After 11 weeks of total lockdown, Wuhan’s Tianhe International Airport operated its first flight since the 23rd of January. Some of the first passengers to leave the province were doctors and other medical staff who were flown into Wuhan from other areas of China to help battle the outbreak. However, despite flights starting up again, not everyone will be allowed to travel. Only those deemed safe will be allowed to fly.
Crowds and queues
What started for many as a holiday for Lunar New Year quickly became an apocalyptic nightmare, as citizens found themselves stuck away from home. But today turned out to be a joyful day, as many people have been allowed to board planes home.
With the airport reopening, a flurry of domestic flights have been scheduled. China Southern Airlines said it was operating a total of 28 flights on the first day, although not all of these are commercial. Medical professionals from across China were given priority on special charter flights home. Most of them were presented with flowers as they boarded in a gesture of thanks.
The airport itself was disinfected last week by over 150 professionals. While many are still fearful of catching the virus and choosing to remain inside, for those looking to return home, even the threat of crowds and queues could not keep them away. Most flights are thought to be 90% full, with people begging to get past airport security and get back to their families.
Charter and commercial flights
Several of the flights leaving the airport were specially charted flights for medical professionals. According to the airport’s website, a commercial China Eastern flight was the first to leave at 06:57 this morning heading to Sanya Phoenix Airport in the southernmost province of Hainan. Several flights have been canceled as the day has gone on, but most seem to be running on time with few delays.
China Southern and China Eastern aren’t the only airlines getting back in the sky today. Xiamen Airlines, Beijing Capital Airlines, Tianjin Airlines, and even a KLM codeshare flight have all taken off today. No doubt, many airlines were hoping to recover some of the losses they have suffered over the last couple of months. A total of 166 flights were due to leave the airport today; so far, the website is showing 38 cancellations.
The airport isn’t just open for those looking to leave the province. Some flights had previously been allowed to arrive at the airport, but now flights are streaming in. Many residents stuck elsewhere are now being allowed back home. According to the website, a total of 155 were due to arrive at the airport today. Not all of these were commercial planes and, as with the departures, some have been canceled.
However, despite the new possibility of travel, for many it was a difficult and stressful day. The Chinese are being monitored by an app that tracks their movements, the movements of those close to them and their health information. Only those deemed safe are given the green light to travel.
The restrictions are so strict that some people are arriving at the airport with a green light only to find their light has turned yellow because a new case of the virus had been discovered at a place they recently visited. This resulted in some being turned away and told to self-isolate for another two weeks.
While it is great news for many that the airport is finally open, everyone is watching and waiting to see what effect this may have the virus spreading. If all goes well, we should hopefully see the airport opening up for more international travel in the coming weeks.
Airlines and airports around the world will no doubt be watching to see how successful the reopening is. We’ve all got our fingers crossed and hopefully, the good news will continue.