ALL’S QUIET A solitary person, wearing a face mask, inhabits this part of Ireland West Airport on Friday last.
On July 1 at 9.30am, a flight from London Stansted became the first plane to land in Knock in 91 days.
Under the watchful eye of the great Monsignor James Horan’s statue, things are slowly getting back to normal for the east Mayo miracle.
Even a man as forward-thinking as Monsignor Horan couldn’t have foreseen a virus from an obscure Chinese city shuttering his treasured airport.
On Friday afternoon, the car park is half-full. At least 25 of the vehicles have UK registrations, which have been parked there for God-knows-how-long.
Once likened to an Asda Supermarket by comedian John Bishop, the airport lobby is predictably quiet upon entry. Mask-wearing is well-observed by staff and passengers alike. Those not wearing a mask are politely reminded to do so by attendants.
A pair of hand sanitizers and various signs remind all entering the building to keep their hands clean.
The perspex screens we’ve become so accustomed to in shops guard the front of the information and car rental stalls, which appear to be getting very few enquiries.
The upstairs restaurant and bar remain closed.
The yellow social distancing signs which dot the floor of the baggage queue are of little use in the near-empty departures lounge.
At midday, there are only three inbound and outbound flights scheduled to and from Bristol, Liverpool and Palma.
The two Ryanair flights departing for England are the 13.50 to Bristol and the 15.50 to Liverpool. There is only one ‘holiday flight’ scheduled, the 19.10 to Palma in Spain, which will only be carrying four people.
The last one or two passengers on the 13.50 to Bristol proceed briskly to the baggage gates. Such quick and easy service would be heavenly were it not for the overhanging uncertainty of Covid-19.
One young woman gives her parents a warm goodbye before making the journey back to south-west England, where she works in a Bristol hospital.
Her mother told The Mayo News: “She’s on maternity leave but she works as a doctor over in Bristol. She was just over here to visit for a week. There were very few on the plane over a week ago, it was less than a third full.”
Indeed, her stay was so brief that it wouldn’t even have exceeded the two-week quarantine recommendations.
Her mother, a native of Castleknock in Dublin, explains how they have spent the last four months quarantining in Mayo.
“We have a house in Cong. We came down for St Patrick’s weekend and we never went back. It was handier to stay put.”
Among the arrivals from the inbound Bristol flight are a family from the Czech Republic, who are visiting family in Ireland for a week. When asked were there many passengers on their flight, one of the younger girls replies – with a perfect British accent – ‘not really’.
Another woman getting the 15.50 Ryanair flight to Liverpool had found herself in a similar situation to the family in Cong, having spent the past four months quarantined on Achill Island while Covid-19 raged through the British Isles.
One young woman, living in Sligo but born to English parents, is on the way to visit family in Manchester via Liverpool.
A conversation with some of the staff confirms that things are indeed, abnormally quiet for Ireland West Airport.
One lady working in customer service told The Mayo News: “It’s like a quiet winter’s day all of the time. We normally don’t have time to talk to each other during the day. This time of year would normally be very busy.”
The lady working in the shop has just received an order of Tayto crisps boxes, which she reckons ‘will probably last ten months’ at the rate things are going.
Another staff member said: “We’d rarely have more than 100 people going out per day.”
Turnaround times for planes, which normally take about 25 minutes, now take about 10 minutes on account of the small passenger numbers.
While things are quiet at the moment, passenger numbers are definitely up from early March when they almost completely collapsed prior to the airport’s closure.
Staff say mask-wearing is being very-well observed by inbound passengers. However, the inescapable uncertainty mirrors the changeability of Ireland’s summer weather.
“Confidence is definitely growing,” said one member of Ryanair’s staff. “But at the same time you don’t know who’s coming in or out that might have Covid.”