You know when they say the world comes crashing down around your head?
Well, when I heard the desk clerk say we were in lock down, no one allowed to come or go from the hotel, the pressure in my head soared. It felt like the top of my head would pop off. I felt like I had been gut punched, doubling over with tears springing- no – flooding to my eyes.
We had worked so hard to get this far….we had managed to secure seats on the last Azores Airlines flight to Toronto Canada on March 22, 2020 – a special flight that had been approved by both Canadian and Portuguese governments. We almost lost that opportunity when all the inter-islands flights were suspended 3 days before our Toronto flight. A wonderful SATA employee got us seats on the last inter-island flight from Santa Maria to the ‘big island’ of Sao Miguel. We had 2 hours notice to close up our house and pack our bags and make the half hour trip to the airport. We had been warned the normally 20 minute flight would be routed like a milk run and make a four hour round trip of several islands. We were pleasantly surprised when the flight attendant gave the usual spiel of landing in Ponta Delgada in 20 minutes time. Luck was on our side, as was it when I quickly booked 3 nights at the VIP Executive Hotel just before shutting down my computer. Or so we thought…
In hindsight we were so naive….we had a long organized trip to our holiday home in the Azores scheduled. China and Italy were the only 2 countries reporting corona virus cases. Although the reports were serious we really did not picture the breadth and speed of its spread. We actually got cold feet and cancelled the trip. After a week or so the world reports were still confined to China and Italy, our friends had arrived in the Azores and the idyllic lifestyle on those tiny islands in the middle of the Atlantic seemed to be untouched by the concerns gripping the rest of Europe.
Did I say naive?
We actually convinced ourselves that we might be better off in the remoteness of the islands versus Canada’s burgeoning cities. So….we re-scheduled the trip! Canada’s travel advisories only extended to China and Italy at that point. The trip over was rather turbulent but otherwise uneventful. Arrival at the airport was the same as always except we refrained from hugging friends who greeted us in favour of the elbow bump.
Then the rising tide of Covid 19 positives surged around the world and the mounting death toll flowed in a steady stream from CNN, Sky News and RPT. It still seemed remote to us though – off on the continent. Until the Azores reported its first confirmed case and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau was quarantined and the Prime Minister spoke from his podium outside his home, where he was voluntarily self-isolated, urging all Canadians to ‘Get home while you still can.’
Escape from Santa Maria
I was on the phone daily with SATA trying to revise our April 3rd return booking to the earliest possible departure. All flights were full until March 25th, 9 days out. With the world situation changing hourly we were nervous about what 9 days might bring but we didn’t have any other options. I registered with the Canadian Government Travel site so they would know we were in the Azores.
I checked constantly for availability through last minute cancellations. Then the Azores government announced it would be suspending flights to Toronto (basically Canada) on March 21st. I was desperate now…. I have to say the SATA employees were unfailingly polite, sympathetic and helpful.
But it wasn’t until I told the SATA representative that I was desperate to get in on a cancellation to make it under the wire of March 21 that things took on a new tone. She put me on hold momentarily and came back saying they were in the process of confirming an extra SATA flight authorized especially By the Canadian and Portuguese governments. (That means it superseded the Azorean travel restrictions.)
The plan was finally starting to gel…. We were booked on a milk run route Sunday morning, March 22nd, a four hour circuit from Santa Maria island to 2 other islands. A bit frustrating since a direct flight is 20 minutes but I wasn’t complaining. We still would have plenty of time to transfer to the 4pm Toronto flight.
Now that we had reservations our focus changed to Ralph’s asthma cough. I had started acting up on the trip over. We put it down to the change in weather from Canada to the Azores. But it wasn’t settling down.
We figured out that talking exceeded Ralph’s oxygen supply so he couldn’t get through a sentence without coughing. And if he talked too much he didn’t seem to recover his oxygen until after a night’s sleep.
He was sentenced to silence to try to reduce the strain/irritation. He also researched respiratory techniques and started singing an hour a day to try to reinforce diaphram breathing.
