The last flight before COVID 19 lockdown

At 3:00 am my alarm clock disturbed my thoughts. Drifting off to sleep wasn’t going to happen, my thoughts were spiraling endlessly on and on. I always try to focus on letting my thoughts go. This works for a few seconds until the not trying to think of something costs more effort than just thinking about it. Another strategy I frequently use is thinking as many things as possible, this creates a certain relaxing slumber. Again this is just briefly, unfortunately.

I got up, took my stuff, tried to eat something, and called my dad. He woke up and we drank some coffee in the hope it would help. Both my dad and I are bad sleepers. Especially in this situation. We had a long drive ahead of us. Approximately 2 hours. He would drop me off to catch the last flight out of Belgium due to COVID 19. The next day the entire country would go in lockdown.

Four and a half months earlier, when I arrived in Belgium he also picked me up from the airport. Now he was escorting me out. Once in the car, he talked to his GPS and a route was calculated. This all went fine, we had the time and made a few pit-stops to get coffee and breakfast. It was hard to find a gas station opened, so we had to try several times. This resulted in the time passing by quicker as we anticipated and me having less time to check-in.

There was no traffic on the road at all. Only big trucks on their way to stock the big supermarkets. Especially toilet paper probably… In the 2,5 hours it took us to drive to the airport we could count the vehicles we came across with, on one hand.

“Naturally, the virus would spread rapidly and become a pandemic”

I was philosophizing with my dad about what was bound to happen to the world. The virus spread at an alarming rate. Belgium took serious precautions. Probably because it is a small country bordered by France, The Netherlands, and Germany. Loads of transport has to come through it. It’s very industrialized and has a high population rate. People literally live on top of each other. A twenty-story building isn’t a peculiar site. Naturally, the virus would spread rapidly and become a pandemic. We hoped we wouldn’t be fined because we went out of our houses during lockdown to drive to the airport. At that point, all shops were already closed, except for the supermarkets. You could only enter three persons at the time and had to hold your distance, hence the later named social distancing.

My dad, who has spent time in the army shared his vision on how he saw this virus as a war. Economical, social warfare to be precise. As always the entrepreneurs are the biggest victims. All restaurants and bars saw their income melting like snow in the sun. Tough times were ahead of the whole world.

Highway to Hell

The ride was pleasant and soothing. I love how you can always have good conversations in a car. Persons are generally pretty relaxed while driving is steady and predictable. Of course, the opposite situation can happen as well. For example when the beast unleashes in the form of traffic aggression while the drivers both haven’t eaten all day due to Ramadan. This is a story for another blog.

Although the beast didn’t unleash during our ride, the relaxed atmosphere was getting more tensed as we missed our turn. We lost twenty minutes because of the detour we had to make. Once we arrived at more or less the same point, the GPS instructed us to take the next turn in 200 meters. After this 200 meters, the GPS told us we missed it again. This always happens to me when driving assisted by GPS. They announce you have to take a turn while you already passed it because the turn starts with a 200-meter straight road. If the road is familiar you know this. If you’ve never been there it can be utterly confusing as in our case.

My dad and I are very much alike, certainly, temper wise. This can easily evolve in a discussion in which one party blames the other of the misfortune that’s happening. Therefore, fights are easily conceived.

When my dad pinched me just above my knee and looked me in the eye with a defeated expression on his face and said: ‘Love, we are running out of time.’, I was tempted to follow his lead in this self-inflicted misery.

Even when my mom called to ask me: “How busy is it in the airport?” and I had to tell her I wasn’t there yet -upon which she reacted with stress reflecting on me- I stood strong. I blocked myself to contemplate the fact that I would miss this flight and be stuck in Belgium. My instinct took over, lifted the veil of doubt and insecurity, and made rational decisions. This is my goal, go out of my way or beware, I won’t be responsible for my actions and will take you down with me if you try to cause any further delay. I forgot the world around me and shut down all unnecessary functions, all my energy was focused on this one and the only goal, I had to achieve. There was no room for failure. It would be way easier and more predictable to let myself fall in the bottomless pit of self-pity. Particularly because I have experience with that. No, no, no it’s warrior time, time to finally transcend the person I was to the person I have become. Basically; grow up and be responsible for your actions. The joys of being mature…

It happened automatically, I wasn’t completely aware during this process. I took my phone, Googled the route to the airport, and ‘voila’ there was a way out of these roads in the middle of nowhere.

