When The Planes Were On A Halt For A Year


  • With jets roaring back into action, the hushed days of lockdowns feel like a distant dream for those under flight paths In corporate sectors, greater oversight of work-related travel has been introduced.
  • Overall, Covid has thrown the challenge we face into sharp relief: in 2020, as travel bans and stay-at-home orders flickered in and out, during industrial slowdowns and the effective closure of business districts, global carbon emissions fell by an estimated 5.8%.
  • The plane made what felt like a handbrake turn and swooped over Hammersmith Bridge, the whole city laid out just for me, and I thought: what a privilege it is to see the world from this perspective.

 Planes are normally in constant motion, bouncing across continents. All of that came to a halt in March 2020. What did it mean for our careers, our horizons, and the environment as reported by The Guardian.

Flights grounded

On 14 March 2020, I left my home in the Orkney Islands to drive to Edinburgh international airport.

Full of nervous anticipation, and making frantic last-minute preparations, I hadn’t paid as much attention to the coronavirus crisis as I might have, but events were developing so quickly across Europe, it was dawning on me that international travel might not be an option for much longer.

My flight, however, was still scheduled to depart on time.

Normally, planes are in constant motion, massing with the daylight but never truly ceasing, moving in predictable patterns like currents over the Earth – the invisible infrastructure of the world.

On an average day, 100,000 flights or more might take off; on 25 July 2019 – the busiest recorded day in aviation – there were 230,000.

Very soon, flights would be grounded on a scale never before seen.


As I uncertainly considered my flight to Germany, 9,100 miles away, in Perth, Australia, Daria Kuznetsova and Andrew Rodger were making their own calculations.

For an international couple, “home” is a complicated proposition.

But when they thought about their cosy London flat, the mural on the living room wall, their baby’s cot, their books, they knew that was home.

In the darkened cabin, Daria held Alexander over her shoulder and paced the aisles, jogging him to sleep.

Daria wasn’t frightened, not exactly, but it was certainly unsettling.

She didn’t know at the time that it would be the last flight she would take for many months, that she would miss her sister’s wedding, would need to counsel her family through hard times over Zoom.

Scramble of flights

The final weeks of March 2020 saw a last mad scramble for flights before the departure boards went dark.

According to the Foreign Office, 38,000 Britons were flown back on 186 flights, from 57 different countries and territories, a crisis response with “no postwar precedent in terms of scale, complexity and duration”.

Increasingly, there was nowhere left to fly.

Others in the industry were less fortunate.

Finnair left business class seats in place, with only a thin curtain separating them from where packages were piled high in place of the economy section.

Virtual worlds

Frankie Ward knows all about virtual worlds.

“It’s a high-adrenaline, emotional experience,” she tells me. 

Though the esports industry should have been well placed to adapt to an online world, there were difficulties.

Now the hotel rooms and business-class lounge have been replaced by video calls from 8 am till 8 pm, work’s a lot less fun She soon realised that it’s one thing to shrug off jet lag while flooded with adrenaline on a stage, and quite another to be working long days, in other timezones, from your spare room.

On the internet, many things can be truly global.

I spoke to one senior executive at an investment company – a Briton, based in New York – who said that in her globetrotting line of work, she would travel long haul a minimum of twice a month, and often twice a week or more.

International research

For scientists conducting international research, the grounding of flights caused major problems.

With populations in lockdown, transport restricted and industrial activity slowed, it has been a chance for climatologists and atmospheric scientists to check the accuracy of their models; they have been able to measure the impact of the unprecedented sudden change in carbon emissions, and in aerosols produced by the burning of fossil fuels, and see if it lines up with the effects they might have predicted.

Before Covid, demand for air travel had been increasing by just short of 6% a year since 2010; studies estimated that by 2050, aviation would account for about a quarter of all global carbon emissions.

Though it was a frightening period – the struggle over food deliveries, not knowing whether to go out – she still recalls it as a sunlit time.

The roar of the South Circular road, too, had been muffled.

It was, she says, “extraordinary, ethereal”.


Recently, I took my first flight south since the pandemic.

The plane spiralled down east over the city.

There were train tracks striating the ground, long and thin like musculature, and the ribbing of the streets.

Something fired inside me that I hadn’t felt in some time.

The plane made what felt like a handbrake turn and swooped over Hammersmith Bridge, the whole city laid out just for me, and I thought: what a privilege it is to see the world from this perspective.

Frankie, the esports host, found time to renovate her house with her new husband and is pregnant with their first child.

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Source: The Guardian


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