I would do all the talking enroute and he would look like the most hen -pecked husband on earth.
But..the best laid plans of mice and men…..
The message came on Thursday, March 19th to get to the airport asap and a new plan was in play. All inter-island flights would be suspended at 6 pm and a wonderful SATA employee had booked us on the last flight out at 5:45 pm. We would have 3 nights on our own dime waiting for our Sunday flight home but I wasn’t going to argue with anyone at this point.
Arrival at the VIP Executive Hotel
When we arrived at the hotel that was to be our base for the next three nights it looked like something out of a movie. Sheets of plastic were draped in front of the reception desk with periodic slits to allow pens and passports to be exchanged. The pens incidentally were wrapped fresh each use in Saran wrap. The reception desk was also cordoned off theatre style so you were forced to stand about 2 feet away from the desk and lean in to accept paperwork or said pens. Should we have been worried?
We were told we would be confined to our rooms which matched the ‘Stay at Home’ measures we heard were being implemented across all islands. No one could leave their home except for good reason (food shopping during reduced hours was a good reason). Dental appointments were all cancelled along with any other activity deemed non essential. Police were out in force to question anyone wandering around.
The first night we were emotionally drained after the excitement of the day so our room service dinner, quite artfully presented along with a bottle of wine was welcome and relaxing.
Good cable channels along with 2 English movie channels, major news channels and Ipad games (I am especially thankful for Spider 3 suit solitaire) kept us occupied on Friday and Saturday.
‘Quarantine Carolyn’ was also busy negotiating underwear from ‘Hotel Room Ralphie’! In our haste and panic to pack I had arrived in Sao Miguel with only the underwear I was wearing; no deodorant; no face cream; the teeniest travel tooth paste tube; 3 soiled tops and 3 clean tops, 3 pair of socks; 3 pairs of pants. Negotiations complete I found myself in a comfy, voluminous pair of boxers!
We carefully danced around not expressing our fears aloud that there would be more flight disruptions. That didn’t stop the stomach churning we both admitted to later on.
Saturday brought some release of the tension when the special flight showed up as ‘Confirmed’ on SATA’s Next Day Flight schedule and I gave a large sigh of relief when I received the web check in emails. Dinner that night was a nice regional steak cut and the wine with it felt kind of celebratory. I was rather pleased that my perseverance had paid off and we were finally in good shape. As I drifted off to sleep I was thinking in 24 hours I will be home … in my own bed … misadventure averted.
Did I say naive earlier?
Should I have had an inkling when Ralph mentioned the chamber maid in the hall was in full HASMAT suit?
Odd for our room phone to ring at 10:30 pm …. I struggled to make out what my husband was saying and more-so what was being said on the other end.
Ralph hung up and said rather incredulously, ‘The hotel is in lockdown, no one can come or go.’
It took a couple of minutes for the message to sink in to my groggy brain … and then I started peppering him with questions. What does that mean exactly? Why? How long will it last? Can we still go to the airport tomorrow?
In a great attempt at clarity I dialled reception and started with the questions. I didn’t get too far before I broke down into a blubbering mess. The clerk just kept repeating that no one could come or go and that the Ministry of Health was expected in the morning. In a effort to give me something he said he expected they would know more the following day by 9 am and that they would call us.
I cried; Ralph paced.
Then the stomach churning returned in earnest. Talking about it made it seem too real so we both settled into our beds in the dark with our thoughts.
I was trying to run through possible scenarios. We didn’t know why exactly we were locked down but I was hoping that there might be just a screening for fever as I had heard some airports were doing. I didn’t really go through many scenarios other than that one because that was the only one that I could come up with that might be plausible and acceptable to my brain. (We later found out a guest who had been in the hotel 6 days before us had tested positive.)
