Flying with the brakes on?


After a false start last summer, when we thought things were opening up (and I managed two trips, to France and Germany), I’m flying again for the first time.

The destination? Pollenza in Italy, to do some lecturing at the University of Gastronomic Sciences. In order to avoid quarantining, I have to be in and out in 120 hours, so there will be no time for vineyard visits or any other wine-related activity. But it feels like a big thing to be at an airport again, doing the things that used to be so normal but which now feel novel. It’s like re-learning.

I used to be on the road most of the year, and my travel had got a little out of hand. Back from one trip, a night at home, then back to the airport. Bizarre itineraries of multiple flights spliced together and ambitious connections. Scant regard for sleep schedules. But learning so much, and meeting so many great people.

What I loved about travel is that the forced unfamiliarity and disrupted routines that it brought meant that it prevented me from getting into a rut. I was continually seeing the world through fresh eyes because of this.

What I’ve loved about not travelling is how I suddenly feel like home is a thing: there’s a place that I, for this time, have belonged to. There’s a degree of rootedness. I’ve also felt very relaxed, and I’ve been healthier.

Now, with travelling beginning again, I’m going to try to balance the two.

Travelling does feel very different now. I don’t think it will ever be what it was like before. I first sensed this returning from Japan in March 2020, my last long-haul trip. Covid was just becoming a very real thing, and the lounge was all different, and the service on the flight home had changed. A sense of caution – trepidation, even – had set in. Of course, this kicked in even more a few weeks later.

Before this trip I felt a sense of apprehension. Rather than itching to get back on a plane, I’ve been reluctant. I feel a much more cautious person overall, and I think it’s something that many of us have caught from the overall societal atmosphere at the moment. We have been infused by caution, and it feels odd: I’ve never been like this in the past. People used to ask me: doesn’t all this travel tire you out? On the contrary, I’ve found airports and flying invigorating, even long-haul economy class. There’s something about sitting in your seat, taking off, the rhythm of the flight, the arrival at the destination, and an unfamiliar routine that is life-enhancing and exciting.

The lead up to this trip, though, has made me anxious. Getting the right pre-flight test, filling in forms, booking a pre-return test, then the day 2 PCR test. It’s a layer of administration and uncertainty that is unwelcome. Then there’s the airport experience: would there be huge queues? How early should I get here? [I got here 3 hours early, but because I’d uploaded the paperwork to the BA app, I got an electronic boarding pass, and because I’m hand luggage only I got through security in 10 minutes and could have actually arrived an hour early and been fine.]

Once I’ve banked this flight, and made a successful return to the UK, then I think it will be a step forward towards a more normal professional life. It’s all about balance, and that’s often elusive. More generally, though, I wonder whether this pandemic has made people take an overly cautious approach to life. Are we in danger of driving with the brakes on?

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wine journalist and flavour obsessive

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