ANALYSIS: How our lives in Spain will change with the collapse of air travel

The collapse of the air travel industry will affect the lives of those foreigners who made our homes in Spain, explains Graham Keeley.

ANALYSIS: How our lives in Spain will change with the collapse of air travel
Photo: AFP

Cast your mind back to before COVID-19 started.

Among all the other things which seem like a dim distant memory now are planes flying in the skies.

I may be wrong, but the booming racket of these polluting monsters is probably not one of the things most of us have missed since the world turned upside.

There are many minuses to life right now, but the silence above us in the skies is in a way a big plus; we can enjoy some peace, especially if, like me, you live close to an airport.

Then again, the lack of planes cross-crossing the world, is another sign of the way our lives have changed profoundly – for now at least.

The fear of coronavirus, quarantines in many European countries for visitors from Spain, and in the case of the UK, the so-called 'rule of six', have put paid to much air travel.

It means we are not getting on a plane for work, to see loved ones or to catch up with friends.

Our worlds have become smaller.

If you are a foreigner living in Spain, this cuts another link with the life you left behind when you decided to up sticks and bring your world here.

Surely, you may say, this is only a temporary blip; all this will get back to normal once a vaccine has been found.

Well, maybe not quite.

Like many other parts of the world's economy, the airline industry has been crippled by coronavirus.


A snapshot of the damage was revealed this week when Alex Cruz, the CEO of British Airways, addressed a committee of the UK parliament .

Just to give some context, BA is the flagship carrier of the UK and its fortunes say a lot about how the industry is doing there.

Cruz said the airline was running at 25-30 percent of its normal flight schedule.

He added that the company needs to cut 13,000 jobs – about 30 percent of its workforce – because the travel market will take years to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

“We're still fighting for our own survival,” Cruz said.

Airlines for Europe, an industry group representing airline companies across the continent, urged national governments to coordinate measures to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Thomas Reynaert, Airlines for Europe (A4E) director, called border restrictions “chaotic” and confusing and called for unified measures across the EU.

In August, passenger traffic was about 30 percent of its level a year ago, according to A4E figures.

Other airlines, like Easyjet, have had to offer their pilots seasonal contracts to stave off job cuts.

The airline industry has thrived in recent years on the world's appetite for cheap travel as we took advantage of low prices to enjoy weekends away.

Doubtless, the weaker players in the business will go out of business, inevitable casualties of the way the coronavirus is dealing a hammer blow to economies everywhere.

So, will this change the way we live – at least in the short term? Most probably, but it will not be all that bad.

If we don't want to take the risk of sitting next to people on a plane for a couple of hours, it could encourage us to get behind the wheel and explore the country where we live.

With little appetite or opportunity to fly anywhere, almost everyone I know drove somewhere to spend their holidays this summer.

Of course, I would have loved to have flown to Scotland but instead I went to travel around the Basque Country.

It was not that different; green, rainy at times but with more chance of sun than the Highlands, so definitely a plus.

Northern Spain offers rolling green hills. Photo: Paul D Thacker

One friend embarked on a marathon drive to the south of Spain at the height of the summer heat, arriving in Cordoba when thermometers hit 40C.

Somehow she managed to find the only restaurant in town without air conditioning.

Other people I know just followed their noses and ended up in driving all over northern Spain from Cantabria, to the Basque Country and onto Aragon.

Of course, not seeing family and friends for months has been tough, it has to be said.

No doubt many of us have already thought travelling home for Christmas looks less and less likely the way coronavirus cases are rising across Europe.

One friend said they were not travelling anywhere until a vaccine had been found.

Perhaps as we head towards autumn and the COVID-19 situation looks like it is worsening, the only option is to be more innovative.  

This is the moment to try doing things we have never done before closer to home.

I have been walking at night looking for shooting stars, discovered nature trails I had forgotten all about, and persuaded a friend to take us out on a speed boat.

New York, London or Paris can wait.



Graham Keeley is a Spain-based freelance journalist who covered the country for The Times from 2008 to 2019. Follow him on Twitter @grahamkeeley .







Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.