The DailyFlabbergast is not a personal/ lifestyle blog, per se, but I do inject quite a lot of me into every post I write. Today, however, I thought that it might be a good time to share a more personal tale with you all.
P.S. This is a long post, so feel free to scroll to the end where I sum things up.
P.S.2. This post was supposed to be an entirely personal one. However, when I woke up today and saw a piece of news that fits well with it, I had to add it to this post. Enjoy a mishmash!
I present to you: “Diaries of a Coronavirus Traveler.”
Back in March, all of our lives changed. Mine got impacted in a way I did not see coming. But about that in a minute.
When reports of the coronavirus started spreading, my partner was convinced we would be getting a few days off work soon. I laughed it off. There was no way my work would just give me time off for free. Plus, I have to admit that I did not think COVID-19 would turn into SUCH a big thing. Now, I know how wrong I was.
What worried me were people who would get infected by the virus and those whose illness would be unrelated to COVID-19. Can you imagine fighting cancer in the midst of all that? Can you imagine having a stroke and having to go to the ER, which is overflowing with urgent cases? Can you imagine? I could not. The only thing was to pray that things would be alright.
Within days, we began to prepare for the worst at work. Surprisingly, my boss suggested that I work from home if I can/ want to. Are you kidding? Talk about a dream coming true. Some people were told to stay, some were told to go, while others were given a choice. I think the latter is the way to go. When I read emails saying: “We encourage you to work from home,” I laugh. You do not have to encourage me. I have encouraged you to let me do that for a long time, but you would not agree. Oh, how the tables have turned.
The reason why working from home suits me is that it maximizes my time efficiency. I no longer sit in traffic for two hours every day commuting to and from work. How does that help the company AND me? I save time, which I can then spend on doing something I enjoy (i.e., sleeping in, reading, writing, working out, etc.). That puts me in a good mood and helps me get ready for work.
When I sit down to work at home, I am in the best moods possible, which means I no longer hate Mondays. Before, after an hour of getting angry at other drivers, I would arrive at work stressed. It made me resentful. This recent change helped my physical AND mental health. Because I consider myself a hard-worker, I do focus on my tasks at hand without any problems. Things at home do not distract me like they do some people. In fact, things at work distract me. A co-worker comes by and insists on shooting the breeze when I feel motivated…
After work, I do not have to waste time getting home. I am already there. Once I finish eating dinner, I look at my clock and see… that I actually still have time to do MORE things that I enjoy! You have no idea how much positive energy this gives me. All of a sudden, I have a life! I no longer wake up, go to work, eat, and sleep. I do things to take care of my body and mind. If you ask me, it is a win-win.
It was the morning of day two or tree of working from home when I received some bad news. Family emergency. Life drained out of me. I went from being on top of a mountain to lying in a ditch. What did I have to do? Only travel to a different continent. Normally, that would not be an issue. I would book a ticket, pack a carry-on, and go. In the midst of a pandemic, things were a bit different, though. With borders closed, I found myself doubting my ability to get from point A to point B. After quite a bit of time spent on Internet searches, phone calls (Have you tried to call an airline during a pandemic? Hold times are ridiculous!), and magic, I managed to book myself a one-way ticket from point C to point D. The plane would not leave for another couple of days, which turned out to be a good thing because I had some time to sort out my thoughts and to prepare my work for my indefinite absence. Since it was not possible to book a return flight, I told them I had no idea when I would be back.
As I was researching my transportation options from point A to point C, I thought back to a conversation I had with my co-worker only a few days earlier when I was informed that plane tickets were sooooo cheap due to the pandemic. My plane ticket from C to D cost an arm and a leg, but that is a separate story (so many people and companies making money off of a tragedy…). My plane ride from A to C was domestic, but it cost a lot more than I had expected. Nope, no savings for me here. I did not even bother looking into options of getting from point D to B and decided to worry about it when I got there.
The security points at airports are not the cleanest. I expected the bins which you use to put your stuff in to be sanitized after every person. They were not. There was nothing out of the ordinary, which surprised me a little. There were still elderly people (clearly debilitated) traveling, and so were families with the tiniest of babies. I was there because I had to be. What excuse did all these other people have?
