| 5.6°C Dublin

Lockdown Letters 'Every single passenger on the flight was wearing a mask'

In this special series, ‘Lockdown Letters' gives our readers at home and across the globe an opportunity to share their stories about how the Coronavirus and the measures to tackle its spread are impacting their lives in these unprecedented times.

Close

Paula Gahan (33) has been living in London for 5 years.

Paula Gahan (33) has been living in London for 5 years.

Paula Gahan (33) has been living in London for 5 years.

I’m running in heels through the streets of Kuala Lumpur carrying a bottle of Tiger beer.

We’ve just had a phone call from London saying the country’s going into lockdown and we have to fly back in an hour.

With the imminent collapse of the aviation industry, myself and the crew were determined to enjoy possibly one of the last trips we’ll have for a while – and being from Kildare town, another Irish crew member and I decided it would only be right to toast St Patrick’s Day.

Drinks had just been delivered to the table when the call came in. “How long have we got?” “They’re collecting us in one hour, everyone back to the hotel.”

With that, the table of 10 crew members, who’d just landed three hours ago from a 13-hour flight, legged it back to the hotel. I’d just paid 22 ringgits (€4.61) for that beer though, and I’d be damned if I was leaving it.

My only regret is wearing heels. If I have any advice from my 33 years, it would be never wear heels in any sort of crisis.

By the time I’d made it to the hotel lobby, I could feel the blisters rising up on my feet. Everyone going into the hotel had their temperature taken before they were allowed to enter. I was 36.4. Anyone with over 38 was not getting in. I wonder how long before these measures will be implemented in London where I am now based for my job.

I ran to my room and threw everything in a bag as quickly as I could – never in my five years of being cabin crew with a major airline have I seen such disorder and panic.

The flight from London to Kuala Lumpur had been equally surreal. Every single passenger was wearing a mask for the duration of the flight. Many were wearing raincoats, gloves and full body hazmat suits.

A few people ate but most refused the food for fear of contamination. The majority of the passengers were Malaysians, desperate to get back home before they closed the borders.

I handed one a bottle of water, he flinched and looked at me nervously before taking it, a strange combination of fear and embarrassment in his eyes. I felt sorry for him.

He hadn’t moved from his seat for the whole 13 hours and there was a strong odour of urine from him. It’s hard to believe, but some passengers will go to any lengths in a bid to avoid using the toilets, including wearing adult diapers.

A crew member in his 60s said the last time he’d seen such hysteria around personal cleanliness and contact was during the Aids epidemic of the 1980s.

There were only a handful of Europeans on the flight. One middle-aged man was irate that he had been allowed board the flight at all in light of the imminent lockdown; the truth is we barely had any information ourselves.

There was nothing that could be said to calm him down, the thought of being stuck in Kuala Lumpur playing on his mind. People can be very petty in these situations.

He looked me dead in the eye and said, “well, I’m glad you’ll all be out of a job in a week”.

We are living history. The challenges posed by Covid 19 are similar the world over but everybody’s experience of this emergency will be different. In this special series, ‘Lockdown Letters' gives our readers at home and across the globe an opportunity to share their stories about how the Coronavirus and the measures to tackle its spread are impacting their lives in these unprecedented times.

Please email your submission (400 words max.) to stories@independent.ie along with a photograph. We will publish as many letters as possible on Independent.ie and a selection in print every week.

Online Editors