Ralph and I took turns pacing the floor at various points in the night and sitting close to the Ipad charger. I was busy Googling ‘what does lock down mean in Azores’ and ‘what happens in quarantine’ and ‘how long does it take for Covid 19 test results’. Not much out there that was useful.
But I did find an announcement from Azores Government on that same day, Saturday, March 21st, announcing a program to streamline sending tourists back to their country of origin instead of a full 14 days of quarantine. Exactly what I needed. There was a form and an address. I found the address first so immediately fired off an urgent email explaining that Ralph and Carolyn Hetke were booked for travel on March 22nd at 4pm and could we arrange for the authorization by 2 pm the following day.
Lockdown Day 1
I woke up with a sick feeling in my stomach offset by just a glimmer of hope that the Travel Authorization Approval process might save the day for us. Ralph was managing his own sick stomach feelings. We both showered and packed our luggage in a show of good faith.
We discussed calling Reception around 8:30 for an update but I was afraid if I asked too early and all the info wasn’t available I might get a misleading answer. I hung on until 9:03….called Reception and said, ‘I’m just calling to see if we are going to be able to check out and go to the airport for our flight.’ There was no hesitation in response time…very sympathetic, heavily accented…
’No…it won’t be possible’.
Gulp on my part, deep breath…’So what are next steps then.’ ‘I am sorry, I will have to pass you to my colleague.’ I launch in, ‘Are the Ministry of Health people coming today?’ Response, ‘Yes, perhaps around eleven.’ ‘Ok, are we the only ones travelling today? Can we be the first to see them because if they sign the new special Travel Authorization then we can still make our flight.’ Response: ‘Ma’am, you can be the first to see them but you should really prepare yourself to be here for 14 days.’ Me, blubbering again and hanging up. I was going to work that glimmer of hope in the next 4 hours.
I cried; Ralph paced.
No Soup for You
Called Reception to request breakfast delivery. After a time and much jingling outside our door there is a light knock. The two Reception clerks in masks and gloves awkwardly manoeuvre a trolley with an odd combination of black coffee, no cream, a pot of boiling water, that they took pains to point out, but we are not sure what for, some rolls, butter, 1 jam, cheese and ham. To their credit-the kitchen staff, cleaning staff, everyone but them have been sent home in quarantine. They were doing everything.
They apologized they didn’t know where to find many items in the kitchen or how to operate some of the coffee functions. In a sympathetic conversation we are told there are 5 rooms occupied in the hotel. And 3 reception clerks to cover all functions. This later dwindled to 1 Reception guy, Rui. It seems a cold breakfast will be made available each day. For the other meals we are to arrange delivery from local restaurants. The food will be delivered to the lobby, the clerks will deliver to our room and run the Card reader, returning payment to the delivery man.
Oh and no more ordering any wine or beer.
It seems that we are responsible for room charges during quarantine, not sure at what rate, and meal costs. There is a possibility of reimbursement but no one knows. Maybe this is another one of those bad news stories with a glimmer of hope attached that will not actually materialize.
To the credit of the Azorean government…. I did receive an actual, real reply to my email requesting authorization to be released to travel.
From: “Rui CT. Carreiro” <Rui.CT.Carreiro@azores.gov.pt>
Date: March 22, 2020 at 6:20:31 AM EDT
To: Ralph Hetke <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: “Maria TSBM. Luciano” <Maria.TS.Luciano@azores.gov.pt>, “Tiago AS. Lopes” <Tiago.AS.Lopes@azores.gov.pt>, “Ana RNCM. Eusebio” <Ana.RN.Eusebio@azores.gov.pt>
Subject:RE: Urgent request for travel March 22
Since the public health authority established full isolation and lock down of the VIP Executive Azores Hotel in Ponta Delgada, its impossible for anyone to leave the hotel.
De: Ralph Hetke [mailto:email@example.com]
Enviada: 22 de março de 2020 06:18
Para: Rui CT. Carreiro <Rui.CT.Carreiro@azores.gov.pt>
Assunto: Urgent request for travel March 22
We are 2 canadian citizens booked to fly ponta delgada to toronto on the last flight to Canada today March 22. We are in VIP Executive Hotel and we told last night the hotel is in lock down, that no one may arrive or go. We have been isolated 3 days now waiting for the flight. We have no symptoms.
