And so the bad news continues to rain down. Rain down like one of those black-sky catastrophes you see in American disaster movies, where the toothless old man rocks back and forth in the chair on his rickety porch, looks towards the clouds gathering on the horizon, and mutters “storm’s a-comin”, to no-one but himself. But he knows. He knows.
Like a rain that, contrary to any sort of logic, contains literal cats and dogs. And not nice fluffy cats and amiable waggy-tailed dogs. No, the sort of stray felines you see on Greek islands and the outskirts of Turkish holiday resorts, which hiss if you come within 10ft of them; the sort of scar-faced tomcats that, at some point, have lost an eye fighting, but are happy to fight you too, come on then, what you lookin’ at, bloody tourists, got any fish? The sort of dogs that are all snarl and drool and you-can-see-it-in-their-eyes fantasies about using small children as chew-toys. Those cats. Those dogs. From above. Non-stop.
OK, perhaps, I’m in an overly apocalyptic mood this morning. And perhaps yesterday’s announcement that a sandwich chain is cutting its workforce is not a cast-iron sign that the Four Horsemen are in the saddle (although they well may be on Zoom as I write, trying to co-ordinate diaries. “So we’re all saying a week tomorrow is a good day to go for a gallop? Oh hang on, next Friday’s no good for Pestilence. He’s got his online yoga class. Monday 13th? Can we all do Monday 13th? Yeah? OK – I’ll send out a reminder. Love what you’ve done with the field-of-wheat backdrop, Famine. Very ironic”). But yesterday’s confirmation that baguette-with-fillings specialist Upper Crust and coffee-shop Cafe Ritazza are jointly to shed 5,000 jobs is definitely Not A Good Thing. Not for the workers who will be laid off, not for the health of the businesses, not for the everyday travellers who make up a sizeable proportion of their customers, and whose absence from train stations and airports over the last three months is at the heart of the decision.
Along with Tuesday’s revelation that easyJet is thinking of pulling out of Newcastle, Stansted and Southend due to the financial implications of Covid-19, this is another brick tumbling from the wall in the steady erosion of the travel industry as we know it. In fact, if you are feeling especially pessimistic, you might be starting to wonder what will be left of a formerly familiar landscape once we return to it. Still, the following could be some of the facets of an attempt at a long-distance journey in the post-virus world. If we’re lucky.
1. Gourmet self-catering
The decline in the range of takeaway outlets in major transport hubs will make for a reconnection with the old-fashioned concept of the deluxe do-it-yourself dining option. Or the “packed lunch”, as it otherwise tends to be known. Just think – a vast array of sandwich options, running the gamut all the way from so-bland-I-can’t-tell-what-animal-it-came-from processed meats through to supermarket own-brand strawberry jam. The joy of reacquainting yourself with boxed juice drinks – some of which may not have leaked and imbued the sandwiches with the fine flavour of weak orange. Bananas that are somehow so green as to be tasteless, yet have still squished themselves through the sides of their own skins after being thrown around in the bag on the way here. Best of all kids, we’re going to have to wolf the lot in the airport car park at 6am, in case security confiscates the four badly bruised apples as a possible biohazard. Now, who asked for the soggy marmite bap, and who wants the one that, for some reason, is just plain margarine?
2. Green-shoot start-ups
Nature abhors a vacuum, especially one in the fast-food sandwiches sector. And fewer properly prepared tuna baguettes means an opportunity for sharp-eyed sole-traders to make a financial killing. Remember those National Express bus journeys in the Nineties where the ticket collector also sold home-made sarnies to fill empty stomachs on the eight-hour drive to Nottingham via Northampton, Leicester, Derby and Crewe? That – only in the now empty Stansted concourse. “I’ve still got the fish paste and the corned beef. Do you want to upgrade to the super-saver menu with a bag of Wotsits? £7 please”.
3. Temperature-check roulette
We can all agree that there weren’t enough checks at airports in the pre-Covid era – and if you left your shoes on, or failed to take your shoes off, before going through security (depending on what the rules were in that particular 10-minute window on a wet Tuesday in October), then more fool you. Thank goodness, then, for the imminent arrival of Coronavirus Temperature Procedures. Not only will they give you the long dreamed-of chance to have your forehead beep-scanned as if you were a shop-soiled box of chocolates in an Ipswich supermarket; now you can play the great new game of “Is My Head Too Hot To Get On A Plane?”. Spot of sunburn after a week on the beach? Scalp sweaty because you legged it in from the cab rank with three suitcases and a crying child? “Sorry sir, the red light flashed on our hand-gun thingie. Please step immediately into Quarantine Sector Four. Jeff, fire up the Covid Swabinator 5000. We’ve got another one.”
