PARIS (AP) — The security officer pointing the thermometer barely glanced, but wished the traveler a “Happy Holiday.” The luggage wrappers day-dreamed of better times, and the list of departing flights didn’t even fill one video screen.
This is Christmas travel 2020, a pale shadow of prior holiday crushes, with less than 100 masked-and-sanitized passengers lining up for a flight from Johannesburg to Paris, hoping it will not be canceled at the last minute. Covid-19 just mutated and many flights from South Africa are being banned.
Normally, Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport is packed solid this time of year. Usually, travelers pushing trolleys of oversized luggage snake through lines to the check-in counters, followed by more long lines for security and again for immigration. Even the business lounges are overcrowded and it can take 20 minutes to pay for a duty-free bottle of wine.
Not this Christmas.
The check-in is effortless. There is no need to show proof of a COVID-19 test. There are no lines at security, where the big old X-ray machines have been replaced by a high-tech full-body scanner. Just a quick temperature check and turn in a tracking form to a health official.
The international terminal is empty. Most shops are closed, aside from the duty-free (but not profit-free) perfume, alcohol and tobacco store, a sunglasses franchise and a listless electronics shop.
Boarding is a breeze, as it should be when a plane is at less than 40% capacity.
Passengers wearing designer cloth masks are politely requested to take them off and wear the not-so-trendy yet universally acknowledged as effective light blue surgical mask.
Ten hours later, after a smooth flight over the African continent in the dark of night, the 15-year-old Boeing 777 touched down in a typical winter mist at Paris’ Charles De Gaulle airport.
There, despite the very early hour, hundreds line up at the transit desk. With London, a popular European transit hub, being a no-go-zone for many, travelers reverted to Paris or Frankfurt as their European transit point.
For those whose final destination is Paris, passengers are triaged for immigration, depending on their flight’s origin. Proof of a negative COVID-19 test is required but social distances are not necessarily observed.
Curbside, it is raining, dark, and the cab driver is inaudible, for there is a thick plastic sheet separating him from the passengers.
It is now past 6 a.m. and the curfew has been lifted over Paris — the highways are packed.
Happy 2020 Holidays!