California is opening up — that’s good news for the rest of the world
I boarded a Boeing 777 just over a week ago for the 16-hour flight to Los Angeles with three goals in mind.
To see my granddaughters who live in California, especially six-month-old Uma Grace, for the first time.
To experience international airline travel following a 13-month absence, after the coronavirus pandemic had wiped out all practical possibility of air travel for more than a year.
To assess the state of recovery in the US, specifically in California, the beating heart of the American economy.
Goal number one was achieved with 100 percent success, I can report, and both Uma and her two-year-old sister Lilah were an absolute joy to behold. Photos are available on request.
The second part of my mission must also be judged a success. I would estimate that the passenger payload on the outbound journey was maybe 40 percent capacity, slightly more on the return. This made for comfortable flying conditions, of course, with plenty of space to stretch out on the long flight across 11 time zones.
But Emirates must be hoping that the flight will be back up to near capacity soon. Payloads at that level cannot make economic sense, despite fares being significantly more expensive compared with pre-pandemic prices.
Both Emirates and Dubai International Airport (DXB) have got the pandemic routine down to perfection. The journey through DXB was hassle-free and efficient, and the business-class lounge in Dubai was buzzy without being too busy. Onboard service was orderly and comfortable, with a high degree of reassurance provided by the PPE-clad cabin crew and various coronavirus-related health measures.
I doubt I would have said it a year ago, but it was good to be back in the air.
California, a powerhouse of the global economy, looks ready for the economic boom many experts are predicting will take place in the US.
Los Angeles International (LAX) was more austere, with fewer passengers than I remember from previous trips. Mask-wearing was mandatory and universally observed, on pain of a severe warning from the stern-looking transport authority enforcers. Many facilities in the airport — duty-free shops, restaurants — were still closed, as was the Emirates lounge there. Why?
But once you got through LAX, a different world awaited. Again, mask-wearing was ubiquitous, but apart from that there was little outward sign that the city had gone through a traumatic period involving 60,000 deaths and a damaging economic lockdown.
The freeways — always a good indicator of business activity in LA — were just as busy as I remember, with a gratifying number of tailbacks on the main 101 arterial. The numbers show that Americans are buying gas in about the same amount as before the pandemic struck — a good sign of recovery.
Also notable was the number of electric vehicles on the roads. I would say that about one in 10 cars was a Tesla, which is not such good news for the oil industry.
Other signs of a return to normality were also there. Restaurants still have restrictions on inside dining, but Californians have been imaginative in their use of outdoor space, with tables laid out creatively in car parks and sidewalks. Home delivery is also booming, as in most places.
California suffered a high rate of incidence and mortality in the first and second waves of the virus, but both have now started to drop. Gov. Gavin Newsom has taken a progressive stance on the rollout of the vaccine, and recently announced that almost 20 million doses had been administered for a population of about 40 million.
This gave the Democrat governor the confidence to announce that the state would move to full reopening mode in the middle of June, in time for summer holidays, with the end of social distancing and other restrictions, though the mask mandate would remain and become subject to ongoing vaccination progress.
Other states, notably Texas and Florida, have already effectively reopened. It is still being debated whether California’s more cautious approach has had the desired effect in terms of saving lives.
California, a powerhouse of the global economy, looks ready for the economic boom many experts are predicting will take place in the US as the pandemic fades and US President Joe Biden’s stimulus packages come through.
That is good news for the rest of the world, and, of course, for Uma Grace.
• Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai