A pandemic travel story
When the Covid-19 was still categorized by the World Health Organization as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), I was in Geneva.
But since I had much earlier booked a flight for Manila, I had to travel, with a word of caution (or was it a warning?) from daughter Chantal who works at the WHO, that the Emergency Committee of WHO was monitoring the outbreak of the Covid-19 around the world and the possibility of being declared as a pandemic may be forthcoming.
At my appointed flight date, I went to the Geneva International Airport and checked in for my flight to Manila. No health protocols were imposed at the time, except that passengers were encouraged to wear face masks. The plane was filled to capacity with just a few passengers wearing face masks. It was business as usual at the airports in Doha, where we had a stopover, and at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3.
But the arriving passengers had to pass through a temperature scanning device to know if they have a fever or not, fever being the most common symptom of a person infected with Covid-19.
In just a little over two weeks from the day I arrived, the WHO declared that the Covid-19 reached pandemic level and issued health protocols that must be strictly observed all over the world.
Scientists have yet to study well the newly discovered virus in order to formulate the vaccine to protect mankind. Travel out of the country was very limited and many international airports were locked down, especially in China where the virus was believed to have originated.
I was already in Baguio City when lockdowns and quarantines were imposed. Checkpoints were set up to monitor the movements of the people. Public transportation services were halted and private vehicles can only be used for very urgent cases with permits issued by mayors or governors and the police chiefs. Out of the city travel was restricted and, if allowed, must pass through checkpoints along the road where the vehicles were also disinfected.
I remember having gone to out-of-town trips. A triage, where travelers on private vehicles had to report upon arrival in the city, was not set up yet. After getting a permit from the City Mayor’s Office, I had to bring my friend Joe Manzanillo to the Clark International Airport and left him there, confident as he was that he would fly. However, when I was already back in Baguio, Joe called up that his flight was cancelled. Luckily, he was provided with an overnight accommodation but he had to return to Baguio because of the uncertainty of his flight date. I went back to Clark to fetch Joe after getting another pass from the CMO.
Eventually, Joe was notified he could fly to Spain, not to Barcelona but to Madrid. He decided to take it. So, we went back to Clark and Joe finally flew out. He informed me later that he had to take a bus ride from Madrid to Barcelona, his final destination. The plane was not full and social distancing and wearing of face masks were strictly enforced. Hand sanitizers were provided by the airline.
Our dear friend, Marita Manzanillo and friend Marie Balangue, were vacationing in Batanes when the pandemic was declared. Their vacation was “extended” because flights were cancelled and no transportation out of the island was available.
When finally, a Philippine Navy ship docked on the island, the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority arranged for the trip out of the island of Marita and company, together with other stranded tourists. But the ship would dock at San Fernando City, La Union. Since the Tieza had no vehicle to transport them to Baguio, I went down to San Fernando to fetch them.
As for my return flight to Geneva, dear friend Kit de la Rosa, would inform me for available flights. But after booking me on five flights, in over a period of seven months, all were cancelled because the Geneva airport was locked down.
Fortunately, on the eighth month of trying, Kit booked me a “sure” flight to Switzerland, not to Geneva but instead to Zurich which is a good three and a half hours drive to Geneva.
My compadre, Jimmy Uy, had offered to bring me to Manila the day before my appointed flight. Before our trip, Jimmy obtained the necessary travel permits and I had to take my RT-PCR test to show the airline.
Upon good advice, I requested for a wheelchair. At the NAIA, I submitted my travel documents and a Covid-19 related document.Upon check-in, an airport personnel made me sit on a wheel chair and whisked me through the inspection and passport control sections.
I noticed that many stores have closed. I had priority boarding and did not have any seat mate inside the cabin where there were just about 50 passengers in our section.
In fact, there were no passengers along my row. The flight attendant informed me that the airline retrenched 50 percent of the cabin crew and she was just lucky to have been retained. The cabin crew were very attentive of the needs of the passengers. When we took off from Doha, the purser was the one attending to me engaged me in a conversation, and even served me champagne that was only for business and first class passengers.
Of course, I gave them favorable comments and endorsements that they requested me to do online inside the cabin, as WiFi services were available. When we arrived at the Zurich airport, an electric cart was there with a driver to bring me to the arrival area after my luggage was loaded.
It has been the one of the most pleasant trips that I experienced. It was worth the eight months that I waited for my return trip.
After two years abroad, I flew back in with my wife, Nena, and everything appeared to be back to what it was before the pandemic.
A foreign tourist who was waiting for his luggage (at the carousel for two plane arrivals) where there was a “to each his own, who cares about the rest attitude of many passengers, after being bumped and stepped on,” loudly commented, “This is not an airport.This is a market place”.
Welcome back to the Philippines.