PARIS (AP) – The security officer pointing the thermometer barely looked, but wished the traveler a “Happy Holiday”. The luggage papers dreamed of better times and the list of departing flights didn’t even fill a video screen.
This is the 2020 Christmas trip, a pale shadow from previous passions, with less than 100 masked and sanitized passengers lining up for a flight from Johannesburg to Paris, hoping it won’t be canceled at the last minute. Covid-19 has just mutated and many flights from South Africa are being banned.
Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport is usually packed at this time of year. Typically, travelers pushing oversized luggage carts meander through the lines to check-in counters, followed by more lines for security and again for immigration. Even the business rooms are overcrowded and it can take 20 minutes to pay for a bottle of duty-free wine.
Not this Christmas.
Check-in is easy. There is no need to provide proof of a COVID-19 test. There are no security lines, where the big old X-ray machines have been replaced by a high-tech full-body scanner. Just a quick temperature check and hand over a tracking form to a health officer.
The international terminal is empty. Most stores are closed, with the exception of the perfume, alcohol and tobacco store, a sunglasses franchise and a listless electronics store.
Boarding is a breeze, as it should be when an airplane is less than 40% capacity.
Passengers wearing designer fabric masks are politely asked to take them off and wear the light blue surgical mask, not so fashionable, but universally recognized as effective.
Ten hours later, after a smooth flight over the African continent in the dark of night, the 15-year-old Boeing 777 landed in a typical winter fog at Paris Charles De Gaulle airport.
There, despite being very early, hundreds line up at the traffic counter. With London, a popular European transit hub, being a no-go zone for many, travelers have returned to Paris or Frankfurt as their European transit hub.
For those whose final destination is Paris, passengers are screened for immigration, depending on the origin of the flight. Proof of a negative COVID-19 test is required, but social distances are not necessarily observed.
At the curb it is raining, dark, and the taxi driver is inaudible, as there is a thick sheet of plastic separating him from the passengers.
It is after 6 am and the curfew has been suspended over Paris – the roads are full.
Happy Holidays 2020!