Updated: Jul 28
25 years ago my father and I went to Hamburg Airport to pick up one of his old friends who had just arrived from the United States. The airport has changed a lot since then. For example: it is now called "Helmut Schmidt Airport" - but I believe most of us still call it "Fuhlsbüttel"... I remember the looks and the smell of the old terminal which is now the "Geschäftsfliegerzentrum" and only used for private aviation, small business jets and VIPs like Chancellor Merkel or Iron Maiden (with their band-owned 747-400 called "Ed Force One").
It was my first visit to an airport and it left a solid impression. I remember thinking that "when I grow up I want to travel a lot". Since then I always loved being at airports. To me, airports have an intriguing atmosphere: gate to the world, people from other countries and cultures all around, restaurants and shops that are different from what you see in the city center... also, it always seems that everyone is in a rush, the system has to function perfectly from checking the bags to security to boarding and take-off. I have been analyzing these process in detail over the past 2 years at different airports which has left an even bigger impression on me and made me quite proud to be a part of the aviation industry.
Since then a lot has changed. Coronavirus, travel restrictions, airlines filing for bankruptcy, the ongoing struggle to bring air-travel back to life... and so have my feelings about it. Flying had become a convenience. Something that I did twice or thrice a week. Helsinki to London, London to Hamburg, Hamburg to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Vienna, Vienna to Munich, Munich to Helsinki... However, I never really got sick of it. The worst part was being not at home for 4-5 days a week. The flying didn't bother me though. On the contrary, I quite enjoyed it.
I miss that. I miss being able to fly to work or going on vacation by plane. One of the biggest joys of going on vacation was - for example - the 9h flight with a brand new Finnair A350 from Helsinki to Krabi in Thailand. Or the two legs from Brisbane to Changi (Singapore) in a Boeing Dreamliner and than back to Finland in an A350. Or being able to take a KLM 747 flight on the upper deck (old first class) with only 8 passengers and the same number of Stewardesses and Stewards from Amsterdam to Shanghai - what a Service, what a flight, what glorious memories.
The past couple of weeks have been tough. We still have a flight scheduled for the 4th of July from Shanghai to Helsinki. It will be my second flight to Helsinki this year, but it's not certain that we will be able to go. The Government has recently announced that they will only slightly lift travel restrictions and allow a maximum of 2 flights per week - one from a domestic airline, one from an international carrier - to only one city per European country. These regulations will be in place until the end of October.
It basically means that you either need to be lucky or spend a lot more than usual to get one of the seats on the weekly flights. There are a lot more details to the restrictions but I don't want to go through all of them. Just this: the amount of effort you have to put in to getting out of Shanghai and into one of the European Cities is so big that you really have to consider if just staying here is the better option. And when you return, you still have to be in isolation for 2 weeks.
These travel restrictions linger like a dark cloud over what I remember as the freedom of travel and freedom of movement that I've been so used to. And there is nothing much that I can do about it but reflect on all of this and think of my younger self... the dreams I had about seeing the world and traveling. And even though they were quite unachievable at that time, I knew I'd be able to make it one day.
So, I'm sitting here like the 25-year-younger me and say to myself: "When I grow up, I want to see the world, I want to re-discover and re-explore and I want to see the beauty of this planet again."
I know that I'll be able to and I know that I'll cherish the freedom and the opportunities and be even more grateful than ever once I set out to see the world again...