Travel in times of Corona
I am in a full American Airlines plane: and to my surprise only about 8 other people of the 300 passengers wear face masks, only two wear gloves. The others look at the masked and gloved people like they are aliens, but we may actually be the smartest people on board. It is March 21st: the world is in lockdown because of corona virus. Travel is highly discouraged. I am flying to Miami.
I managed to get on the last AA flight from Curaçao to Miami. I am flying to Miami to take care of my father, who has Alzheimer. Each three months we fly a care taker in from Holland. Due to the corona crisis, the current care taker had to leave and the new one cannot fly in.
I was supposed to fly in for a visit at the end of the month, but changed it for an earlier flight a few days ago when it seemed like the US airspace might close soon. By coincidence I found out yesterday that all flights were cancelled and that today is the last flight out of Curaçao. I managed to change my ticket last minute.
It was very difficult to get on this flight, since I am not a US resident. If I can’t get into the USA, we have a BIG problem. And when I do get in, I have no idea how long I will have to be there. I can only leave once a new care taker can fly in from The Netherlands, which may take a few months.
Most people decide to fly home, when the quarantaine was announced. But where is ‘home’ for me? I am not registered anywhere. I feel at home in many locations around the world. The Netherlands isn’t the best place to be right now. I thought Curaçao would be better and safer. But now it seems like I will be spending the next few months in Miami, one of my least favorite cities.
Curaçao airport is deserted. I have a folder with documentation for the immigration officials, who will probably try to stop me getting into the US. They only let US citizens in, which I am not. I have made screen prints of the law exemptions for children of US citizens. I have a copy of the doctors note that my father needs 24h care. I have a copy of my fathers passport to prove he is a US citizen. I even have a copy of his Power Of Attorney, to prove that I am his daughter. I have a copy of my boarding pass and immigration stamp to show that I have arrived on Curaçao on Feb 27th, and that I have been out of the EU for the required three weeks. So they should let me in. But rules changes by the minute as the crisis unfolds itself and fear of Europeans is high.
The check-in lady in Curaçao gave me a hard time, saying I was denied boarding because I am not a US citizen. She reluctantly called her supervisor when I insisted that children of US citizens should be allowed with a doctors letter. They decided to let me through and let the next official decide. The next official, however, assumed that I had already be checked. So I got through. I have hardly ever been as nervous in my life. I could board the plane.
I am the only passenger without a US passport on this plane. I wear a home made face mask, since the official masks are sold out everywhere. A friend folded some paper kitchen towels and attached them to elastic bands, resulting in a passable mask. Hand sanitizer and hygienic wipes ready, a change of clothes at hand. My sister even advised me to wear my snorkel in the plane. I decided that there are limits to how far I will go…
One lady said during boarding “I will kiss the ground once I land in Miami, so happy to be back on American soil!” I reminded her that it might not be a good idea to kiss the ground (or anything for that matter) at this time of Corona. She looked surprised at first and then mumbled that she would disinfect the floor first…
Miami airport is also deserted. Normally super crowded, it feels spooky. No lines, no crowds, hardly any movement. The immigration officer does not ask any additional questions after I tell him I am here to take care of my father. I am asked to undergo ‘health screening’. This means filling out a form where I have been and if I have any symptoms. Nothing is checked. When I ask the young official -without face mask – who leafs through my passport if he wants me to show him the proof that I arrived in Curaçao on Feb 27 he says with a dreamy look in his eyes “no, it’s OK, I was just looking at all the stamps in your passport, I would like to travel myself, one day…” No temperature is taken, even though the form says “now your temperature will be measured”. The box to fill in my temperature stays empty. Within 15 minutes after landing I am outside the airport, waiting for my sister to pick me up. I can’t believe it was this ‘easy’….
My sister sprays me and my luggage with lysol before getting into the car. When we get to my father, we instruct him not to greet me yet: first I take a shower and put all my clothes in the laundry. We agreed that the first week or so I won’t touch him, hold hands, hug or kiss him. Not until it is clear that I develop no symptoms after being exposed to who-knows-what during travel. We don’t want to take any risk. My father is confused. Can’t understand why we make such a fuss. And doesn’t remember to wash his hands after going outside. But he is very happy to see me. And I am happy too. Weird enough it feels good to be here. I am where I am supposed to be.