What happened on Richard Quest's first flight in four months

 edition.cnn.com  07/15/2020 15:48:02  2

(CNN)  It was my first flight in nearly four months after the longest separation I've had from aviation in 35 or 40 years.

And it was emotional.

Because essential work meant I needed to travel between New York and London, I caught a United Airlines flight from Newark to Heathrow. It's a flight I've done so many times.

The process was the same. The plane took off, the engines kept going and the pilot knew the route. So in that way it was pretty much like any other flight.

But it was far from that. For somebody who travels so much like me, it really was quite an intense experience: everything felt totally different, particularly given the parlous state of the airline industry.

There were more people than I expected at Newark, but the airport was still pretty sparsely populated. Among travelers, there was a heightened expectation. Tension and apprehension were in the air.

Quest flight 2

The business class cabin was pretty empty.

Richard Quest/CNN

On board, the crew were as friendly and welcoming as ever, despite the circumstances.

I was traveling Business Class and I was surprised that there were still blankets and a pillow. The airline food was a little different from normal, it all came on one tray and everything was sealed by the manufacturer.

Nobody had touched anything. I was very impressed with the way they did that.

It was quiet on board, but there weren't many passengers to start with. The flight attendants wore masks and used gloves. They weren't wearing full PPE.

I didn't feel nervous at all but I can understand why some people would. I'm a frequent flier, and I've spent a lot of time doing stories about every aspect of the aircraft. So I know how the air filters work, for example.

If you're sitting next to somebody who has got Covid, you stand a good chance of getting it, but the idea is to weed those people out beforehand. So it's very unlikely you'd catch the virus on an airplane.

Quest flight 1

The meal was served in sealed containers.

Richard Quest/CNN

Still, it was all very different. I can't exactly say it was a particularly pleasant experience, but we will get used to it, and we will start traveling again. People will absolutely become more comfortable.

Do I think we're all going to be doing lots and lots of flying? No. I cannot see us going back to getting on planes nonstop, in the way business travelers like myself did before.

That's not going to happen. Our companies don't want us to do it. And those on the receiving end don't want us to come visit. There will be some international exhibitions and meetings that take place, but I think they'll be few and far between.

It's really sad. A large industry that employs hundreds of thousands, millions of people is about to be fundamentally altered.

Richard Quest after touching down at London Heathrow Terminal 2.

Richard Quest after touching down at London Heathrow Terminal 2.

If we don't get a vaccine until the middle of next year then I think it's going to be very difficult to see how the airline industry can thrive.

Aviation will survive, because governments will ensure it survives, but it won't be the same.

When we took off from Newark, it was pouring down with rain and I looked out the window. And I thought: "Covid-19 is going to follow me right across the Atlantic."

And sure enough, it did. When we landed in a subdued Terminal 2 at Heathrow, there it was again. There were all the same signs about social distancing, but with British-English spelling.

I'm sure if I'd gone on to Moscow, to Tel Aviv, to Islamabad, to Hong Kong, it would be exactly the same. That is something that I've never seen before in my life and I don't expect to ever see again in my life.

CNN's Francesca Street contributed to this report

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