Is it possible to urgently approve travel for carolyn Hetke and Ralph Hetke on S4 3323 today March 22 PDL to Toronto?
Tha k you Carolyn Hetke
I am confused, our situation seemed to be exactly the one the policy was targeted to. They want to get us out and we want to get out; it’s all arranged and just needs a signature. I sent a photo of the form with my reply, which incidentally was to the originator of the form, asking if we could invoke this process and complete it by 1 pm and if not how do we initiate it within the next few days. Response is pending….
You Are Really on Your Own
I still have another angle to work … poring over the Government of Canada website…I had, at some point, cut through the boiler plate Covid descriptions and instructions and found some emergency numbers and the promising email address firstname.lastname@example.org. I emailed requesting urgent assistance with the Travel authorization form attached, included required passport and travel details and dilemma details.
Response: An Automated reply informing me if my situation was covered by the FAQS on the site they would not be responding to me. You can see the full useless boiler plate here.
A second targeted response came 3 days later referring me to more general resources all of which I had already accessed days earlier.
(In all fairness I dug deeper into this in the days ahead. Consular Services are mainly focused on paperwork and requirements relating to the Government of Canada. They do not pretend to influence any requirements of the country you are in. So, apart from asking if we were being treated ok, the idea of 2 Canadians being detained in a Covid 19 lockdown authorized by the Azorean Ministry of Health wasn’t registering on their radar very heavily no matter how distressing it was to us. )
-Call Consulate in Ponta Delgada, get directed to Lisbon
-Call Lisbon, get directed to Ottawa, wait in queue; call drops;
-Call Ottawa number directly; wait in queue;
– Leave message which IVR has assured me will be dealt with in keeping with my call order in the queue. Response: Pending. (to this day)
1:30 pm…We should be at the airport. Admit defeat.
I cry, Ralph paces.
Call SATA to advise we will not make flight despite on line check-in completed. Meltdown, blubber. Ask for advice on how the Travel Authorization works. It appears that you have a 3 day window to travel once travel has been authorized.
All SATA flights have been suspended until 15 April and those will be reviewed closer to the time. I am on the waiting list for the Toronto flight 15 April. It seems to have escaped both of us to actually make a confirmed reservation on a future flight. I am to call a week before because the airline apparently has a role to play in this elusive Travel Authorization form although she wasn’t sure what it was . Hmmm….
Plan B…can we book to Lisbon and then Lisbon to Toronto. She doesn’t know -that route is TAP or SATA (even though they must share flights because I can see them with SATA flight numbers on their schedule). This means buying new tickets outright. But there might be flights available before 15 April. More questions than answers….-
We sadly advise those rooting for our arrival on home soil that we won’t be making it today after all. Cancel our cab from Pearson to home. Sigh…
Friends send emergency contact info, suggestions, condolences etc.
Thoughts…Initial reaction is mild panic. We have already been in this room for 3 days and now we have 14 more ahead of us. I thought of all those poor people trapped on cruise ships. They obviously did it. I was wishing I could fall into a coma and just wake up on Day 14. Failing that I was hoping I could sleep A LOT!!
Why am I so distraught over this…it isn’t as bad as a cancer diagnosis. We were not meant to be home until early April anyway..so it really is just a crappy trip that will end up being way more expensive than we ever planned on. But..at least money may eventually fix it.
Am I being super selfish wanting to get out of quarantine early? I don t know what the criteria is but I am trying to work it out – if they think it takes 14 days to break the transmission cycle what does the authorization for early release mean… well you might be ok…take your chances. Why would an airline agree to that risk? Would a better person gladly accept the 14 days in the name of doing their part to save the world?
