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October 21, 2021

Window on the World Column | International Flying With Covid

It was supposed to be just a distant memory by now; an inconvenient blink in the eye of all our busy lives and exciting plans. I think we imagined that, once the vaccine was available, people would be scurrying to get it, racing in their efforts to return to the human race. Some cannot for health reasons, and I get that. But many can and don’t. The swift return to “normal life” has not been as most of us expected. Like an annoying relative, this pestilent plague refuses to die. It’s still very much present in our every day, not to mention our future plans.

I have not seen my family in Europe since the Christmas of 2019; my father is 92 years old. How much do you think I want and need to get over to see my people? Much of last year was spent trying to book flights to get over there and being squashed at the gate. I lost more money than I can count trying to exercise my former freedoms to travel back and forth from America to England.

This year I have been more cautious. Finally, once the passage to my homeland opened and fully vaccinated Americans were accepted for passage without necessitating quarantine, I was all over it. I would finally be able to go and see my people. Hesitantly, I checked with my sister on the Isle of Man to see if there were any additional security layers I might not be aware of. Since that is where my dad and my sister both reside, that would be an important thing to know before I tried to get there. She thought the coast was clear, so to speak. I was in the driving seat again.

Before the world changed its mind, I quickly booked a return ticket with my favorite airline — San Francisco to London Heathrow non-stop, here we go. Feels like normal life again. I almost danced. Somewhat like normal life. I still needed to purchase a rather expensive Covid-19 check box “thingy” — four boxes of tests, in fact — test 1, 72 hours before flight, another test on day 2 after landing, test on day 8 — am I dreaming, perhaps — but definitely another test before you leave the U.K. and one after you arrive back on U.S. soil. That makes for a lot of testing — a lot of exams to pass.

Also, there’s something to do with a video-graphed test with Doctor Covid — who knows what that is — proving you don’t cheat on your exams, I guess. No, don’t open the box until you are ready to do your test. Luckily there is a helpline for the foolish like me, also probably most people who purchased the series of international box tests to try and get themselves overseas. Being fully vaccinated is not enough? Apparently not. I’m already a little afraid about all of that and how I’m going to graduate my way out of the Covid box test without being arrested by the pandemic police and forced to do five years of hard labor. I digress.

I awake to an email telling me my outbound flight with my favorite all-time airline has been canceled. Outbound. Hmm. The return flight is still proceeding at this time. I gulp. My father is already getting the sheets changed for me at his home. Have to get there, have to. “Sorry, ma’am. There are no other flights we can offer you.” No other flights? Am I supposed to catch the boat home?

I rush onto a popular flight app that I anticipated would show me oodles of choices for my chosen flying day. Not. Plus, the prices had gone up immeasurably. Well dang it. I thought lots of people like myself would be gunning it for London town in September. Worried about the Delta variant? Well, fish.

Oh look, there’s a flight via Istanbul. That is a good backup, no? As a hub for all kinds of interesting places the world over, an Istanbul flight would likely not get canceled the way my Frisco one did. Or would it? I was in a bit of a spot. I needed to get to the U.K. Never mind if I had to take a 14-hour flight, change in Istanbul and get to London that way. Knowing me, I would sleep the whole way in any case.

“Umm, you might want to check on the quarantine stuff if you stop over in a red country?” Oh, my sister is always the clever clogs. Hadn’t thought about that. Especially since I had already booked the flight. Gaaa. I would hold the flight just in case. When I need to be, I’m a British and an American citizen. Which passport would you like?

I checked around again. Ah, Frisco to L.A. on my fave airline. Layover, change planes and then L.A. to London. Oh now, that is an undoubtedly improved option. It’s a stupid o’clock flight, but needs must as they say. I booked it.

Nearly a week before I am due to fly out and I am starting to feel pretty bold about my revised flight option working out. I call the travel company to confess I had made two bookings. That is what the neurotic do, when they seriously need to find a way to go and see their people. They book two flights. After an hour on hold with the worst music I have ever experienced blasting in my ear, the nice lady with a very thick accent informed me — I think — that in the case of duplicate bookings, that is a very bad and naughty thing to do, and you will be punished.

Also, you don’t get your money back. I explained my dilemma, but she didn’t care. So now I only have one flight booked. Almost every hour of the day, I am checking to see if the outbound leg has been canceled. My inbound is holding fast. At this point. My Covid testing boxes are smiling at me from their safe position on the bookcase and I still don’t have an enormous amount of faith that I will get to see my family and my people in the coming days.

I’ll be sure and let you know what happens about that.

Lucy Jensen
Soledad Columnist
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