initial Cathay Pacific plane to seek sanctuary in the desert was an Airbus A330 that touched down in July 2020. At its peak, Alice Springs was home to 76 wide-bodied jets bearing the livery of the Hong Kong intercontinental airline. The first to arrive was the last to depart, after more than 200 weeks.

Every Cathay Pacific aircraft has now flown north to get on with the important business of flying people safely around the world. I call the end of the Covid era (whatever North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un may have to say about that). A good moment, then, to look back at what we have learnt.

The lesson is simple: when the next pandemic arrives, politicians should be cut out of the travel restriction process. Looking back makes me shudder with the profound and prolonged incompetence of our elected representatives.

Monday 10 June will mark four years since the-then home secretary, Priti Patel, announced two weeks of mandatory quarantine for almost all arrivals from abroad. “Now we are past the peak of this virus, we must take steps to guard against imported cases, triggering a resurgence of this deadly disease,” she said.

Five days later lockdown mark 1 ended and easyJet resumed flights. Tina Milton, one of the cabin crew aboard the airline’s first departure, flight 883 from Gatwick to Glasgow, told me: “It’s the start of the future.”

A month later, “travel corridors” opened for British travellers, allowing quarantine-free trips to France, Italy, Spain and Turkey, but not to Portugal or Croatia.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps was the caller in what would become a regular game of travel bingo. Within two weeks, at a few hours’ notice, the government said: “People returning to the UK from…

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