We’re tracing three veteran globetrotters as they navigate closures, shutdowns and changing travel restrictions. CONTACT TRACING is a day-by-day chronicle of how COVID-19 hobbled these solo travelers. This is Part II. If you missed CONTACT TRACING Part I, click here.
CONTACT TRACING - Part II
Hurrying to the train station in Marrakesh, Donnie stops at the only Starbucks in Morocco. The streets of Marrakesh are eerily empty on Sunday, March 15, 2020. “Lots of Europeans were on the train to Casablanca. Americans, too, had taken the ferry from Spain trying to escape Europe after the lockdown. We got to the airport, and that’s when it turned into a scene out of a movie.”
How Coronavirus Affects Travel
That same day, Carla and Jason put on masks and board their Alitalia flight from Rome to JFK. “There are only 20 people on the plane, with space for about 300,” Jason tells his Facebook friends. The scene is quite different in Morocco.
‘It turned into a scene out of a movie’
At the Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca, seats on the planes are sold out as things turn chaotic.
“People were crying,” describes Donnie. “Some travelers with tickets couldn’t get checked in. Something was wrong with another American woman’s passport. The King had canceled all flights out of the country, so airline personnel were rushing to get people on the plane.” Airline staff seems to fear that the jet will be barred from taking off.
In the final boarding group, Donnie enters the plane, and the door shuts on his heels. Before all passengers can be seated, the plane begins rolling back from the gate.
‘In all my flying experiences, I’ve never seen anything like it’
“The flight attendants were still walking down the aisle as the pilot thrust the plane off the runway. In all my flying experiences, I’ve never seen anything like it,” says the international consultant who flies 100K miles per year.
Once in the air, Donnie feels a sense of relief, but unknown to him, that respite would be short-lived.
Symptoms of Coronavirus anyone?
During Carla and Jason’s Alitalia flight to NYC, airline attendants pass out one-page questionnaires, which ask if passengers, who are social distancing on the flight, have symptoms of Coronavirus. Both Rupps answer ‘no.’
On the flight to Miami, the sound of coughs and sneezes forces Donnie to look around at those seated nearby. He sees mostly Americans between the ages of 40 and 60. Thirty minutes into the flight, he hears shrieking. “Is there a doctor aboard?” yells someone from near the restroom where a passenger lies on the floor.
“Oh, no, we’ll be forced to turn around,” fears Donnie. The summoned healthcare professional assesses the situation. The plane continues westward across the Atlantic.
Donnie braces himself for hours in US Health Screening line
As the flight nears Miami, attendants hand Donnie the one-page health screening form. “When you arrive, you’ll have to give this to someone,” they say. Donnie braces himself for a several-hour wait in line.
Carla and Jason’s flight lands at JFK without incident. Once in the terminal, officials take each passenger’s temperature. “Ours were normal,” says Carla, who was relieved to be back into her home country. She takes a card from the CDC and is told to self-quarantine for 14 days.
In Miami, the story is different. Donnie deplanes with passengers from his Casablanca flight as a London flight also empties. “Anyone from London? Go the left, please,” say US officials. “From Casablanca, go to the right.”
“The most chilling part of the story is that no one collected the form from me,” says Donnie astonished. “I went through Global Entry with no line. No health screening. It took like five minutes. I walked right out and got an Uber.” Although officials in Miami ushered passengers on the flight from London into health screening lines, they did not seem aware that the Casablanca flight, too, was loaded with travelers from Europe.
By the time Carla is back in her New York City apartment, Tisha, still stranded in Portugal, contacts a friend in Flagstaff to help procure a ticket back home. By midnight, Delta confirms Tisha’s seat on a flight operated by Air France on Wednesday, March 18, leaving from Lisbon. There will be no additional charge.
Monday, March 16, 2020
Tisha settles into life at the pilgrim’s albergue. “It was very strange in Porto during the shutdown. At some places [coffee shops], you could only sit outside. At other places, you could only sit inside. All in the same section of town.” At 6 pm that evening, Air France emails Tisha a cancellation of her flight.
Tuesday, March 17, 2020
“So, we try again. Can’t help but wonder when the next hiccup comes!” levelheaded Tisha says in an email to me on Tuesday, March 17. Her brief note does not convey the unease she feels. “My anxiety level was worse after Air France canceled the plane. Even after I was confirmed on a second flight, I would check my emails, and then every six to eight hours, I would look again,” she says later. She fears Delta or Air France will cancel her second flight as her daughter texts her from the US: “Is your flight still on?”
