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ON THE ROAD AGAIN

I’m someone who has spent most of his adult life trudging through airports, getting on and off airplanes and staying in hotels, and yet this week a two-day sojourn from Connecticut to North Carolina and back had me feeling like I hadn’t travelled in a decade.

I guess the reason is that since the onset of the pandemic I really haven’t travelled further than the local liquor store, supermarket and pharmacy, with occasional brave sorties to Home Depot. Full disclosure – the first one in that list has certainly seen me more often that any of the others.

My middle son’s return to Elon University in NC was what got me on the road again. To get his bed and other assorted furniture for his on-campus apartment down there, I rented a 10 ft. U Haul van and – while he drove with his girlfriend in her Jeep – I set off early on Monday morning on the 900 km. drive: and, as all good truckers do, tuned to radio to a country station.

The nine-hour drive was easy and uneventful. I was a little surprised that traffic volume was very much back to BC (before COVID) levels but my truck purred along nicely and the highlight was the price of gas when I filled up in Virginia – just USD 1.85 a gallon.

My overnight was at the new, Inn at Elon, (LINK?) a truly delightful boutique property right on the university’s quite glorious campus – all profits go to the school – and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who might be passing through the area. My son and girlfriend unloaded the truck into their new (separate) digs and then we enjoyed a lovely dinner in the hotel.

The following morning was when things started to get interesting – was that a collective sigh of, “Oh good, it’s about time” that I’m hearing?

First, I turned in my trusty truck and headed to Greensboro Airport for my 11:20 American Airlines flight home – with a good connection a short way away in Charlotte. At GSO the first surprise came when I was able to walk right up to the TSA officer without a single person ahead of me and I breezed through the entire screening process in a matter of minutes.

But I was not at all prepared for what then confronted me when I turned a corner to look down the departure concourse. I could have fired a cannon down it and not hit a soul. This was at 10:15 on a Tuesday morning in August and I was quite literally the only person there. I felt like I’d walked into a scene from a Stephen King movie: Had ‘The Mist’ swept through the terminal eliminating all in its path? I wanted to scream, “Hello, where are you all?” I mean it was an hour before at least one flight – mine.

Sure enough however, the initially empty gate area soon filled up for what turned out to be a jam-packed 30-minute CRJ hop to Charlotte International Airport. On arrival in CLT, I was shocked again – this time by how busy the place was.

Now, clearly with almost the same number of passengers in 2019 (50.12 million) as Toronto Pearson (50.49 million), Charlotte is an altogether bigger and busier airport than little Greensboro with just 1.83 million. That said, I was totally unprepared for the BC-like crowds surging around the multiple concourses. Everyone was in masks, however social distancing already appeared to be a distant memory.

My American A319 flight to New York LaGuardia was also sold out, and about a dozen standbys didn’t make it. Before boarding everyone was handed a New York State questionnaire asking where they’d been for the previous two weeks, whether they were showing any COVID symptoms and where they intended to self-quarantine for 14-days after arrival in New York. If you opted not to check the daily text box, there was an ominous warning that this would result in daily phonecall. During the flight, I heard someone behind me sneeze violently several times. The woman next to me sighed through her mask and muttered, “Oh dear. I don’t know what I’d do if I were sitting next to someone who did that!” I didn’t dare clear my throat after that, lest it send her screaming down the aisle.

Anyway we arrived on time and, at the end of the jetway in LGA, there were two people to collect the completed quarantine forms from every passenger. Serious stuff! But then came surprise number three of my travel day.

The beautiful new Terminal B baggage claim area at LGA (31.01 passengers last year) like GSO had been, was eerily deserted. More ‘mist’ – who knows.

I Ubered home and had a pleasant chat with the mask wearing driver behind a newly installed perspex screen that separated him somewhat too well from the back seat – it also did an excellent job of stopping the air conditioning from reaching me.

So there you have it, my very own ‘A Tale of Three Airports.’ I just hope Dickens’ famous closing lines don’t apply to my trip. “It is a far far better thing that I do now than I have ever done; it is a far far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” I haven’t yet had the text or phone call from the quarantine police but watch this space. And to switch from Dickens to Hill Street Blues, “Let’s be careful out there.”

First published at Travel Industry Today

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