Yesterday, I was supposed to fly home to Italy. I had arrived at Stansted Airport early to take the Covid-19 antigen test — a requirement for travelling to Italy — before waiting until 18.30 for my Ryanair flight to Venice, my hometown. I could never have imagined what a nightmare the following hours would turn into.
After paying the £50 for a test, I started to read on Twitter that the Italian Government was about to sign a ruling that banned all flights coming from the UK in order to “protect Italians from the new version of the virus.” I talked to some fellow Italians while I was waiting for my test results, all calling their families and trying to scrape information together from the news and social media about whether our flight was involved. One girl, Eva, who was carrying a trolley full of luggages, had been telling me how much she was looking forward to going back home to stay after one year as an au-pair in London.
At 2pm neither the Government statements or any news website were giving any indication as to when this new ruling would come into effect; in fact, most news reports simply said that it was ‘not specified’. From that moment on there was a lot of waiting. By 4pm, I had heard nothing so I started checking-in my luggage. Eva told me that a member of personnel assured her that our flight would not be affected.
After passing through security at 5.40pm — only 50 minutes before our departure — all flights to Italy were cancelled. As I went to retrieve my luggage, the situation around me turned surreal: most of the people there were young Italians, many of whom were crying over the phone. A young man told me that he didn’t know where to spend the night as he had permanently left his accommodation in the morning. It was heartbreaking.
It was mostly frustration that hit us all. Why was the flight to Palermo at 5pm allowed to depart? Why did no one alert us? Why were Italian citizens being left behind despite coming back with a negative Covid test? I returned to my flat in London, but many were not as fortunate as me. I was, and still am, speechless.