The airport itself did not seem as busy as usual, however, so I was hopeful. What was I hoping for? I dreamed of no one reclining so far back that the TV screen touches my nose. No one pushing against my elbow on the armrest. You know, the little things in life. Imagine my terror when I realized my flight was FULL. So much for 6ft of social distancing. Plenty of people clearly going on a vacation or coming back from one (straw hats are a dead giveaway). But it was supposed to be a short flight. I would be fine… The people next to me were coughing. A lot. A fantastic start.
[One of the front page news pieces today (May 11th, 2020) describes a person’s experience on a plane during a pandemic. Over the weekend, a doctor was returning home from New Jersey to California and was stunned that his flight was almost full. Him and a group of 25 doctors and nurses had been aiding in the fight with the coronavirus in New York. He directed his disappointment towards the airlines (United) because they had previously announced they would be leaving the middle seat empty to maximize the distance between passengers. While I would be unhappy with the airlines for making me believe I would be somewhat safe on their plane, I would be angrier at my fellow passengers (as you can read in my personal story parts). Airlines can only do so much. If there is demand… Also, this is not arline specific. Yes, I know from experience. The article quotes the CEO of industry trade group Airlines for America, Nicholas Calio
“Airline passenger traffic has plunged to levels not seen since the 1950s and recently domestic flights averaged 17 passengers.”
Yes, I have been told that, too. My cousin said that their friends had returned from a domestic vacation only days before I returned to the country. Their flight was supposedly almost empty. Not my luck…]
When I got to the second airport, I noticed the shop closure. Since I had a few hours to kill there, I hoped to grab a book. No such luck. Aside from a Dunkin Donuts (thank God!), which sustained my body, no soul-nurturing places were open. Only a souvenir shop. It got me thinking. Why was the book store between the Dunkin Donuts and the useless souvenir store closed, but the other two open? Are souvenirs essential, but books are not? Or are book store owners more rational than those who own souvenir stores? I do not have an answer. Please let me know what you think.
Before I left home, I read about all these extra sanitation precautions at airports. Maybe I am just unlucky, but I saw no difference. The airport was filthy, sanitizing stations were almost non-existent. Because of how this flight was organized, hundreds of people gathered in one spot to check-in for the trip. For our safety and convenience, online registration was not available. Did you detect sarcasm? In a sea of hundreds of people, I was the only one to ask those around me not to stand right next to me. I got a couple of weird looks, but I did not care. What happens when you have everyone check-in at the airport? That same mass of people moves to the security point and then to the gate all at the same time.
By now, you should already realize that my intercontinental flight was… FULL. I lost all my strength. Were we not supposed to stay home? What made things worse were people who explained their need to travel to others. “They are closing stores here, so I got scared.” “They closed the beaches. There is nothing else to do.” “There is a toilet paper shortage there.” I wanted to scream. It is a pandemic. Whatever you are trying to escape from will greet you wherever you are running away to. I had people reclining all the way and then coming within six inches of my face (without wearing a mask) to tell me I was disturbing them as I was moving my legs. Yes, I had a person next to me pushing against me even when I was within my seat space (not even on the armrest). There were no meals on the flight. For our safety, of course. Filling the plane to full capacity was also for our safety, I bet. For a one-way ticket with no meals, I paid what I normally would for a return one with food. $$$
My temperature got checked before I boarded the plane, an hour before landing, and then once we were on the ground. No, they did not throw anyone out the window during the flight. They just noted things down on a piece of paper. When I got off the plane, we were ushered into a customs line like cattle. Even though we received a piece of paper telling us to keep some distance, people did not care. Everyone was just trying to get out of the airport as fast as they could.
Just before I landed, I found out there would be ground transportation provided so that I could get from point D to B. Yay, right? Not yet.
The border patrol took everyone’s phone number and the address of where we would be staying while there. Those that did not have a place where they could self-isolate were to be directed towards some sort of a facility. Thankfully, I was able to self-quarantine. Who knows what those facilities were and if anyone ever returned from those.
