Travel in the time of the coronavirus pandemic: Stranded, then safely back homeTue, Oct 27, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has been storming the world unexpectedly, arriving with great turbulence and occasioning many massive, devastating and bewildering consequences. Aside from affecting physical health, it has been disrupting mental health, jobs, and the ability to travel. As a result of the pandemic, I found myself unable to return home for four months, together with my mother.
My mother and I travelled to India at the beginning of the year, right before COVID’s tremendously rapid escalation. We had planned a short visit, but little did we know at the time that we would end up being stranded in a rural village in the Keralan jungle for months! The first time we learned that we had to stay put during the mandatory national quarantine, we accepted that we would have to postpone our return for a couple weeks. The second time was also a shock, and we counted the days until we could fly home. After the third and fourth times of extended lockdown, we developed a new attitude and surrendered to the fact that we had no idea when we would be able to leave India. We did our best to remain positive, and were very grateful for our good health and relative safety.
A general pattern developed itself – we would search for tickets, finally be able to purchase them, and then, the airline would cancel. Over the four months, we ended up having more than 20 cancelled international and domestic flights combined. Everyday we sat for hours on hold, waiting to get through to try to purchase tickets on the phone since the websites were overloaded and kept crashing. The tentative Wifi in the South Indian village we were staying in didn’t help, as it went out with every big storm, and it happened to be an early onset of rainy season.
My professors were enormously understanding and supportive. I managed to do all my classes online through the Waseda Moodle system using only my cell phone. The days went on, folding into each other like thick batter. There was a sweetness in the nostalgia of pining to go home; a wishfulness, a wistfulness. Awaiting. The Indian Minister of Civil Aviation predicted there might be international flights going as soon as early autumn. Since it was not even summer yet, it felt like an immeasurably long time to be away from home. Some hours felt dark and bleak. Aside from searching for flights and me completing school assignments, my mother and I passed the days with watching the birds in the jungle, talking about what we would eat when we got home, taking late afternoon walks – when it was cool enough to go outside and early enough that the snakes weren’t lurking underfoot, and waiting, waiting, waiting…
And then, finally, finally, finally! We miraculously managed to get the last tickets on two of Air India’s repatriation flights, my mother to the USA and myself to Japan. The program was part of the world’s biggest of rescue flights at the time. We got two pairs each of hand-sewn cotton masks, and checked the internet for others’ experiences on flying during lockdown.
The airlines outlined the new rules for travel, starting with temperature-taking at the entrance to the airport and luggage disinfection. Masks were required, as well as plastic face shields. These were handed out at the gate before boarding, along with rubber gloves and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. Passengers sitting in the middle seats on the airplane were assigned protective robes that they were required to wear. Other passengers came wearing their own protective gear, some even wearing foot coverings.
Despite our apprehensions, both domestic and international flights went extremely smoothly. We had both flown countless times before, but being able to finally leave a place where we had been unable to for a few months, made the journey one-of-a-kind. Despite very startling and tumultuous circumstances, we realized that our own concerns were relatively minor in light of the global perspective of the coronavirus pandemic. We were happy to ultimately be able to return home safely.
*This article was written and contributed by the following student.
Linda Teresa Klausner
Graduate School of International Culture and Communication Studies