What if we have it and don’t know it? What if I infected my 84 year old neighbour in Santa Maria?
Too upset to even think about trying to order in food. We munch on leftover buns and fruit from breakfast and a couple of pieces of chocolate I had thrown in my purse on the way out of our house a few days earlier.
Lockdown Day 2
Monday morning I call the Consulate which happens to be right in Ponta Delgada. They had no idea there were Canadian involved in the lockdown at the VIP Hotel. Warm, sympathetic, friendly. They asked if we were being treated ok. I explained the generous, albeit haphazard breakfast program. Said we were having some difficulty in finding a restaurant to order delivery from. Most of the restaurants have Facebook pages instead of websites and on-line menus are a rarity. We are now hoarding buns, yogurt, fruit, cereal from the breakfast delivery. Haphazard as it was it was at least generous. (Thanks Rui!)
I spend all day on the phone with the Consulate, the airlines and restaurants. I am contacted by an Elisa from the Azorean Ministry of Health. Are we ok? Do we have any symptoms? Are we being treated ok? I explain our challenge to order in and that we are actually living off the breakfast Rui delivers. She zeroes in on that and calls me back with a restaurant that is open and would deliver. We find their online presence is a Facebook page. The lack of a menu and the idea of vaguely asking for some kind of food is daunting for us. I guess if we had been ravenous we would have made the effort but with all the stress I can’t say I ever actually felt hungry.
We have found a friend of a friend who will go to a grocery store and deliver wine, beer, chips, sliced meat, cheese etc to us. (Thanks Joao, thanks Pedro!)That makes us feel a bit better.
We finally decide to order a pizza because they had a flyer online and we could just pick a pre-selected order. The person speaks perfect English and has many questions about the VIP Hotel which he thought was closed from the news reports. I explained that it is in lockdown and we are there. He asked a lot of questions about how the delivery would work…with great focus on the not having to enter the hotel.
Surprise, Surprise….. pizza never came. More stale buns, cheese, chips.
About 7:30 PM our room phone rings …… tests results are back ….all the staff tested negative!
Lockdown is lifted! We are to pack our bags. The Ministry of Health is moving us to a private residence for a day or 2 and then we will go back to our home country!!
I cried (for joy); Ralph paced (because he is still skeptical there won’t be a catch).
Our now -BFF-Rui at reception doesn’t know any more than that. No details but we are so happy – one step at a time.
We pack up the room and wait beside our packed bags. 8pm, 9 pm, 10 pm.
The room phone rings. The Ministry is running late. They will now come tomorrow before checkout time at noon.
We sleep still fitfully. We may be free but can we get any flights? OMG… am I getting a cold?? Any cough or fever would be keeping us off any flights we might be able to get. Is Ralph’s cough getting worse? The carpet in the hotel room was filthy as evidenced by my socks that had now entered the bathroom laundry cycle.
Lockdown Day 3
We are still not allowed to leave our room. Another sketchy breakfast delivery but this time served by a new face. A skeleton staff has returned to the hotel and Rui hs gone home for some much deserved rest. The usual buns, ham, cheese but no coffee. I inquired about coffee and was given a sympathetic smile and a shake of the head. Geez – even Rui managed to make coffee most days.
I open my email and the requisite, elusive, SIGNED Travel Authorization has been emailed to me first thing in the morning. Ralph has received his as well. It says we must travel within 3 days to our home country.
Email notice has come that SATA’s service suspension had been extended to end of April. Of all the wait lists and reservations I had with them only the May 5th Ponta Delgada to Toronto flight has not been suspended… and it was probably just a matter of time. There is a strong possibility we might be stranded on Sao Miguel for weeks or even months.
We shower, pack up and wait beside our bags again. 12pm, 1pm, 2pm.
Knock on the door….we are presented with the bill for our room charges and phone calls.
Once we settle up we are escorted to the lobby where a cab driver waits for us. He delivers us without talking to downtown Ponta Delgada to the Casa do Mercado, a lovely traditional building with studio type apartments.
