I did it! After worrying about the whole thing for days, I plucked up the courage, went to Gatwick and embarked upon the great journey — all one hour and fifty minutes of it — to Venice.
A trip I used to think of as commuting almost. Today… well let’s find out.
Getting to the airport
My car turned up on time for the trip up the M20 we’ve made so many times before. It wasn’t long before we encountered firm evidence we’re now in new territory. A few miles along the road blocks start to appear and lane closures. Yes, the famous Operation Brock is back, slowing down everyone and making you wonder why.
The reason this time? Johnson’s Freedom Day. Which was, it seems, bound to lead to loads of traffic from the Continent turning up in Merry Old England. Yes, I know, we’re 100,000 short of lorry drivers at the moment thanks, in no small part, to Brexit, and if you were a holidaymaker coming in from France you’d currently have to quarantine.
So what? You want logic? Anyway the traffic was so light even Brock didn’t stop me getting to Gatwick North for the first time in years.
Gulp… heart in mouth… it’s time to…
The last time I did this was for the BA Club class queue at Heathrow Terminal 5 a year ago and a proper nightmare it was. Slow, confused and irritating, especially when, with just about every stand empty, we were made to get on a bus to the plane.
Gatwick and easyJet were a joy in comparison. Well no, of course it wasn’t. Getting there was never a joy and never will be. Being there is what it’s all about.
This was the first Saturday after the break-up of the schools and on an ordinary year the place would have been heaving. It wasn’t quiet. It wasn’t busy. I got in the queue for the bag drop, waited my turn, showed my ticket and my antigen certificate to the chap dealing with us all… and waited for the questions. There were none. He glanced at the antigen certificate, gave me a little bit of paper that said ‘good to fly’ or something and then it was on to security. Which was quick since it was so quiet.
EasyJet, if you have a Flexi ticket like I had, offer you Fast Track through the system by the way. Which is odd since when I went up to the Fast Track section I was told it wasn’t operating and was just for staff. Oh well. All the same, fifteen minutes after getting in line for check-in I was airside. I’ve taken longer in a business class premium queue.
In the airport
I hadn’t been in Gatwick North for ages. It’s a bit rundown in parts to be honest. There’s Jamie Oliver’s restaurant , still showing departure details, with everything closed. I remember paying a fortune for a dreadful breakfast there a while back so I think it’s primarily a loss for the many decent workers at Gatwick who’ve been furloughed or worse over the last 18 months. On that subject I should say that all the airport and airline people I met along the way were polite, efficient and doing their best, sometimes in difficult circumstances. I made sure to thank a couple especially. They’ve been through hell too. They deserve our support, not the abuse they get at times.
Oliver’s dive isn’t the only shuttered restaurant either. The few that were open had long queues of people waiting for whatever meal you eat at 1045 in the morning. If you’re planning on dining there I’d see if you can book.
Gatwick says everyone must wear masks. Most people did. A few very visibly didn’t and I didn’t see any staff tackling them over it. I was offended more by the rudeness than any great sense of danger though I still made sure to steer clear of the worst offenders. In theory everyone who’s got this far has a negative Covid test of some form unless they’re too young. That must minimise the risks a lot compared with getting on the Tube. Nothing is completely safe, of course. But then the only way to stay completely safe is to lock yourself in your home and hope you don’t fall down the stairs.
Overall I’d say the atmosphere was muted — lots of older travellers, families, no hen or stag parties that I could see. People weren’t very vocal either. Perhaps like me they were still wondering if we’d make it to the other end. Or just exhausted.
Same as usual. That’s to say we were all moved into an airless corridor, waited there for 15 minutes and then Speedy Boarders were ushered through onto the plane. One word of warning. Masks with filters were out of bounds for some reason. Anyone wearing one was asked to remove it and given a plain mask to wear for the flight. Also it seems Italian rules mean that clothing can only be stored in overhead lockers in bags, not loose. So the woman next to me wore her long black coat all the way through the flight.
Which was just one hour and fifty minutes thank goodness. We took off ten minutes late and landed one minute early. Usually I bag a BA Club right hand window seat to get that wonderful view of Venice as we come in (most times). No chance this time, middle front row seat with a view of nothing. I had one of these masks. It was light, comfortable and supposedly very effective.
All the same I was looking forward to taking it off.
At Marco Polo we docked at a stand, a rarity when travelling in normal times with BA which almost always seems to involve a bus. I was in row one, among the first off, striding towards passport control heart in mouth. Did I have all the right paperwork? Would I finally get into Italy for the first time in a year? What kind of interrogation lay ahead now Brexit had stripped me of my EU citizenship?
UK citizens are guided to an e-passport gate. Through that in a flash then up to the immigration officer at the desk. He smiles as he takes my passport and asks the reason for the visit and how long I’ll be in Italy. That done, he asks if I know I have to quarantine.
‘Oh yes,’ I say, ready to brandish my folder of paperwork, certificates, locator form, blood group, family history, that review I got in the Washington Post years ago comparing me with Dan Brown and my highlighting of the section that never gets quotes saying ‘nothing like Dan Brown too’, you name it.
He stamps my passport and that’s it. I’m airside so quickly there’s a fifteen-minute wait for the suitcase.
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been through Marco Polo airport and I have to tell you this must be one of the quickest, easiest transits ever. The biggest delay? Waiting for my expensive private boat from Consorzio Motoscafi which wasn’t there when I turn up for the jetty.
Still, twenty minutes later we’re turning from the Cannaregio into the Grand Canal and I’m nearly in my new home.
I’d been anxious about this trip ever since booking it. Stupid of me. There may be a lot more paperwork to deal with in advance. But on the day this was a piece of cake.
Know what hurt most? Getting that stamp in my passport. Bloody Brexit.
Next up in a little while… a few thoughts on quarantine when I’ve gathered them together.
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