At Dublin Airport early on Monday morning Martina Mincica is excited to fly home to see family in Italy for the first time in nine months.
Mincica (39) and her wife, Amanda O'Regan (41), living in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, have waited eagerly for restrictions to ease so they can fly to Verona on the first day of the resumption of non-essential international travel.
The women were among an estimated 22,500 travellers to pass through Dublin Airport on Monday. While a 50 per cent increase on the same day last week, the figure is a small fraction of the 116,163 passengers seen on July 19th, 2019.
Logistically, the trip has not been plain sailing for the Tipperary residents. Although long double-jabbed, their EU digital Covid certs have not yet materialised.
“We have our HSE card, but I am not sure they will take it. We decided to book the test to be safe,” says Mincica.
Watching Italy’s fight against the pandemic from afar in Nenagh has been difficult, she adds. The pain has also been personal as her uncle died at Christmas.
“We got to see them all in October … But we couldn’t travel to go to the funeral. It was tough, but I think back then it was the right thing as it was very unsafe to go there.”
There are no nerves about the flight itself. The masks are a comfort, says O’Regan, and they would not be going if they were not inoculated.
The McGettigan family of four, from Terenure, Dublin, were looking forward to their first holiday in two years in the Algarve, Portugal. Youngest child Lucy, who will turn five in Portugal, does not remember ever going on holidays abroad, says father Patrick.
The two-week family holiday was booked for the summer of 2020, with rolling cancellations leading them, coincidentally, to July 19th.
“It was just lucky that the date fell on the day they were opening up, so we decided then we would go ahead with it,” says Catherine McGettigan.
There is apprehension of the “unknown” ahead of them on their travels but she says: “So far, so good. The airport doesn’t look as packed as I thought it would.”
Dearbhla Lawlor and her sons, Bobby (15) and Donacha (7), are travelling to Italy’s Lake Garda region to visit her 19-year-old daughter, who has been working there since June. All three were tested for the virus, even though Dearbhla is fully vaccinated.
“Because today is the first day you could travel, I wasn’t quite sure if the vaccine passport would work. I wanted to be doubly sure we would get on the plane,” she says.
The guidelines have been “confusing”, she adds, as information websites have said slightly different things.
At the arrival gates there is muted excitement. The usual squeals and shrieks that accompany long-awaited reunions are absent as greeters are asked to wait outside terminals to allow for social distancing inside.
Wheeling golf bags through arrivals are Paul Sifusson (36) and Dale Gray, from California, who have travelled to enjoy Northern Ireland’s greens with friends.
The week-long “guys’ trip” was planned before the pandemic hit, and the vaccinated group have been watching Irish guidelines closely in anticipation of carrying through with their holiday plans without having to quarantine.
Back to normal
Paris-based diplomat and Sligo man Liam O’Flaherty is returning to see family for the first time in six months. He and his wife are both vaccinated and decided to wait until Monday to travel to Ireland under the new rules.
France has “kind of gone back to normality”, says O’Flaherty. “The general anxiety around it seems higher in Ireland.” Mary Connolly greets her daughter Kaitlyn, who has travelled from Newark in the US, with a tight hug. They are both living in Virginia. Rathfarnham-born Mary arrived last week, before restrictions eased, and was isolating at her parents’ house until Monday morning.
“I was going to change my flight, but with the case numbers they couldn’t guarantee I wouldn’t have to isolate … I thought I would just take a chance and go,” says Mary, who is staying until the end of August to “make up for lost time”.
The mother and daughter have not been to Ireland since early 2020. “It has just been amazing to see everyone,” says Mary. “It has been a long 20 months … My parents are elderly; it is hard not seeing them.”
This Irish trip is all about family, she adds. “Honest to God, just to be together. When you don’t have it for so long it is amazing to get it back.”
Aer Lingus chief operating officer Peter O’Neill describes Monday as a “milestone day” but says there is still an “awful long journey to go”. The company operated 66 flights on Monday, 280 fewer than the same day in 2019.
O’Neill says the changes “essentially give people permission to travel again and to think about it”. Flights to holiday destinations, such as Malaga and Faro, are “particularly busy” now.
The digital Covid cert marks a breakaway from the “haphazard” restrictions brought in by individual European countries, he adds.
Data from the HSE shows overseas travel is now the second most prominent source of infection after mixing in private households. However, O’Neill says passengers should be assured by the high-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) air filtration systems that, he says, clear 99.97 per cent of airborne particles.
“The air is refreshed every three minutes … The aeroplane, with the exception of an operating theatre, has the cleanest environment,” he adds.
Masks must be worn and other procedures are in place to ensure social distancing is followed.
The Government has warned that the Delta variant brings an “element of risk” to international travel. Public health advice for unvaccinated people is still to avoid high-risk activities, including international travel.
“Travel rules are subject to change at very short notice,” the statement says, noting that the EU’s “emergency brake” mechanism can be used to heighten restrictions for countries where a variant of concern is emerging.