It’s 2020 and we’re bound by the borders of our sweet island home. Until recently, we’ve been told to stay in our states, and before that, confined to our homes. Safe to say, holidays have hit a pause for a while.
And while we’re now starting to stretch our legs, and open our eyes to what’s been in front of us the whole time (us Aussie’s generally choose to holiday overseas), majority of us will never get to experience what I think will be the most
exciting interesting unique once-in-a-life-time unprecedented travel experiences of 2020. Including me.
So instead, I spoke to three people who have. Three people who flew from three different corners of the earth during a global pandemic.
“It felt a bit like a post-apocalyptic film. Their beautiful QATAR uniforms were covered in white hazmat suits, and the plane felt completely empty,” says Camilla. “Funnily enough I did have to sit next to someone just for takeoff as, with so few on board, they had to balance the weight of the plane.”
Camilla flew from Stockholm, Sweden on a Boeing 737 with just 44 passengers (the plane usually fits 215). Yet she talks about her flight with none of the terror you might expect, instead recalling a restful sleep stretched out across three seats, and being able to get up without contorting yourself over the comatose bloke blocking the aisle seat.
Claudia’s flight home from Chicago (including a nine hour stop-over at Los Angeles and then again at Auckland) sounded a tad more challenging. “Most rows had at least two people in them. And I don’t know if you’ve ever worn a mask for a few hours, but the backs of your ears start to absolutely ache. Wearing one [nonstop] for 40 hours was rough.”
But sound the alarm, that was just the start of their adventure.
After arriving on the tarmac in Australia, instead of initiating that irascible dance to grab their bags that most people do the second the seat belt sign turns off, Claudia was stuck on the plane for a further two hours. “I didn’t really mind. I wasn’t really in a rush to get to the hotel.”
Finally escorted through an empty airport by armed uniform, their entrance lacked that last minute adrenaline dump you get when you know home and normality is just a moment away. I guess that’s because it wasn’t a moment away. It was 20,160 moments away. (If I moment counts as a minute.)
“While waiting for our bags, I overheard passengers from the other Etihad flight say that someone had started to show symptoms mid-air,” says Sam, who’d flown from London on a Boeing 777 with just 16 passengers. “Not long after, a lady in her 60s was being carted on a stretcher through the baggage collection area with 5 or 6 ambulance workers in what looked like full protective gear.”
Information was kept brief, temperatures were taken and orders were given by those in official uniform. “We were given various documents explaining the next steps – that we were by law required to be in a hotel room for 14 days of quarantine,” says Camilla. “There were no specific details on the hotel, or which “services” would be provided. There was a bit about keeping up normal routines, trying to talk to friends and family over the phone, and a lot about what to do if you experience symptoms.”
Then they boarded buses bound for the unknown.
From the furore I’d seen on the news in the first few weeks of forced quarantine, it seems these three lucked out. Claudia and Camilla were both at the InterContinental Hotel on Macquarie Street (at the same time, not that they could see each other) and Sam was at the Novotel in Darling Harbour. None had access to fresh air, and in Sam’s case not even balmy air. “My thermostat was stuck on 24 degrees which made my at-home workouts extra sweaty.”
Service came in the form of soldiers now, and hotel staff were nowhere to be seen. “Three times a day there’s a knock at the door. No matter how quickly I run, I never saw the person who left the food. It’s almost like they’d run away,” an amused Claudia described.
For Camilla, breakfast was delivered at 6.30am, and Sam sometimes got dinner at 8.30pm. For me that’s hell on earth, but hey, let’s remember it’s free (at this point). “It’s a lot of meat pies, anonymous meat with rice and potatoes with weird sauces,” says Claudia. Still, it’s not out of a bain marie so we’re doing okay. Kind of.
But unlike me, most people need more than just food to fill their day, and time ticks by slowly when you’re watching it. Luckily for Claudia, she was working remotely, so that was 8 hours accounted for each day. Camilla on the other hand thrives on routine, and established one quickly. “I used phone calls to get my step count up. One day I had 5 calls and managed 12,500 steps.”
Sam says while she was “weirdly looking forward to the mental challenge” of quarantine, when reality hit, it hit hard. “Through the peephole I saw nurses consoling a man in the next room. He was in his 70s and had called for them as he’d started to show symptoms. As they loaded him onto a stretcher I could hear his voice shaking asking them whether he was going to be okay.”
Don’t be fooled by the five star hotels and endless free time, this ain’t no holiday. Fancy face masks and fitness workouts, puzzles and phone calls only go so far before the claustrophobia and complete lack of control kicks in.
But just like any traveler will tell you, no two trips are the same and no two people will experience something in the same way. For Camilla (who’d decided in under a week to relocate home to Australia), she relished in the opportunity to hit the pause button and process what had just happened. Sam on the other hand, had some epic stories from friends quarantining elsewhere with guests throwing stools through windows to get air (and a neat $15,000 bill with a criminal record).
Flying across the world in global pandemic. It’s a weird, wacky and hopefully exclusively once-in-a-lifetime thing to do. But remember, these are just three stories. Three experiences that even though they happened at the same time, in the same country, even some in the same hotel, were not the same.
But isn’t that what’s so good about travel?
No matter how much you read and plan and organise and try, no two experiences are the same. They’re all unique, with their own bumps and scratches, surprises and mystery. That’s what makes them an adventure.
Stay safe, stay apart, and if you feel unwell, stay home.