The smiles on the faces at Shannon Airport very much told its own story with passengers taking to skies as the easing of restrictions and the first day of the European Digital COVID Certificates took effect today.
And it wasn’t just the joy of travel starting to resume that lifted spirits at the airport but also the announcement by Ryanair of a new once-weekly service to Gran Canaria (Las Palmas) today, which commences on 7th August - the third new service announcement for Shannon Airport over recent weeks.
There was a real sense of excitement as passengers of all ages became very much at ease with the heightened public safety measures in a ‘back-to-the-future’ day for the West of Ireland gateway airport.
There were reunions as inbound flights arrived but also a palpable degree of anticipation as others got set to depart on the earliest flight out of the airport today, the 7:10am flight to Gatwick.
Among those boarding were Jack and Rita Fitzgibbon from Limerick who were travelling out to the UK hoping to be in time ahead of the birth of their first great-grandchild.
As Rita explained: “We are travelling because we hope to celebrate the birth of our great grandchild. It's our first great grandchild and we're all excited. We haven't seen our grandchildren since the beginning of the coronavirus.
“It's absolutely marvelous to be back in Shannon again. Now with our vaccination, this is the only way that we'll be able to travel to England to see our children.”
Others getting ready to depart were Olwyn Kelly, Spancilhill, Co. Clare and her partner Oliver Rhode. “My best friend's wedding was on Friday and we got back for that. We were actually supposed to fly back yesterday but the weather was so nice we just changed our flights and stayed for an extra day so we are paying for it today with the early rise.
“We live in London and this year has been pretty weird, not being able to come home. It's just so perfect flying into Shannon because it's just down the road. I mean, it's our airport, the one we always hope to fly from. And it's literally 20 minutes in the car for mom and dad to come and collect us, so it's just so handy.”
The couple were also quite at ease with the guidelines. Said Oliver: “Flying has been pretty easy. It's just the mask and you've got to wear the mask anyway wherever you go so it's grand really.”
The first inbound flight was from Karkow and reunion was also the theme there. “I was coming over today to collect my brother and my niece from the airport,” said Sabina Budziak and her daughter Sofia (7) South Circular Road Limerick after welcoming her brother Zbigniew and his daughter Nicola on her 12th birthday.
“It's been a year since I have seen them last. It was very difficult. It's not the same as when you see people in person. Today is a very good day. It kind of brings us hope that life will come back to normal at some stage.”
It was smiles all around for Shannon Airport staff as they got back to doing what they do best. “Well, today is a great day because you can see the atmosphere around the place, people are at ease here and they're glad to be back, they're glad to get up in the sky again,” said Shannon Duty Free Sales Associate Helen Quinlivan.
“It's great to see the excitement. People are really looking forward to going back and seeing their loved ones and they're very at ease.”
Said Mary Considine, CEO of Shannon Group, which operates Shannon Airport: “The reopening of international travel is a very significant step forward not only for Shannon Airport, but for the thousands of jobs and businesses along the Wild Atlantic Way and Mid-West that depend on these services to support their operation.
“With the introduction of the EU Digital COVID certificate, together with the roll-out of the vaccination programme, which is powering ahead, there is a real sense of optimism in the air. Although there is a long road ahead of us to get airport passenger numbers back to anything like 2019 levels, it is important to acknowledge these milestones on our journey to recover and rebuild our business.”