Casa do Mercado
On arrival we ask the concierge how many days we are booked in for. He gives us an odd look and a shrug and says something vague like it’s up to us.
We unload our luggage in the tidy studio accomodation and quickly head to the small grocery store just steps away. We find a pre-cooked rotisserie type chicken. Add some potatoes, salad ingredients, buns and eggs for the morning.
Ralph is really hung up on the fact that this is his first hot meal in 3 days. I was more focused on how great it was to have some vegetables.
As we finish our meal we start thinking …. what happens next? We don’t know if we need to be ready to go to the airport tomorrow and at what time?
I call Elisa at the Ministry of Health. I am slowly starting to understand her domain is only related to our physical health and well being. But… she is helpful and when I ask her what next steps are concerning our travel she promises to get back to me.
Elisa calls back…we are to make our own travel arrangements. I freak! We have lost a whole day of planning. We only have 2 days left on our Travel Authorizations! With all the flight restrictions and cancellations this is going to take a miracle!
Have I mentions naive in this saga before?
I cry; Ralph paces.
This time I am crying as I try to find TAP flights online. I can barely see through the tears and the frustration with the lack of information from the Ministry of Health is now mounting to anger. How can they disrupt our lives so badly and not even talk to us???
Hallelujah! There is a TAP flight to Lisbon the next day, March 25th with seats! We would have to stay overnight in Lisbon and then catch the Lisbon/Toronto flight March 26th.
Ok. We have a plan again.
Ralph books a cab to take us from Casa do Mercado to the airport. Ralph books Waterloo taxi to pick us up at Pearson. I update our friends and family at home.
I use the bathroom hair dryer to ensure I have clean underwear and socks to wear home!
Thoughts in the night – OMG! What if they need a hardcopy of the travel authorization? What if they physically collect them? We only had the email version. Could we get them printed at the airport somewhere if we needed to?
What if Ralph coughs and they don’t let him board? Air Canada’s website said you have to answer if you have a fever, if you have a cough, if you have difficulty breathing. If you answer yes to any you will not be allowed to board.
(Later we revealed that if Ralph had been barred from boarding ‘Hotel Room Ralphie’ had determined he was going to send me on home; and ‘Quarantine Carolyn’ had determined I would not let him stay behind alone. Awww!)
We clean the leftovers out of the fridge and clean the kitchen. Bags are packed; cab will be here in ten minutes.
Bzzz… text on Ralph/s phone.
You get it…. I cry; Ralph paces.
So we are now automatically scheduled out the following day but what about the Toronto connection. It needs to be adjusted as well. I can’t see any flight details under Manage My Reservation. Our Travel Authorization was issued on March 24th – does it go 24-25, 25-26, 26-27? or is 24, 25, 26? What if the flight doesn’t go tomorrow either?
Head ready to explode, stomach churning we fire up the Portuguese cell phone, Magic Jack and our computers.
The kitchen table looks like a a command center. I have been referred to a new contact at the Ministry of Health who seems to be in charge of Travel Authorizations. She tells me to check with TAP whether they will accept the authorization on March 27th or not.
I am trying to convince her to re-issue them to give us some leeway. If we are going to need new ones I don’t want to be sitting waiting for the email to arrive so I can check in. Coordinating the validity and the flight availability is going to be tricky.
Nope. She is not swayed.
I start to wade through changing our itinerary with TAP and verifying the Travel Authorization validity.
I call the TAP contact number provided with the cancellation notice. It won’t connect via Magic Jack or the Portuguese cell. Try several times. Go to the Customer Service web-site, find a new number.
Wait 40 minutes in the queue; get an attendant; Oh-you want to speak English? I transfer you; Ring, click, dead.
Call again. There is no call tree to let you select service in English. 40 minutes later my call is answered. I ask ‘Fala Ingles? No. Fala espanhol? No. Fala francês? No, so portugues.’ I make an attempt in my pathetic Portuguese. I was able to make out that the Travel Authorization is NOT valid on March 27th. I was not able to get the remainder of our itinerary sorted out. Transfer, ring, click, dead.