Tisha scrutinizes the train schedule to find a train that will get her from Porto to Lisbon the next day. New flight reservations have her out of Lisbon at noon on Thursday, March 19. She plans to spend Wednesday night at the home of Giacomo, the friend who she met earlier during her abbreviated walking journey.
State of Emergency Declared in Portugal
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
On March 18, Portugal’s president declares a State of Emergency for the entire country. Would the trains run? Could Tisha get to Lisbon in time for her flight tomorrow? Tisha takes the chance and shows up on time for her train. Fortunately, trains are still running, and she makes it to Lisbon and her friend’s house.
Thursday, March 19, 2020
“Outside the Lisbon airport, it is crowded and clustered,” describes Tisha. “I was worried it would take a long time to get inside. But I showed my Air France tickets and was allowed right in.” Standing in queue at check-in, Tisha strikes up a conversation with the young man waiting in line next to her. “Turns out, we both had walked the Camino Portuguese. We found that we had friends in common—that’s just how the Camino is,” she says, talking about the serendipities—like chance meetings—that happen while on Camino de Santiago pilgrimages.
“I was glad US citizens could fly home when we did,” Carla reports later from her quarantine in New York, one of North America’s hardest-hit COVID-19 hotspots. “Everything was done quite professionally.”
“De Gaulle was totally dead–nothing was open,” Tisha says of her layover in the deserted Paris airport. Passengers on her flight to Los Angeles sit two seats apart. Five to eight CDC people meet Tisha’s flight at LAX and hand passengers instructions for mandatory 14-day quarantines.
“I got out just in time,” says Donnie from self-imposed quarantine in San Francisco. “I left behind Americans stranded in Morocco. Morocco and Peru were two of the counties that shut down with no notice. I am glad that I went with my intuition because, literally, that was the last flight out of Morocco.”
The Truth About How Coronavirus Affects the Way I Travel
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13 thoughts on “How COVID-19 Hobbled These Veteran Globetrotters – Part 2”
Wow! Thanks for the update, Stacey. They were truly some who got out ‘under the wire’. I know you’ll probably do this, but I’d love to see where these 3 are at this time next year…
Thanks, Julie! I hadn’t gotten that far… I’ll have to put it in my tickler file to do a follow up with the three of them – well, there’s really 5 including Jason and Alex that were part of Carla’s “#TBEXSurvivors” story.
wow, that is crazy and I had no idea!!
Right? I could have been stuck in the Italian AirBnB with CArla and JAson – we talked about rooming together for the TBEX Conference!
If you go to APOC FB page (I think) there’s a California woman who isn’t letting the C-19 stop her planned Camino # 3. About 10-15 comments try to tell her that the Camino is “closed”, in bound flights to France are prohibited. She keeps saying she is determined to go on the Camino. She almost conceedes when they tell her the shops and no Pilgrim housing, hotels or foods servicces will be open.
She was totally rejecting any possibility becoming incapacitated with C-19. Now it is true, currently countries are opening certain sections of their towns but all the other important details are lacking! It certainly would be terribly disappointing, to be in a lock down or lock out, when a trip to the Camino is planned. Hope she stays safe and at home and in good health.
Oh my goodness! Thanks for letting me know, Karen. Maybe I’ll add a link to this blog if I can find her posts. She must not be reading what people who live in Spain and SAntiago and along the various Camino routes are saying.
I checked the American Pilgrims on Camino Facebook group and administrators of the group have already blocked the comments. So I posted a link to this story – good ‘lessons learned’ to share here!
Wow! What a crazy time. I had totally forgotten Tisha was traveling in March!
I saw her right before she left — I was pretty sick — she gave me some masks to wear on my flight to Italy. Shortly after she left, I canceled my trip. It has been so crazy. How are you doing in all this COVID stuff?
Stacey, these stories are a heart-pounding look at how veteran travelers navigate the unexpected and have their plans upended no matter how experienced. Thank you for sharing them in such high-relief! They’re so good, I reposted them for friends and other travelers to read as well.
I am thankful that these veteran travelers shared their stories with me. I think we can learn from how others navigate the unexpected. Because after all, isn’t that what travel is all about? Thanks for sharing the stories, Tracy. I love that!
Oh wow! What stories! Fascinating to read how different the countries were in their response. Glad everyone (at least in your 3 intertwined stories) made it back. We were in Spain getting ready to move back to the US and decided we’d better head back ASAP; made it to Arizona March 10, with no difficulties–tourists weren’t flying and the stampede back home hadn’t started yet. Whew.
Glad to hear about your return to the US – after so many years living in Spain. Seems the timing was perfect. Pleased to hear you enjoyed these stories! Thanks for reading, Stacey