Post pandemic blues

I’m belatedly writing this in September 2022, some six months after my first trip to the States post Covid. The whole world knows that everything ground to a halt for the best part of two years, and even though borders had been reopened, in March this year there were still a whole load of forms to fill out before leaving the UK for the US.

First and foremost; proof that you are Covid free and have been vaccinated. This proved slightly tricky because just a few weeks before I was due to travel, the virus got hold of me for the first time. The symptoms were pretty debilitating for about three days, but it was an agonising ten days before I eventually tested negative. Each day was one day closer to when I’d have to take a pre-flight test for the journey to Austin.

And the rules were strict; the test had to be taken within the 24 hour period before the flight itself. Fortunately there was a testing centre close to my home. And so it was with great relief that I finally stepped into the familiar surroundings of Heathrow Terminal 5.

This trip had been on hold for two years, and I had planned to treat myself with a First Class ticket with British Airways – the first time I’d ever done this. It wasn’t cheap. but nor was it too much more than Business Class. But the Pandemic had placed airlines in a difficult position; overall demand fell through the floor. Very few people were traveling at all, so today I am offered Business Class after all. Although it doesn’t turn out to be the worst experience in the world.

What I hadn’t accounted for is that the changes meant the whole front end of the aircraft was used for Business Class. I end up in Seat 1A. NewsMutt is certainly pleased.

The flight is uneventful enough, but includes some pretty good food – two full meals for the 10 hour journey and enough booze to pacify the grumpiest of passengers. That said, I’m keeping a fairly clear head because tonight is Austin, Texas – one of my favourite desitnations.

The city is largely clean, confident and prosperous, thanks in part to its hugely successful seat of learning, the University of Texas. Arrival, though, tells a slightly different story. My Uber driver, Benjamin is working hard; damned hard. He’s hails from Nigeria, but lives in Houston – a daily commute of over four hours just to get him into Austin. It’s unclear how much of the $30 fare he’ll get, but he says he enjoys his job and for him, it means he can do other work too,

A 30 minute drive takes us to downtown and my hotel. Here’s where Covid, and inflation, have really made an impact. Just a few years ago I could have stayed in one of the big name four star hotels for about $120 per night. Today, I’m paying more than that for a building that may well be labelled Hyatt on the outside, but contains little of the luxury you might normally associate with that brand.

It’s clean and comfortable enough, but my “high floor apartment room” is neither on a very high floor nor contains too many apartment facilities. There’s a coffee machine, microwave and small fridge, but no discernible “relaxation/dining area” as billed. Still, the point is that I’ve finally made it. A long awaited trip has started, and it’s time do to some exploring.

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