I’m not a particularly emotional sop, but I shed a tear on this morning’s flight from London Heathrow to New York JFK. I really didn’t expect to — but I did.

I was all fine, all going well, settled into my seat for take off as usual, and a rare moment followed by roaring applause and the tears of others finally sent me over the edge. All these headlines about America ending travel bans became real.

I should mention, I’m one of the lucky ones who was able to enter the US all year as a citizen, but as the moment of realization set in, I finally saw what it meant to all these people to be back on a plane bound for the USA. 

The elation, the easing of stress, the calm and joy of those around me, it was all so much more than anyone could fully anticipate. Suddenly, as engines roared everything really took meaning.

The bans are over. America is open again.

a flag on a window

More than 600 days had passed since many Brits, Europeans, and others from around the world were able to connect with family friends and loved ones in the United States, or conduct business. Many would say, far too long.

This flight was a profound moment where for the first time in a long time, the world seemed to signal that the worst may really be over, and the United States of America is swinging the doors of liberty open, yet again.

The Iconic Dual Take Off

All was going well until I saw the beautiful British Airways Airbus A350 line up for take off on Heathrow’s parallel runway. For safety reasons, miles remained between us, but one common, expertly timed goal prevailed.

a blue passport with gold text on it

In a rare gesture of unity between the long time “foes”, the two arch-rival transatlantic airlines coordinated a simultaneous parallel take off at Heathrow, leaving at precisely the same moment, to jet out toward New York together.

As the thunderous (or rather quite on the A350) roar of jet engines took over, and our initila climb began, it’s as if people finally, fully, shed their fears, woes and sadness of the last two years of bans.

Thrusting into the air with the British Airways jet in perfect, parallel sight, i’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it. People started crying, people started clapping, and if not for the seatbelt sign, there would’ve been hugs. Maybe more?

a tall monument and a building

The Stories Are Beyond Wonderful

With few exceptions, everyone on this flight paid a significant premium to be among the very first to land back into the United States. As we all know all too well, much has happened in the last two years, and for some, any price would’ve been worth it for each second sooner together.

Finally, there’s no barrier between the United States and the ones people love.

For some, this was the first chance to see children or grand children in person, after more than 600 days of bans filled with ‘red tape’ for anyone lacking official papers. For others, a chance to kiss aging relatives, or finally requite young love in person.

a plane with american flags

As machines take over our ability to add, subtract and communicate, the emotion that comes flowing out of people in times like these are what make us human and real. You don’t have to look hard to see what this means to people.

Everywhere on board, there is a celebration afoot. And not just with the American flags on seats, the party favors or the celebratory drinks going around.

Knowing that not only New York, but the people that make life such a joy are waiting on the other side for this plane full of people gives me one of the greatest and rarest pleasures in life: witnessing the distilled joy of others.

America is open again. It’s not “too” painful to prepare for a trip, and there’s nothing quite like seeing the world get back together again. Even if just for a special little Black Friday shopping trip. London is always calling, but is America too?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Gilbert –
    One of your best posts ever! Witnessing and relating to the “distilled joy of others” really is what it’s all about and what makes us human.
    Thank you for reminding us of what’s truly important.

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