One hour in the queue. My stomach is in knots. I have looked up the Portuguese phrases I need to get our Toronto flight reservations changed but depending on what is said back to me this could fall apart quickly. Relief… I get a Customer Service Rep who speaks English. Next Toronto flight is Sunday March 29th. We are confirmed.
We will have 3 nights in Lisbon waiting for the Sunday flight. Sound familiar? What if we get caught up in another freaking lockdown???? Lisbon is worse than The Azores for cases.
We go dark and stop updating friends and family on each new reservation schedule. We will tell them after it happens from now on.
An email from the Consulate suggests I should check with TAP to make sure we don’t need a similar Travel Authorization document in order to board in Lisbon.
OMG!!! The authorization is very specific to leaving the Azores. I hadn’t ever thought about needing another one!
I Google as I wait in the TAP phone queue. The Azores requirement keeps showing up but I don’t see anything about Portugal in general.
The cab is going to be here in a few minutes… I am not going to get through to TAP. In a brainwave I call the Canadian Embassy in Lisbon. They must know if that is a requirement to depart from Lisbon.
I get a resounding No from the Embassy person. Whew!
Ralph has been checking regularly for the dreaded text message cancelling our flight. No news is good news. I am nervous because we didn’t get a web check in email for the flight today. I try to calm myself because we did do the web check in for the flight yesterday and that didn’t stop it from being cancelled.
Ralph has arranged with the concierge to let us keep the room key in case the flight is cancelled when we get to the airport and we have to come back. We also arrange with our cab driver to come back and collect us if the flight is cancelled.
We are like whipped puppies at this point… we don’t trust anything at this point.
We are quite early. We have to show our boarding pass to be allowed in to the airport. We are directed to a vacant section of seating in the name of social distancing.
We start to see activity at the check in counter. The status shows open for boarding. We are the first people to check in. She looks up our tickets, tags our bags. We both offer our Ipads with photos of the coveted Travel Authorization. She glances at them almost as an afterthought. AND I CAN GUARANTEE SHE DID NOT LOOK CLOSELY ENOUGH TO EVEN SEE THE DAMN DATE!!!
We pass through security. On the other side every second seat has a paper on it prohibiting use in the name of social distancing. We go to the gate to wait.
1:20 pm- we are supposed to be boarding but there is no plane. My stomach is churning. I have had flights cancelled in Canada due to weather conditions after we had all boarded and were in our seats. Would they have checked us in if the flight was not going to go? The flight from Lisbon is 2 hours…they would know if that flight had not taken off….
I overhear an Azorean woman talking to the desk attendant. I confirm with her my understanding that she had been told the flight was 20 minutes late.
The plane taxis to a stop.
I cry (with relief); Ralph comforts me. The Azorean lady is looking sympathetically at Ralph. ( I am crying again even writing this!!)
We have a bit of time while they prepare the plane for the turnaround.
Okay… time to book a hotel in Lisbon. Ralph and I look at each other- as we were searching for all possibilities of getting home we had seen 2 Air Transat flights on Friday the 27th- one direct to Toronto and one to Montreal. We didn’t even have to discuss it.
I went to the website and saw both flights were still showing availability. We did not want 3 more days in a hotel and the risk of another Lockdown. We were also concerned that if the March 29th TAP flight was cancelled we would run out of options. Many airlines and services were stopping operation on April 1st. Stricter border controls were being announced every day.
I booked us on the Toronto flight the following day.
When we landed in Lisbon the nice Azorean lady looked back to catch my eye and waved to me.
We had deliberately chosen a hotel that was deeper in the city compared to the airport hotels thinking there might be less chance of travellers testing positive having passed through.
Traffic from the airport is astonishingly light. The streets of Lisbon are absolutely deserted.
