As a member of the aviation community, I am used to taking numerous yearly business trips but, since the start of the pandemic, the number of such business trips has been…. zero!
But suddenly, in late April, my first travel opportunity in 14 months came to me and I felt a mixture of excitement, joy and maybe a little stress which reminded me of those feelings I had when I was younger and starting to travel at a time when travelling was more of the exception rather than the norm.
This travel would take me to Mexico, first to Cancun for the annual conference of the World Travel and Tourism Councill (WTTC) conference and then to Mexico City for various business meetings. Getting ready and planning such trips is usually something which had become automatic for me, with my mental checklist and recurrent steps to be done before leaving.
But I suddenly realized that this process required an internal “re-start”, where I had to re-build my personal checklist:
It felt like I had forgotten something and, for a season traveller, these were strange feelings. It was a little disconcerting, but it was mixed-in with thrill and anticipation.
When I left for my departure airport at Montreal Airport, I was immediately struck by how such beautiful and modern installation had suffered with almost no passengers around. As frequent flyer, I always try to avoid queues and identify the best and fastest way through the various processes and touch points, but at this time, I realized how much I missed the busy and active airport usual atmosphere.
Then came the notion of dealing with all the new requirements: pre-flight testing. My PCR test result document from 24hrs previously could not be accepted, so I had to perform a rapid test on site – which was quick and easy at the great new testing installation at Montreal airport. I also completed the new “Mexico Vuela Seguro” App health questionnaire, plus the numerous health questions from various entities and staff along the process.
The airport experience is certainly different at the moment. No lounge was open, and several shops and restaurants were closed and, of course, the permanent face mask requirement never leaves you.
But even with all of this, I felt safe and protected at all times whether at the airport or onboard my flight. What a joy to be back to the airport and travelling again. It felt as if I was returning to see a close friend whom I had not seen in such a long time.
The WTTC conference I attended had more than 600 participants attending from around the world which was incredible. There were representatives from all sides of the travel industry: airports, airlines, hotels, cruise ships, and numerous senior level international government officials.
The WTTC and event organizers created a safe ‘bubble’ for all participants. We were all tested upon arrival at the conference resort with no exception.
It was great to be back at an event like this with interesting presentations and discussions, but mostly a clear unified message of optimism for the industry.
The conference and the safe environment created was confirmation that, with the proper protocols in place and vaccination being deployed worldwide, travel was now truly ready to get started again.
Upon my return home, and even though I had to perform five COVID tests and apply a 14 day quarantine that Canada still imposes to all international arriving passengers, I felt happy to have had such a great trip!
Nothing can replace direct human interactions and I truly believe we are not meant to spend our days on back-to-back Zoom or Teams virtual meetings.
This trip reminded me of the pleasures of travel, the need for face-to-face interactions with others, and the fact that we can now build on our optimism and trust that our industry has truly started its recovery.