part one – getting there
The decision to come home to New Zealand wasn’t a light one. I usually love airline travel and look forward to my flights with the excitement of take offs and landings and the little meals and movies. Well I’m a bit of a fanatic, and having crossed the world quite a number of times now, feel I’m somewhat of an expert passenger. This trip was a little stressful, instead of delightful, and all my expertise was a bit of a waste, as it was just the same, but very different.
So getting on the plane was fairly straight forward. I flew from Bermuda to Gatwick via British Airways for two reasons. First I had a return flight to use up, so changed the date, and paid the extra money. This flight was good because I got to share it with my lovely husband who was in no way going to let me go off to NZ by myself and accompanied me to the United Kingdom, where he had his own chores to do. The other reason was that I felt the UK is managing Covid-19 just slightly better than America. With such high Covid numbers and all the unrest there with the Black Lives Matter Movement, they could be on the brink of conflict far worse than protests. I really didn’t want to get caught up in any of that, so I took the long way around the world.
It’s weird flying wearing a face mask. I thought the airlines would give out disposable ones, but they offered them if we needed them, and most people just used their own. I usually look forward to the little meals, but this one was a prepackaged sandwich which I had to pick the cheese out of, because there just weren’t choices that suited my diet. They usually do this okay, but services were incredibly reduced even though flights cost a lot more. We didn’t have dinner on purpose so I was hungry and had no hope of sleeping during the overnight seven hour flight. My tummy kept rumbling and waking me up!
On arriving in the UK, I did the compulsory ‘sit in the glass box’ at border patrol, which has become a bit of a joke now. It was very quick this time, and the border patrol officer had processed me on a prior occasion so I could tell his heart was bleeding for me as he got the appropriate permission to ‘let me in’. He explained that was the last time it would ever happen because he had it cleared for future visits. That was so nice, but a trifle too late since nearly my whole family have had to endure Her Majesty’s welcome box complete with machine guns for five years now, even though I have never ever done anything wrong.
We then hired a car and drove from Gatwick to the hotel booked for my husband’s stay in Heathrow. We decided that was safer than trying to negotiate public transport germ free. Suddenly being on the motorway at seventy miles an hour was a bit daunting in a new hire car. In Bermuda we have an automatic, and this one was a manual. The speeds are much lower in Bermuda too, and cars might cheekily get to forty miles per hour at a push as the speed limit is only twenty miles per hour around the island. Luckily with lockdown levels in England the traffic was light and we were there in no time. There were only a couple of moments forgetting the clutch, and we arrived safely with gearbox intact.
My first impression of the UK is that it hasn’t got any cleaner, there weren’t many people using masks, and social distancing was difficult to enforce. Gatwick was empty. I mean really empty and hardly any planes taking off or landing. The roads seemed deserted, and with the trees skeletal in their pre spring state, it was all a bit depressing. We had a break at the hotel where I got a chance to have a shower and put on clean warmer clothes for the next leg. Then suddenly it was time to go and check in.
Images above show London Heathrow Airport inside and out devoid of planes in the air and people at the gates; and my flight with Cathay Pacific ready to board.
So at Heathrow my lovely husband was meant to drop me at the door and not come in. Well bugger that, so I sneaked him in. Waiting in line to check in, a family travelling the same flights as me had booked extra luggage with Air NZ but it turned out they also had to book it with Cathay Pacific the airline in Partnership, who we were travelling with first. It was going to cost hundreds to add the extra bags, and understandably the Dad threw a bit of a wobbly, and one or two bags. I don’t know what their situation was but I could tell he was at the end of his tether. There was so much tension and negative energy slinging about, I have to admit, I got a wobbly moment and teared up. I’m so glad my husband was there with me, or I would have bolted at that stage. It explained though, why I couldn’t add extra bags no matter how hard I tried. Instead I had to fit my life into thirty kilos including cabin luggage and laptop bag. Those people must have resolved it because they were on the flight later on, with stormy faces and very quiet children, but they were on.
After a teary good bye I got on the first flight to Hong Kong. Fantastically I got a whole row of seats to myself. This is just bliss for the long haul traveller. I was already twenty four hours with no sleep, so stretched out and got five solid hours. I was aware of babies screaming, and turbulence, but felt so much better when I woke. Again the food was difficult so I just ate what I could. I thought about getting food in Hong Kong, but the ingredients are all in Chinese** and I just couldn’t risk it because I really needed to be well. My son said to me later, ‘Why didn’t you use Google translate?’ Well, truly, I never gave it a thought. Hong Kong Airport was as empty as Heathrow, and there was pretty much nothing open. That was quite surprising, and since I had to leave my favourite perfume behind, for it topped my weight restriction, I had no chance of remedying that one. It did save me money though! The four hour transit time was excruciatingly painful, there was nothing to do. I walked my four kilometres, then waited it out.
The flight with Air New Zealand to Auckland was a little more homely. Staff had kiwi accents, and were wearing those nice waistcoats with the kiwi icons on them. I can’t say the food was much better, so the nice bloke seated in my row enjoyed his extra yoghurts, cheesecakes, cheddar and crackers, and it wasn’t wasted. He was a great talker, which made the flight go quickly. Having gone to the UK for an emergency when his mother was dying, he was having to return via NZ. This meant because he was a New Zealand Citizen, he had to isolate for fourteen days in Godsown, then fly to Australia and isolate for another fourteen days before being allowed entry. There were no flights until October otherwise, and it was getting him home faster. What a world it’s become. He was one of many people on the flight who will pay over six thousand dollars just for the rules, let alone the flight costs as well. We talked about everything from land rights to patenting inventions, all the while masked up. During the flight I actually only watched one movie and got another hour or so of sleep. Then suddenly I was there!
Walking down the corridor in through the Maori Tomokanga* teared me up again, along with the NZ bird noises. It’s quite something when you haven‘t been home for over a year. After twenty nine hours flying and forty six hours from leaving Bermuda, I was a bit jaded.
Images above: The same story at Hong Kong Airport, devoid of people and shops not open; and there’s me waiting to board the AirNew Zealand flight home all masked up.
We were all met by the Army and Health Department medical staff. It was daunting but relatively painless, temperature taken, a form to complete and then herded onto a bus straight to the isolation hotel. I recall checking through customs too, because someone did ask me about the contents of my bag and a sniffer dog that looked like my Mums dog was working hard with the bloke beside me. If I felt unwell I would have been taken to a quarantine facility instead. Everyone was so nice and kept welcoming me home. We had another check with more official staff and the Army at the hotel, was given a room key card and my bags were put in the lift for me. Then it was straight to my room which would be my home for the next fourteen days, provided I haven’t caught Covid. Oh to a blissful shower and sleep.
More soon – Sally
*Tomokanga – carved gateway – you can see it here: https://teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/24976/auckland-airport
** Correction from Japanese to Chinese language blooper. Apology everyone – must be still a bit jet lagged!