Travelling during a pandemic – is it worth the stress?

Travelling during a pandemic – is it worth all the hassle?

            As soon as Portugal was added to the Green List in May, we took a risk and decided to book flights for the beginning of June. To celebrate the completion of all A-Level assessments set by our school, my sister, mum, and I arranged a trip out to our place in Portugal for a long weekend at the end of the half-term. We would have thought a 5-day trip, Thursday to Tuesday, would involve limited hassle and faff. Boy, we were wrong.

            By the timing of this post, you could guess we flew out last Thursday (3rd June) – the day that Portugal was put on the Covid-travel ‘amber list’ in the UK. We learned this no more than an hour before we were due to take off from Birmingham. The emotions we felt all at once, sitting in the bar waiting to board the plane, when we heard the news that we’d have to quarantine from Tuesday 4am – our return flight was booked for Tuesday 7am, 3 hours after the cut off point. Annoyance, frustration, anger. We’d miss our last ever week at school, in sixth form, closure. 10 days quarantine doesn’t sound like so much of a hassle until you add up the cost of all the PCR tests we’d have to do: pay for 3 each at extortionate prices for day 2, 5 and 8. It just wasn’t worth it.

            That time from when we found out until take-off we were all silently considering not boarding the plane and just going home, ditching all travel plans, but we dared not to make those thoughts aware to each other. So, we got on the flight and gulped down the shock and ire of having to quarantine – our trip felt ruined. So much for a quick girls break after enduring exam after exam, stress after stress as we finished our A-Level examinations only a week ago.

            Then, began the flight from hell. Rowdy, drunk twenty-year-olds who refused to wear their masks, though I do not comprehend why anyone would find it hard to wear one for so long? They mouthed off to the flight attendants and disrespected everyone around us. Argument after argument, crude joke after crude joke. We just wanted peace, and, as they ordered all the vodka from the trolley, we hoped they’d simply sleep – we were unlucky. They just kept on shouting and laughing and making such a racket as my mum tried to work and my sister and I read. I barely read a chapter by the end of the flight.

            The flight attendants announced that there was no bottled water, no Coca-Cola, no hot drinks… It truly was a nightmare.

            Nonetheless, without delays, we arrived later that night at Faro airport and arrived at the house that we hadn’t been able to go to for over 8 months.

            The next day we still could not rest. Stressing all night, my mum decided to screw it and book some flights for Monday, yesterday, to beat quarantine and get back in time. There were barely any flights available, and those that were available were triple the price as usual. Airlines taking advantage of the arduous and tedious situation made by the British government to move Portugal to the amber list, claiming a rise in cases in the country, yet the levels have remained the same all month give or take a couple cases here and there each day.

            So, after spending too much money, we booked flights for Monday afternoon, 4pm, to Bristol airport (even further than Birmingham from our house in England), pleased to have a plan. We decided to do this, despite the price, as the price of the flight was more or less the same to the cost for all three of us to get our hands on all the testing for the 10-day quarantine we’d have to do if we had kept our original flights on the following day. Still, the stress was unnecessary.

            Then, we had to move the rapid antigen test from the Monday to Saturday in order to get on the flight to come home, as the Portuguese requirement for travelling out of the country. We paid 30 euro each for those tests, done at the airport, which we agreed to with no problem. Though, we waited for over an hour to get those tests done, despite pre-booking a specific appointment, and they nearly turned us away!

            What more could go wrong, you ask?

            After being down about having to cut our trip short due to moving the flights to avoid quarantine – which, thinking about it now, was the best decision as quadrating would just involve even more stress and anxiety, even though I voted for just staying out in Portugal for another few weeks until we were moved back onto the green list, but my sister wanted to get back for the last few days ever at school – we finally arrived at the airport, early, at 1pm on Monday to fly to Bristol. We wanted to get there 3 hours before departure in order to ensure we had enough time in the queues that the British media were saying were chocker and taking forever for Brits to go home.

We got to the airport and it was almost dead. Check-in was no problem at all and very well organised by EasyJet, who ensured we had all the correct documentation (the right test results, passenger locator forms and what-not) and told us exactly what we needed and where to go. We breezed through passport and security with no queues at all. We were so shocked at how empty it was and how quickly we got through, as we expected queues upon queues as it was the last day to get back before ‘Amber Day’. Everything was fine.

Until we got the notification from the EasyJet app on our phones saying, ‘flight delayed’. I don’t remember the last time we had a delayed flight. It moved from 16:15 to 18:50. We didn’t panic, though annoyance did seep in, as we even got to the airport earlier than needed. We just wanted to make sure we got back well before 4am.

Shortly later, my phone pinged again: further delays, now expected for 19:15. That wasn’t surprising. We had a few drinks and waited it out.

Everyone was getting rather confused around us. The phone apps were telling us one thing, though the departure flight boards were still saying ‘go to gate for 16:15 departure’. No one knew what they were doing. But then EasyJet – and I do feel sorry for them as it was not really their fault here that the flight was delayed, but technical issues in Bristol, the flight flying out before us, the plane we would get – announced that they’d give refreshment vouchers to each passenger as condolences. 4.50-euro vouchers each, so not too bad but probably could have done better. We queued for them at the gate we were meant to board at, which confused people even more as they thought we were boarding and then not boarding, as the flight board still said, ‘go to gate’. Nothing was made clear, and this was when the airline quickly began to become more and more disorganised.

After another two notifications the final delay time was 21:10. We weren’t surprised, only sitting on the edges of our seats in anticipation and hope that we’d get home in time before the cut-off point for the amber list, or our flight being cancelled, as was the flight scheduled after ours was. Lucky we didn’t book that flight!

After hours and hours of waiting and many drinks and nibbles later, we were called to go to the gate, only they put the wrong gate on the board so everyone was traipsing round the airport like zombies – very annoyed, tired zombies.

We waited a further twenty minutes when the gate was called, with only one person checking people through on the desk, not bothering to make clear the difference between speedy boarding and normal boarding. Everything was a mess at this point. We then waited on the hot and stuffy bus to take us to the plane that finally arrived at Faro (yay!) and then a further 40 minutes on the plane to wait for the other buses to arrive… and then some late passengers.

Finally, we landed, after a much quieter flight than the way out, at quarter past midnight. The pilot flew the plane lower than usual, burning more fuel, to get us to Bristol quicker. Everyone was shattered.

My sister and I were sat bang-smack in the middle of the plane, so we were the last off. Passport control, we thought, was going to be hectic, however, despite being the very last to go through, it was all very organised, showing the correct forms, and after only a half-hour queue, we were through and free to go home! Finally!

I do not want to sound ungrateful, spiteful or spread any negativity or false views and opinions when I say this. I recognise just how fortunate I was to be able to go on this trip in the first place – all of the above can definitely be regarded amongst ‘first world problems’, I know. It’s just a post to share my experience of travelling during these uncertain and stressful times and to answer the question of is it really worth it?

I will say yes it is worth it, for the memories and these chaotic days to look back on and (hopefully) laugh at and remember how lucky we were that we could have them whilst thousands of key workers remained working their butts off back home – those who should be praised and thanked over and over. However, as much as it was worth it for the tan and time away from England after months of darkness and lockdown, I would not do that trip again, and a part of me wishes we didn’t board that flight on Thursday. But that can’t be changed now and I am so grateful to have been able to travel abroad and start off the holiday tanning! Now we are back in school for the final week, saying goodbye and ending on a good note.

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