Canada to Jersey: Flying ahead of Coronavirus

Air travel in the time of Covid-19

At Vancouver's international airport passengers poured off the British Airways 747 Boeing plane from London. It felt as though they were in a rush to escape the dreaded virus plaguing Europe. They were probably only just in time. In British Columbia travellers from abroad are now being asked to self-isolate for 14 days regardless of whether or not they are showing symptoms of Covid-19.

Only about 200 passengers were waiting to return to London on the same plane. Most were travelling in Business Class or Premium Economy. For once there was plenty of space in Economy.


The flight was uneventful and took eight instead of the scheduled nine hours to reach Heathrow. Terminal 3 seemed busy enough, but there wasn't a face mask in sight and none of the expected precautionary notices about hand washing, coughing and sneezing. However the usual crowd of limousine drivers waiting for their sleepy transcontinental customers had shrunk from about 20 to two. Even this alternative to public transport is feeling the pinch.

Travel ban

At Gatwick the atmosphere was different. The usually bustling airport was almost deserted and British Airways staff seemed more anxious about President Trump's decision to ban travel from the European Union to the USA than the virus itself. One of the check-in staff explained that it was up to BA to turn back passengers in transit from EU countries through Gatwick to the USA. Even those starting their journey in the UK, she said, would have to be questioned on their movements over the previous 14 days. Anyone with a history of travel through the banned countries would not be allowed to board a USA-bound plane.How were they going to cope? How indeed. Perhaps President Trump's decision to add the UK and Ireland to the ban will now have eased her worries, but her bright confidence that unlike smaller companies BA would be big enough to manage the travel crisis no longer looks so realistic.Contrary to expectations my next BA flight, to Jersey, was full but not of the usual business types returning from a day in London. We were a motley bunch trying to beat a possible travel ban before it was too late.

Boarding was delayed because Gatwick ground staff were doing their best to clean the plane. But are two men and a 20-minute wipe-over enough against Covid-19? The inside of the plane didn't look like it. Crumpled magazines were sagging untidily out of the pockets and who knows if the surfaces of the tables, arm rests and luggage racks had been disinfected. Thankfully no-one was coughing or sneezing but what about the man who snored loudly from take off to landing? Anti Covid-19 instructions haven't told us how to handle that.


In the baggage hall at Jersey airport two men were handing out information about Covid-19. Passengers from China, South Korea, Iran and Italy must self-isolate immediately for 14 days. Passengers from 14 other countries, including Germany, France and Spain, were asked to self-isolate but only if they have symptoms within 14 days. Luckily Canada wasn't one of the 14, but we have all been advised to self-distance.

The Jersey Council of Ministers has now "advised" residents to travel in and out of the island only for "essential" reasons. "Essential" is defined as medical and compassionate reasons, and for those working to keep services running in the island. But what does "advised" mean? Is it legally binding (crucial for travel insurance) or is it up to you to take the advice or ignore it at your own risk?

At present Jersey has 2 cases of Covid-19.

Panic buying

And yes there is panic buying even in this small island community. Almost everything has to be imported from the UK and the supply chains are tight. Toilet rolls are being grabbed out of supermarket trolleys if the shopper isn't vigilant enough to ward off the marauder. Pharmacies are rationing bottles of hand sanitizers and shops have notices asking their few customers to pay by Contactless card (which most of them do anyway) rather than hand over cash. Coronavirus testing is only for high risk cases and only on referral from the dedicated helpline. Islanders are being asked not to call the helpline unless they have symptoms. Schools are still open and the Easter holidays are still several weeks away.

A healthy diet of Jersey milk and potatoes will probably see us through, even if the potato season has been delayed by the constant rain. Hopefully eggs won't run out either. And fish should be plentiful. The closure of French markets will hit the industry hard but it should mean that island supplies are guaranteed.