Once outside the airport, I got onto the ground transportation that was to take me to my final destination. Somewhere between those two points, the drivers had swapped, and the new one announced that I would be dropped off somewhere else than I had previously expected. There I was, in the middle of nowhere. I called a cab company and was told that unless I have a precise address, we had nothing to talk about. They hung up on me. I was in a business district where building numbers were not readily available. A random stranger Googled the business name for me and provided me with the address. Genius! Naturally, I called a completely different taxi company at that time and was able to get to my destination at last.
For fourteen days, I sat in a room by myself. I only left to go to the bathroom, which was not used by anyone else but me. My meals were dropped off at the door. Every day, at random times, the police would call me and ask me to come to the window so they could verify I was there. It was to make sure I was not out infecting people. They asked about how I was feeling, if I had a temperature, etc. If I was to break self-quarantine, I would be faced with a fine that translates to something around $10,000.
When I came out of quarantine, I found out that there were no flights from point B back to A. (Have you had your job threatened while being stuck in a different country? I do not recommend it.) I could try to travel some of the distance by ground transportation, but that would increase my chances of being held up and some checkpoints and not making the flight, exposed to more people, etc. In the end, the lack of direct flights was some sort of a blessing because it allowed me to stay there and take care of some necessary things (although limited due to very strict pandemic-related restrictions).
Finally, flights started popping up. The problem was that most of them were two times as long and included overnight layovers. When I found a normal flight, I jumped on the opportunity. I still had to wait about 3 weeks, but at least I had a way out. About a week later, I received a call that my flight would be canceled. (All the other long flights were, too.) Coincidentally, I received an email from the embassy only two days before informing me of the potential for another flight. It was not what I wanted, so I disregarded it, but now that my actual flight got canceled, I had no choice but to accept the alternative one. I would be leaving in four days. I still had things to do, thinking I had two weeks to go, so I ran around taking care of things in record speed.
Imagine my surprise when I came out of a restroom and wanted to wash my hands at the airport at point D and found no tap water. My hands covered in soap. Pandemic. No water. What? I wiped my hands with a paper towel, used my personal sanitizer, and walked outside. A cleaning lady happened to be right there. I asked her if there was no water (motion sinks do not always work for me), and she confirmed my worry. When I mentioned something about using the bathroom, a pandemic, and no water, she shrugged and walked away. WHAT?
Coming back, the long-haul flight was not as full as it was from C to D, which filled me with relief. However, I had no idea whether to laugh or cry when I found out while on the plane that “the system” seated people next to one another instead of spreading them. We then had to fight for a different seat. First come, first serve. I acted swiftly and got a decent seat away from others. Not everyone was as lucky.
Once back in the US, I still had to figure out how to get to point A from point E. I did not book anything ahead of time due to fear of cancelations (I have enough money in airline credit to last me a lifetime but not much in the bank). While on a plane from point E to F, special precautions were taken, and people were somewhat spread out. There was no one sitting next to me, but there was someone right behind me and someone on the other side of the aisle. In front of me, two rows were empty. I asked to be transferred to a row in front of mine. “You will be too close to the jumpseat (i.e., flight attendant),” I was told. Oh, so there have to be two rows between the crew and the passengers, but there does not need to be any space between the passengers? I get it – some people are more important than others.
The flight from point F to A was almost at near capacity. I had an aisle separating me from another passenger to my right and an empty seat between the passenger to my left and me. He was coughing. Without a mask.
After well over a month, I was back home. While I was told to self-quarantine for 14 days, it was more of a recommendation than anything. I did my due diligence and did not go out for two weeks, but there was no one checking up on me.
To sum it up:
- While some people stay at home during a pandemic, unable to see some of their family members who live in the same city, others travel across continents for no good reason.
- Restrictions vary drastically between places.
- Flights are as expensive or even more expensive during a pandemic.
- Souvenirs seem to be more essential than books.
Please feel free to share your experiences.
Have you stayed in, or have you traveled?
Why do you think the book store was closed but the souvenir shop open?
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