Croissants, crisis and human kindness

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

Crisis brings out strange things in people, not all of them attractive. My wife (a Korean national) related to me how a fellow Korean was spat on in a popular London shopping street earlier this week and told to take her coronavirus home. Garry Stock of JR/Duty Free in Israel related the tale of how some parents in Australia had complained about their children being treated in hospital by Chinese nurses and doctors.

Closer to home, an Italian travel retail executive who should know better complained vociferously about our coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy. We had simply reported the worrying extent of the outbreak and that it had affected DFS’s opening hours in Venice but apparently this meant I was single-handedly trying to ruin Italy’s tourism industry.

While in the British Airways lounge at Heathrow today, I watched, transfixed, as a heated argument broke out after one passenger accused another of not using tongs to pick up his chocolate croissant. The former actually picked up the tongs to remonstrate with his fellow traveller (I couldn’t make out all his comments but they certainly didn’t sound tong in cheek).

After all that angst, it’s rather pleasant to be sitting 35,000 feet up in the sky on a largely empty plane. As I write, we’re flying over Winisk, which seems oddly appropriate. Winisk, you see, is a ghost town, having been completely washed away in May 1986 by a devastating flood caused by a spring ice jam on the Winisk River.

Flood waters reached as far as six kilometres inland, sending every structure but two into Hudson Bay. Winisk, a remote northern Ontario community near the coast of Hudson Bay was the home of the Weenusk First Nation people. I emphasise was. The devastation – and fear of a repeat – caused them to relocate 20 miles up river and on to higher ground. That’s what I call crisis, not anxiety over a perceived lack of hygiene in picking up a chocolate croissant.

I’m en route to Los Angeles on a whistle-stop visit. Whistle-stop? You better believe it – I’m flying back to London tomorrow night. Rather than worrying about the jetlag, I guess I should look on the bright side. Flying in a near-empty plane for around 24 hours is probably about the safest place I could be right now. And having used up a whole bunch of my trillion or so Avios points, at least I’m at the right end of the plane.

Just as I was taking off from London, news came through that TFWA had called off the Singapore show due to take place in May. The decision – understandable, correct, inevitable – underlines the extent of the COVID-19 outbreak’s impact on a business sector that had been flying so high for so long that it probably considered itself immune to the type of crisis that those of us who were around in 2003 (SARS) still remember vividly.

Well, it’s not immune any longer. Travel retail is taking a battering and it’s going to for a while longer – probably 3 to 4 months – before any kind of normality starts to return. Even that is not much more than educated guesswork as everything hinges on when the outbreak is gotten under some kind of control globally.

In the meantime, stay safe, be kind to one another, keep your perspective, and don’t go getting outraged over those chocolate croissants.

So a man walks into a British Airways bar with his equine companion and orders two Johnnie Walkers. “Sorry Sir,” says the barman. “We only serve White Horse.”


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  • My Irish wife worked in A&E in London during the 80s and patients occasionally objected to being treated by her because of her nationality. Nothing much changes, just who you object to.