Come fly with me into the summer of revenge travel

The India-UAE sector has come back to life after more than two years


Allan Jacob

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Published: Wed 6 Apr 2022, 11:38 PM

The lady at the immigration counter made light of the glitch in the system that slowed my family’s return to Dubai after a long overdue vacation. The touchdown was smooth but the smart gates were unresponsive, so we tried the humans behind the desks: the same result. Blame the monitors that had dimmed but they would be back soon, we were told.

Meanwhile, the crowds were swelling behind us as more flights from across the world landed on a busy afternoon. The pandemic air bubbles were gone and the skies were clear outside and opening up for all kinds of travel. The India-UAE sector was coming back to life after more than two years. “This glitch had to happen during the busiest part of the day,” said one official as others laughed behind their masks. It was as if he missed the swarm of travellers and the experience at the airport.

It made me smile as the eye-scanners blinked on and off in their attempt to see through human retinas for familiarity. The machine saw the light in my eyes first; my son was next, but the apparatus played hide-and-seek with the missus and daughter. Gone blank again? Masks off, spectacles up, stare at the baggage carousels on the other side of the divide. Ours was no 13. Just bad luck.

“You can blink now,” said the lady at the counter in jest as she made small talk before her screen flickered again. We soon sailed through after what must have been a 15-minute wait but the experience made me realize we were connecting again as people on travels we once took for granted before Covid struck in early 2020. Delays didn’t matter, nor did the destination, only the journey seemed important. I was savoring the experience again.

It took a technical glitch to make me realise how little we have travelled in two years, often alone in lockdowns.

The pandemic had upended our lives and those of our loved ones living thousands of miles away. I couldn’t help noticing the relief on my fellow passengers’ faces when the lines started moving again. They were smiling; and if they were impatient, they weren’t showing it; the ushers were helpful and directing people to the immigration desks. There was calm despite the brief disruption. I even wondered if some folks at the airport were enjoying the short respite from technology.

I scrolled through my phone and caught sight of a new variant named Omicron XE but didn’t start another mutant conversation with my wife. I was happy to wait - it was an act of patience. A sort of penance for two years of staying grounded and working from home in Dubai. Those years seemed like an eternity but the wait I thought was worth it.

I also noticed that people on the flight were acting normal again. No rush to open the baggage cabins and find their way to the exit after tripping on luggage. The cabin crew only donned masks and had given up on the rather dour hazmat suits. Their clinical expressions and actions at the peak of the pandemic had vanished. Even the menu was appealing and palatable (I gave them five stars for keeping time and for the excellent service without a second thought). The flight steward even cracked a joke at my expense when he said my teenage son had asked for champagne while I was engrossed in a movie. He said the expression on my face (behind the mask) was priceless.

I have read about ‘revenge travel’ after the crisis. Aviation and travel experts are predicting a ‘summer of revenge travel’ this year. However, I am unsure if we will undertake such journeys to make up for lost time even as we slip into what might be a less dangerous endemic phase.

Travel will be more subdued and driven by necessity even as old routes come online again after the airline industry hemorrhaged $168 billion in two miserable years they’d like to forget.

Most airlines have dropped PCR tests for vaccinated passengers. I never had the nose for them. My taste for flying, however, is back. The fear and paranoia have disappeared. I am not seeking revenge but trying to forget. ‘Come fly with me’ sounds normal again.

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