4. Increased water risk
We all know that attempting to take a half-drunk bottle of water through security, then claiming that you’d forgotten it was in your bag (“a likely story madam, a likely story. Do you think I was born yesterday madam? DO YOU??!!”), is a crime of the most appalling nature, guaranteed to endanger the lives of fellow passengers, airport staff, crew members and unsuspecting people living innocently within a five-mile radius of the airport. Now, as well as trying to smuggle this notoriously explosive liquid into a controlled area, you will be doing so while leaving filthy corona-fingerprints all over the plastic bottle. “Jeff, fire up the Covid Vaporiser 6000. This sort of dread atrocity should not go unpunished.”
5. Haunted houses
Worried that there won’t be enough for your children to do at the airport during the eight hours it now takes to get from the disinfected hands-free bag-drop area to the sanitiser station at the gate? Don’t worry, they can go and play in what was Paolo’s Puttanesca Paradise until said TV chef went bankrupt. Now it’s just a gaping dead “retail” space where they can run around for hours under a single faded poster of Venice in 1956. Was that creepy clown man always in the corner – or is that a new addition? I’m sure it’s fine.
6. Duty-free boom time
Of course, five of those eight hours will be spent queuing in the booze section of the windowless perfume-and-fags labyrinth – which, in three months’ time, will be the only part of the UK economy with any customers. With every pub having gone bust, and tax on supermarket brandy having been trebled to bring some sort – any sort – of income into the exchequer, those four-for-£120 deals on vodka brands no Russian would be seen dead drinking will be causing a retail rush to make Black Friday look like a night at the ballet.
7. Shrink-wrap and go
Correction. There will also be a boom in demand for those strange airport stalls where you can have your bag wrapped in cling-film, like it’s a batch of sausage rolls for Auntie Phyllis’s 80th birthday party next week. And seeing as plastic protection is the sure-fire way to keep Covid at bay, why not have everything else wrapped too? Your wife. Your children. Your own head. The plane. The pilot. The beach hotel. You can’t be too careful.
8. The face-mask hokey-cokey
You pull your face mask up
Your face mask down
Up down, up down, and move it all around
Take it off at passports or the scanner won’t work
And that’s what it’s all about.
Oh, that man is sneezing
Oh, my nose is itching
Oh, four hours til Luton
Too hot, can’t breath, cough cough cough.
9. Socially-distanced gate meerkat-ing
You know the people who form a queue at the gate the moment an airline staff member arrives at the boarding desk – even though she’s only trying to retrieve the vape that she left there this morning, and won’t be be flicking through passports with a thousand-yard stare for another 20 minutes? Said people will still be at the airport in the post-Covid epoch. Except that, now, they will be forming a line in Properly Distanced Intervals, and harrumphing extra-loudly at anyone who is standing 1.5 metres away – let alone looking like they might be trying to get through with their so-called Speedy Boarding pass. Don’t let him in, Gav; don’t let him in. I know. He’s the one putting it us all at risk. So! Selfish!
10. Shortbread mountain
The next missive from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is not going to be about steering clear of Iran, but a ruling that every British citizen must do their patriotic duty on their way through duty-free, and buy one of those tins of souvenir biscuits that overseas visitors seem to think are a bargain at three for £35. Because, in the absence of American and Chinese tourists, every airport is going to suffer structural damage under the weight of tartan-motif boxes of shortbread. If you arrive at your gate, and you haven’t picked up a packet of fudge wrapped in the image of a Cotswolds village, you’ll be sent back to the terminal to get one. While you’re at it, buy one of those weird Princess Diana cardboard masks as well, and one of the Prince William ones where he still has hair. The storeroom is groaning, and Sarah’s been stuck behind a sack of Prince Harry t-shirts since Thursday.
11. The mega-raffle
The opportunity to win a big prize via Snake Oil & Sons Airport Raffles will still be A Thing in the post-Covid era. Except that the gleaming Porsche on the revolving circular plinth (available in shades of Toxic-Masculinity Red and Sexual-Harassment-Suit Silver) will have been replaced by a crate of “only slightly compromised” PPE equipment. Come on, sir. A very reasonable one-in-seven-million chance of winning. Three tickets for £200.
12. A smorgasbord of destinations
So the airlines may have taken a bit of a financial knock from the crisis, and are offering fewer routes than they were before. But that departures board is still going to shine with destinations. Look, love – there’s a flight to Leeds-Bradford in a couple of hours. Can you imagine, being able to fly to Yorkshire? Maybe one day. Still, we’ll have a lovely holiday on Humberside. I hear there’ll be a flight to Bristol next year – but I really can’t picture it.