People on the last Aer Lingus flight out of Paris before France joins the list of Category 2 countries on the mandatory hotel quarantine list spoke with a mix of anger, frustration and resignation as they queued at the check-in gates at Charles de Gaulle Airport early on Wednesday morning.
A full hour before Aer Lingus staff took their positions at the check-in desks, a line of close to 100 people had formed.
Most of those waiting to be ushered through security had not planned to be in the airport at all this week and were only travelling to Ireland so they could avoid spending at least 12 nights in a Dublin hotel of the State's choosing at a cost of close to €2,000.
Joanne Turner was on the saddest of journeys, travelling home to visit her dying mother for one last time. “I have to get home,” she said. “I wasn’t planning to travel today and I thought I might have a bit more time out of it. I also have three children in France. My mummy is in such a state and since the quarantine is being put in place tomorrow I am being forced into doing this.”
Aoife McSweeney from Cork has been taking part in the Erasmus programme and was not due to finish her studies in Grenoble until the end of April. However she decided late last week to cut short her stay in order to avoid having to quarantine.
"I decided to come home early because I didn't want to spend nearly €2,000 on a hotel and I made all the arrangements before Simon Harris made the announcement that the Government would cover the costs of Erasmus students," she told The Irish Times.
“By the time that announcement came, I was all packed and the flight was booked and I had given up my room. It was all a bit of a mess really. But I just want to be home at this stage.”
Fellow Cork student Lauren Baker was not due to come back to Ireland until the end of May, having opted to extend her stay by a month. However everything changed overnight late last week and the changes came at a considerable cost.
“I had to give a month’s notice on my apartment so that was €300 and then it was another €500 on the one-way flight. It was the most expensive flight in my life,” she laughed without much joy.
“I heard the announcement from Simon Harris but all the arrangements were in place by then so if I hadn’t come home I would have just been throwing all that money away. I’m not sure I would have like the hotel anyway,” she added. “I am such a picky eater I would have only lasted two days!”
Maurice Riboh was making his way to Ireland from Israel with a brief stopover in France. He was travelling to visit his son and had not planned to come to Ireland until next week.
"I was only coming to visit to see my son for four or five days so could not spend two weeks in quarantine and not even see him," he said. "I have had both doses of the Pfizer vaccine but even so I had to come early and pay 10 times the price for my airfare."
He said the one-way flight from Paris to Dublin had cost him €300 while the considerably longer flight from Israel to Paris had cost a third of that. “It is absolutely crazy,” he said.
Noel Ryan from Thurles was more accepting of the new rules coming into force this week. "I have five siblings and we all live abroad and come home regularly to visit our 87-year-old mother. I can't spend 12 days in quarantine so changed my flight home, bringing it forward by a week. It is hard when the rules keep changing but France is definitely a high risk country and they do need to reduce travel and slow the spread of the virus."
Clementine Agron-Burke has called Ireland her home for the last 13 years and she was travelling back earlier than anticipated after a trip to visit an ill family member in France. “There was no way I was going to stay in one of those hotels,” she said. “I can understand why the measures are being put in place though. Compared to France Ireland has a poor health system and it could easily be overwhelmed.
Michael Collins lives in France but runs two travel businesses in Ireland so effectively commutes between the two countries in normal times.
But he decided to take the unplanned trip home before the new rules come into force. “I just couldn’t risk having to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks,” he said. “I wouldn’t be travelling today were it not for the rules. But they have been introduced with little notice and ignoring the fact that there is an open border on the island of Ireland.”
He added that he could not understand the Government’s approach.”I am in Charles de Gaulle now and there are flights coming and going but in Ireland we are just shutting everything down without an exit strategy. It doesn’t make any sense.”