Panic at the airport! Check-in agent remembers border closures in March 2020
When the pandemic hit, Ernestas has been working as a check-in agent responsible for passengers flying from Vilnius Airport, Lithuania.
In January 2020, Ernestas already knew about Covid and could feel it coming, but he could not imagine the new reality it would bring. “There were Ebola and other viruses in other parts of the world and they never came to us. So I thought Covid would also never reach us. I was wrong,” Ernestas admits.
When the first case of Covid was reported in Lithuania, the atmosphere in the airport changed immediately. The new disease made the check-in agent’s work much more hectic.
After quickly changing his official-attire to the one that resembled medical staff, the agent started his “Covid tasks” – guiding passengers through intense security checks, comforting crying people, who were stuck at Vilnius airport, or explaining to them that their holidays were suddenly canceled due to new travel restrictions.
“There were people who didn’t know that Covid is happening and they were very surprised that we didn’t allow them to go for holidays in Asia.”
While telling about his last days working as a check-in agent, Ernestas recalls people who were stranded at the airport not knowing when they would be able to hug their loved ones or return to their jobs in their home countries.
“I had a passenger coming from Germany who wanted to fly from Vilnius to Moscow through Istanbul, however, Istanbul didn’t allow any passengers, who had visited Germany at the time,” he said. “He had to find another flight to Moscow or stay in Lithuania.”
“Situation at the airport was a mess,” an ex-check-in agent emphasized.
For check-in agents, managing the chaos caused by Covid was a challenge. In March 2020, neither passengers nor check-in agents had any idea when travelers would reach their destinations, as most of the flights from Vilnius airport were canceled or delayed even up to seven hours.
“Seven-hour delays were the new normal,” Ernestas said. “There were a lot of flight delays because of aircraft disinfection services, which at the beginning [of the pandemic – ed. note] were hard to find.”
The journey from check-in agent to the training instructor
In March 2020, as the pandemic stopped passengers from air travel, most of the check-in agents as well as Ernestas were sent on furloughs.
“My first reaction to furloughs – I went to my bathroom and turned off floor heating and told myself ‘I cannot afford it anymore,” Ernestas recalls.
While being fully furloughed, Ernestas took on the backup plan and became a courier in a local pizza place, hoping that the pandemic would finish in one or two months. Unfortunately, Covid kept changing people's lives.
A former check-in agent worked at the pizza place for seven months until Ernestas got another opportunity in the aviation sector. He became a training instructor for ground-handling teams: check-in agents, ramp agents, and fuel-base.
“I didn’t go far from my previous field,” a new training instructor said. “After working in aviation, I cannot go back, it’s in my blood.”
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