February 3, 2023

After almost nine months of being “locked down” in our country, we were able to fly back to Switzerland.
What was supposed to be just a two-month stay to attend to some personal business late last February, the declaration of a pandemic in March by the World Health Organization due to the Covid-19, and the consequential lockdowns ordered by governments, that included the Philippines, caught me flatfooted. Thank God that we were in Baguio then and hosted by our “prima,” Sta. Marita Manzanillo. Otherwise, we would have been miserably alone in our Quezon City condo fending for our self.
As we were saying, we were able to finally fly back to Switzerland after six flight cancellations due to abnormal airline operations and airport lockdown. Actually, had we insisted on Geneva as our final destination, our flight would have been cancelled for the seventh time.
My dear ading Kit Arvisu, owner of Noants Travel Agency, had been assisting us all the while and was able to get me a trip to Switzerland via Zurich, which is some three hours road trip to Geneva. Luckily, our daughter, Chantal, now on her 7th year working for the WHO, together with wife, Nena, and Andoni, our grandson, fetched me at the airport and drove us back to Geneva the following day.
International travel during this time of the pandemic has been quite restrictive but surprisingly, pleasant.
When we were finally able to know that our trip would push through, the airline sent us protocols to follow before we could fly with them.
First, we must submit to a Covid-19 RT-PCR test at a hospital or testing laboratory which is accredited by the airline. The test result must be valid within 96 hours from the time the test is conducted. The airline also required that we must agree to submit the result of the test to the airline and that the airline may submit or share the test result to lawful authorities when required. Strict use of a face mask and shield were required.
We complied with the requirements and upon suggestion of daughter Chantal, we requested for wheelchair assistance, as an elderly passenger, which was granted. It worked wonderfully for us.
Upon checking in and dropping off our luggage, our wheelchair assistant arrived. Considering that we were the only passenger on wheelchair, the ground crew assistant whisked us through the inspection and immigration sections ahead of other passengers. In no time, we were at the boarding gate waiting to open. We had complimentary WiFi service that allowed us to make our final goodbyes to friends in Baguio and especially to our “kapatid” Jimmy Uy who arranged for our trip to Manila, complete with a despedida dinner of freshly caught seafood that he picked personally and taught the restaurant cook how he wanted them cooked.
When the gate was opened, our wheelchair assistant wheeled us to the ramp up to the plane where a cabin crew greeted us and brought us to our assigned seat. We had no seat mate nor was there anyone on that row. We noticed that ultraviolet lights lined the edges of the ceiling purposely to sanitize the cabin and there was continuous flow of air from the ceiling streaming down to an air duct at the edges of the floor, which I would learn later from a cabin crew, as another sanitizing feature. We were required to continue wearing our face masks but we could remove our face shields. There were no partitions in between seats but social distancing was easy to implement because half of the plane was empty of passengers.
Before the plane taxied, the female Filipino flight attendant transferred us to another seat which had very wide leg room and no passenger behind us so we could comfortably recline our seat. Up in the air, it was announced that we were given complimentary WiFi service for the entire duration of our flight.
So, we were able to talk or message anyone, especially Chantal so she would know where we were already. The meal served on the plane was simple and placed in a box together with disposable eating utensils. There were drinks and chocolates available upon request. The plane was half-empty with passengers who appeared to be mostly contract workers going to Middle East countries. We slept through most of the first leg of our flight and was awakened only when we were near our destination and another boxed meal was served.
Upon arrival at the airport, another attendant met us at the ramp and at the end of the ramp, we were transferred to a four-wheeled electric mini mobile and was driven to the ground crew attendants’ lounge. We refreshed our self until we were brought to the boarding gate for our final trip to Zurich. Upon entering the plane, and waiting for some time, we noticed that the plane was even more than half empty with passengers.
Again, another female Filipino flight attendant noticed her kababayan and warmly greeted us before another great seat was shown to us. She gave a hot towel to refresh our self, then informed us of complimentary WiFi for the entire flight duration. The Filipino flight attendant was so attentive that she even engaged me in a conversation where I learned that one-third of the crew was already retrenched and more attendants would be losing their jobs after the year ends.
Concerned about her situation, we volunteered to give her a commendation by informing the airline authorities through email, about her great service during our trip. Another Korean flight attendant no sooner attended to us providing chocolates and refreshments. Then the head of the cabin crew, an Indian, introduced himself to us and we also engaged in conversation about their present situation. He even served us their “best champagne” but contained in a covered tea cup. We, of course, gave them commendations, which they truly deserved…and needed. Indeed, we were pampered during our flight, which could be one of the best trips that we experienced.
Chantal, wife Nena, and our grandson Andoni were surprised to see me being wheeled in to the arrival lounge in a “chauffeur-driven”four-wheeled electric mini cab.
Under the Covid-19 Ordinance of International Passenger Transport Measures of Switzerland, passengers coming in from countries or areas with an increased risk of infection with the coronavirus, were required to go into quarantine for 10 days.
Luckily, the Philippines was not in the list. Unfortunately though, wife Nena contacted the virus (not from us) a few days later and we all in the household had to be quarantined for 10 days. But that is another story. — DEL CLARAVALL