“So, what the flying crap!?!”

The solution was very easy, I must agree but stress interferes with rational thinking. Thirty minutes later, we finally arrived and I had thirty minutes left to check-in. I had such a ridiculous amount of luggage. (2 bags of 20 kg, 1 of 10 kg, a guitar and two small backpacks of 8 kg each). The problem was, due to the fear of getting infected by everybody using the same trolleys the airport banned them. Besides that they were probably preparing to close the airport as the entire fleet, we learned later, would stay on the ground the next day. So, what the flying crap!?! ‘AAAARRRGGGHHH…’ as fast as my heroism came it went. I couldn’t carry this alone and there wasn’t enough time left to get it inside in pieces… I don’t want to ask my dad because he has an electrical leg prosthetic.

Customer service?

This entails that it’s nearly impossible for him to carry heavy luggage, maintain his balance, and be quick. Of course, he was already suffering because he tried. While I couldn’t take this next blow, my dad remained strong and told me to ask someone for help.

Apparently my hunger to fight my way towards my goal inspired him. I asked an employee of the airport in the best French I could master -believe me, it was worthless…- if he could help me carry my ballast. He said he couldn’t. I was back to stressing out, as my dad pointed out there were other people passing by. Luckily they were willing to help.

After hugging my dad half to death, buried under the burden of way too many emotions for one person in one moment, I continued towards the check-in. Again, one step closer to getting home. The repeating mantra of my fellow travelers one day before COVID 19 lockdown:’Girl how much stuff does a person need?’ playing at the back of my head. This mantra was violently interrupted by the check-in agent who informed me I had to pay 145 euro extra for my luggage. While I tried to process this message, my mom was calling me again. I couldn’t think of a better time for her to reach me…

Apparently, I booked all luggage on the ‘guitar ticket’ instead of my personal ticket. There was only one extra name on it, being; guitar. “Can’t you just change the name, so I don’t have to pay?” I asked. “No, not possible madam.” They replied. I felt a metal rod piercing my heart when I paid the amount. Frankly, I didn’t care at that moment, I just wanted to go home.

But seriously? COVID 19 was turning into a pandemic, Belgium was in lockdown because of it. Because of the stress and the fact I had to rebook my ticket, I made the mistake of adding my luggage on the ‘guitar’ ticket. Really? No compassion or understanding at all from Ryan Air. I had to pay. In the end, it would have been cheaper if I hadn’t added the extra bags at all. Ridiculous isn’t it. That’s the last time I am flying with these pricks.

“…lost all his money and had to stay awake all night”

When I looked around, I felt slightly better. All the other travelers there were trying to get home. They all had bloodshot red eyes and hadn’t slept for a few days. The guy that assisted me with my luggage had a story as well. He missed his flight the day before because they sent him in the wrong direction at the airport. After he realized this, he was too late to turn back and had to rebook his flight, lost all his money, and had to stay awake all night. There are no hotels around the airport and if there where he couldn’t afford it anymore. Although he was on the same flight as me and there were only thirty minutes left, he stopped to help me with my luggage. We almost both lost our flight because of it. I couldn’t stop thanking him.

Once on the plane, I fell into a one-hour coma. There were quite some people in the airport. All with the same idea: going home before it wouldn’t be possible anymore. Mouth caps weren’t obliged and I believe the steward and stewardess where from the North of Italy.

A few hours later, being entangled in my hubbies deep, intense, and muscled arms, it was all worth it. Finally, I could let go of my alertness and relax. Once back on the boat and hugging our little black cat, I burst into tears of pure joy. What a hell of a ride… The last one on land, that is.

My advice to you would be, don’t ever fly with Ryan Air. The worst company ever, you always end up paying more. While I neatly paid for all my luggage, they refused and charged me again. If you want a cheap flight check this site; Skyscanner. Transavia is also cheap and nice to fly with.

What are your experiences during the outbreak?