As I approach the Reception desk I ask the young man if any guests or staff in the hotel were having any issues with the Corona virus. He laughs and says he is the only staff and we are the only guests! There have been no guests for 3 days. We joke about it being like The Shining.
We are not confined to our room specifically but there is nowhere to go. The restaurant is closed and nothing in Lisbon is open.
The sound from the street increases around 7 pm as motorbikes whine up and down the streets delivering their pizzas and chicken. Reception guy helps us order in hamburger and fries.
Ralph orders a Waterloo taxi to pick us up at Pearson. Nope…they no longer pickup. We try a couple of limo services. Nope. A couple of friends have offered to leave a car filled with groceries at the airport for us. We are starting to work down that path when Ralph decides to give Airways Transit a try. Yep… we are booked on their last day of pickup at Pearson.
We order a wake up call and a cab and go to bed. At this point I try to just blank out my mind. I am not going through the ‘I’ll be home in 24 hours’ in case I jinx something.
We wake up early, shower, put on our clean underwear (!), socks and clothes and head to the airport.
Ralph was advocating getting there as early as possible and he was right. The airport was chaotic. Several long lines stretched out with no way of telling what line was for what. Only one set of doors were open. Attendants came up and down the lines calling out 3 different destinations.
So we found the Toronto ‘line’ that way, if you could call it a line.
They were only allowing about 4 people at a time to pass after showing your ticket confirmation.
Metal gates held us back. People were trying to get to the head of the line to ask questions of the attendants. Groups with children or requiring assistance were trying to make their way to the head of the line.
Inside the crowd was sparse. We found our way to the Air Transat counters. Attendants were giving us a survey of Corona virus symptoms.
I was a No, No, No.
Ralph was a No, No, I’ve had an asthma cough since 2011.
Whew! They waved us through…
We are told there will be no service on the plane, not even water. We are to purchase whatever refreshments we want for the flight prior to boarding. I make up a picnic with a Super Bock Tallboy for Ralph and a 500 ml of Mateus for me! (the only thing with a screw cap!)
Boarding starts 20 minutes late. Priority boarding complete, the rest of us start down the corridor to board. They keep telling us to keep our distance apart but there isn’t enough room to stand far apart. Our line comes to a stand still. Flight attendants and staff start walking briskly toward the plane.
I see clip boards with Incidence reports. We never found out what was actually going on but it looked like some kind of a health episode. Thank God it was before we took off and we didn’t have to turn around and come back. But…. whatever it was…was it over? Or is it going to crop up again enroute?
While we are waiting every couple within earshot is joking about which one of them will survive the 14 days self isolation required on return to Canada.
Ralph and I just smiled. Quarantine Carolyn and Hotel Room Ralphie – we got this ! After 9 days in Santa Maria, 5 days in Sao Miguel we are pros at this!
We are told we have to stop in Halifax to change crews and top up fuel. Supposed to be a quick stop but 2 hours on the tarmac suggests otherwise.
I don’t care… I am so glad to be back in Canada!
I hand Ralph his Super Bock to go with his chips. Flight attendant meanders by and says ‘You can’t bring alcohol on the plane’. She let him finish it but later the pilot came on and made an announcement that no alchol was allowed on board. So my Mateus had to stay in the bag!
We finally arrive in Toronto. Customs is a breeze! We told the Customs guy how happy we were to see him! I think he hears that a lot these days.
Finally at the baggage claim area. Won’t be long now. This has been a long day…but I don’t care. I am so happy to be home!
Baggage was sent to the wrong terminal. Two hours later we emerge to look for our Airways Transit pickup. Thankfully the delays did not impact our pickup. In a few minutes we were on our way.
Words fail me in describing how happy we were to see our friend and house-sitter in the driveway ( at correct social distance). Dog delivered to us, groceries stocked, heat on! (Thanks Sue!!)
I would have dropped and kissed the driveway if I thought I could have got up again!
Self isolation in Home Sweet Home…we got this!