A flying Kiwi once more

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

I’m 38,002 feet up in the sky, flying over India, east of Hoshangbad, just south of Bhopal, five hours or so into my flight.

I am on Qatar Airways (QR) 817 bound for Doha, as always a brilliant inflight experience. Just like old times, back on the road again, the first leg of a marathon two and a half month stint around the Middle East, Europe and Asia. For the past ten months I’ve felt like my country New Zealand’s native bird, the Kiwi, unable to fly. Now it’s time to soar.

Why so long away from home? Simple. First a whole lot of professional and personal obligations; second, the need to undergo seven days hotel quarantine each time I return to Hong Kong makes coming back between trips problematic and expensive.

In fact it’s not quite like old times. International travel is a very different proposition than in pre-pandemic days. At least it is when you’re flying out of Hong Kong International Airport, livelier than when I last departed here 11 months ago but only marginally.

 Not the Hong Kong International Airport bustle I knew and loved from pre-pandemic times. Let’s hope the travel restrictions are eased soon and this wonderful gateway can be restored to its former greatness.

It’s sobering, in fact sad, to see this magnificent airport reduced to its current state. Most of the stores and restaurants remain closed – though, encouragingly, several more are open than during my last trip, when you half expected tumbleweed to blow down the terminal.

Hong Kong has a lot of catching up to do before it can live up to the message proclaimed on the JCDecaux digital billboard
A high-profile promotions zone covered up, waiting for better days
One of the best airport wines & spirits stores in the world, still sadly shuttered
The magnificent Louis Vuitton duplex store is all set to open. All it needs is passengers.

Passenger traffic rose +61% year-on-year in March to 94,000. A strong increase, right? Well, yes, but that represents a miniscule 1.47% of pre-pandemic March 2019 levels, when the airport served 6.4 million passengers.

That is a hell of a fall. Strict post-arrivals quarantine measures and inbound travel restrictions have effectively killed off tourism in Hong Kong since early in the pandemic and prompted a more recent mass exodus of ex-pats and, alas, businesses.

As I’ve written in previous posts, I accept that reality but business-wise I can no longer simply wait it out for things to return to normal, hence this extended trip.

COVID-related protocols also make travel – at least from certain airports and to certain destinations – a very different experience from 2019. I need a PCR test to enter Qatar though, impressively, they are now offered on site at Hong Kong International Airport (by Prenetics) with rapid (precisely 54 minutes in my case) results.

Down by my gate, however, a smaller Duty Zero by cdf store is open. Bravo China Duty Free Group and Lagardère Travel Retail.
Trip Advisor, open for business. All we need is more trips.

To enter Doha, you need to go through an extensive (though very easily navigated) registration process on a government website called Ehteraz, where you log your documents including passport, PCR test, vaccination records and hotel reservation. And, unlike other parts of the world (thankfully), it’s a fully masked inflight experience the whole way  with Qatar Airways (though not, when sipping on a very good Louis Latour Montrachet, as I felt obliged to do in the interests of research).

My flight was packed across all classes, the Qatar Airways check-in zone having been a bustlingly stark contrast to the eerie emptiness of much of the airport. What a job this airline has done throughout the pandemic.

When – and I say when rather than if – this is all over and people look back at those companies that have excelled during the crisis, Qatar Airways will surely be at the top of the tree. As one of my ex-pat friends noted recently after another airline cancelled her flight back to Hong Kong, “Thank goodness for Qatar Airways, they always keep flying.”

And so, indeed, will I. It’s been a long time since I last boarded an aircraft – Incheon to Hong Kong in July 2021 – and I feel a mixture of unease and excitement about what lies ahead.

My Interim Qatar Airways Bureau is open
An inflight reminder of the high-class Qatar Duty Free offer
This is the closest I’ve got to Hainan since before the pandemic. Where’s my parachute when I need it?

Unease mainly due to the fear of catching COVID while away from home and because of all the protocols and tests I will have to go through along the way. But as I gaze at the inflight map and see all the place names come up in front of me – Karumbha Island, the Gulf of Kutch, Mandvi, Naliya – the wonder of travel floods back to me and the excitement kicks in. And excitement beats unease with a knockout blow.

The landside arrivals zone at Hamad International Airport showcases the FIFA World Cup , which begins on 21 November and will bring spectators from all around the world to Qatar

Qatar Duty Free arrivals store. No time to shop tonight but I will certainly do so on departure.

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