Post-lockdown travelling requires more patience


Passengers queueing up at London’s Heathrow Airport recently. More people are travelling these days, but airlines, hotels and airports are struggling to cope with the demand. — Reuters

After nearly three years, I finally hopped on a plane and left the Malaysian skyline. I’d call it revenge travel because I visited three countries in three weeks.

I flew to London in May, using it as a base to journey to Italy and Iceland.

To ensure the travelling dovetailed with my budget, I had paid for my flight ticket as early as March.

It cost me RM9,000 for a business class return ticket on Turkey Airlines, but by the time my travel date arrived, the airline website indicated that the same flight cost over RM27,000.

Basically, plan and book your holidays well in advance because it’ll always be cheaper. And, naturally, compare prices with other airlines.

If you’re on holiday, does it matter that you’re spending a few transit hours at an airport? There’s likely no hurry.

Here’s some sound advice to Malaysians planning on travelling soon – load up on the latest Netflix craze on your devices to while away the time during flight cancellations and postponements.

If our local airlines disappoint us, be aware that it’ll be the same with European airlines, too, because aircraft and airline staff are in short supply all around the world.

My British Airways flight to Iceland was postponed twice, and I had to re-jig my logistics, tour and hotel bookings because of these unscripted changes, much to my annoyance.

It’s upsetting but be ready for such disruptions because the re-opening of borders has led to a huge demand for travel. However, airlines, hotels and airports are struggling to cope with the deluge.

It’s safe to report, though, that there are also pleasant surprises. As my plane began its descent into Heathrow Airport, I asked the cabin crew for arrival cards, which previously required filling.

The attendants said they no longer distributed such documents, which disturbed me because I was worried about the long queues ahead at the immigration checkpoint.

But as I approached the queue, I promptly learned that arrival forms have been waived!

Immigration also doesn’t ask for proof of vaccination. So, rest assured you won’t be asked to show your MySejahtera, although I was well prepared with even printed copies.

It was the same in Italy. I was advised by the Italian Embassy in Malaysia to download an app, and a friend in London even suggested another app that would be recognised in Europe.

As a law-abiding tourist, I did all that. On arrival at Malpensa Airport in Milan, with no WiFi access, I began to sweat and struggle to produce my copies.

Again, the immigration merely whisked me through with just the hurdle of basic questions, like the reasons for my visit and the duration of my stay. No forms, no apps of any kind.

It was a breeze, too, at Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, with no requirement for documents.

But there’s a big difference seen in Britain, Iceland and Italy. Most Britons and Icelanders don’t wear masks, but in Italy, mask usage is almost 90%, especially inside trains and malls. Everyone was keeping themselves covered.

By then, I had also noticed that occasionally, my hotel room wasn’t cleaned, because the hotels were low on staff. It was summer and they hired students for help.

In fact, students were even manning check-in counters at airports.

Shops struggled to cope with customers, especially tourists. In Bath, England, I was at a clothing store which had only one worker – she was the cashier and shop assistant all rolled into one.

The poor girl told me she would badly need a drink by the end of the day. I bet!

For three weeks, I only had scrambled eggs for breakfast at all the hotels I stayed in England and Italy. The waiters apologised for me missing out on my sunny side up because the kitchen lacked the staff numbers to entertain individual requests.

That aside, it was painfully expensive to travel because of inflation in Europe, courtesy of the Ukraine war.

In Malaysia, many of us take for granted (or don’t realise) that most of our essential items, especially diesel and petrol, are subsidised. But in Europe, it runs on daily fluctuating market prices.

I also felt the pinch of a weakening ringgit. As I entered the last phase of my trip, and began abhorring Western food and feeling home sick, I opted for a Vietnamese pho in Reykjavik.

It cost 1,690 krona, about RM56, for that bowl, though. I almost choked on the noodles, so I knew I had to return to my beloved Malaysia.

At Heathrow airport, the check in staff at Turkey Airlines gave me a stern look.

She asked me for proof that I had pre-departure Covid-19 tests, insisting that it was Malaysia’s requirement.

I patiently explained to her that it was no longer a necessity and also proved I had my booster shot, as indicated in MySejathera – thank God, Heathrow’s free WiFi works.

Finally, she relented, but not before telling me off – “tell your government to inform Turkey Airlines, see my monitor? It’s not updated.”

My travel experience has taught me this: Never quarrel at the check in counter with immigration, customs or security. There’s only ever one winner, believe me.

For many travellers, with pent-up desires to make up for the last three years of lockdown, just be prepared for minor inconveniences, especially flight disruptions.

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