The past few years, I have been living in East Africa; most recently I have been staying in Kenya. Mid-March, I decided to leave Nairobi for the coast, and spend some time with my friend Danny in Diani Beach on the Indian Ocean. Danny is a Belgium citizen who runs a small guesthouse on the coast. The Corona virus had just begun its journey through Kenya at that time; I decided to hire a car and driver rather than fly, so I could avoid the crowds of people in the airports. It was a very pleasant uneventful 10-hour drive through the beautiful Kenyan countryside.
A few days after I settled in at Danny’s place, “the shit hit the fan”, as they say. The Corona virus claimed its first victim on March 26th and its been downhill ever since that fateful day. Moving about in Kenya was not possible anymore, so I took great pleasure in the fact that I was at the coast and not still in Nairobi. Between the lockdowns and the curfew, my situation at Danny’s was as ideal as it could be.
There was only one issue to resolve, and that was arranging transport back to Canada, where I would feel a lot safer in terms of medical facilities. Soon after the airports in Kenya stopped operating, initially for international flights and then, a few days later, for domestic travel. I realized I was somewhat stuck in Danny’s place in Kwale County, Kenya.
I have dual citizenship, so I registered with both Canada and Britain on their respective websites for a repatriation flight to either the UK or Canada. Both responded by telling me that from time to time there may be a special flight to get people back to their homelands and they will let me know. I received a half a dozen options over the next few weeks…. the costs ranged from $4,000 to $5,000 dollars, door to door from Kwale County, Kenya to Toronto, Canada.
Finally, in mid-May, I was contacted by the British Embassy in Nairobi; the Dutch government had organized a special charter to get their citizens home and there were a few extra seats for other foreigners looking for a ride. The price was 900 Euros, a fraction of the preceding options; only double the regular price. All in from Kenya to Canada, $2,000. As things were beginning to escalate in Kenya with regards to the Corona virus, I thought I would take this flight; it was scheduled to leave Thursday, May 28th. The flight was from Mombasa to Amsterdam; I would need to get to Mombasa through the lockdown and get an on-going flight from Amsterdam to Toronto.
I was told that I would receive confirmation of having a seat by the 26th, 2 days before the flight. By the 26th, I had not heard, so I contacted the Netherlands Embassy. They told me I had to contact the British Embassy as that is who is arranging my seat. I called the British Embassy and they told me to contact the Netherlands Embassy. Finally, the British Embassy told me to send them an email requesting my confirmation. I started getting worried that I would never get on this flight because of all the bureaucracy. I then contacted the Canadian Embassy to enlist their help in getting a confirmation. Within an hour, the Canadians sent me an email confirming that they have been in touch with the Netherlands Embassy, who will send me an email soon with the details.
I called the British people again regarding the letter they were to provide me with to get permission to travel from Kwale County to Mombasa Airport; there were a number of police roadblocks on that road to stop people from traveling between counties. The letter explained why I was traveling, the data on the vehicle and driver I was coming with. The British Embassy said they would be sending me that letter the next day, the day before the flight. I hate these last-minute things; it tends to make me anxious. I suggested that they contact the Dutch embassy as I had not received their email and told them that sometimes people get my email address wrong…. It is .ca not .com. They said they would check with them and then called me that I was correct, they had sent me an email with the details, but it was to the wrong address.
Later that day (Tuesday), I received my confirmation of the flight from the Dutch Embassy. On the Wednesday, I contacted the British Embassy again, as I had not received the letter I needed to show the police why I was traveling across the county borders. They assured me it would come, but they were also waiting…. the letter was to be sent by the Kenyan Ministry of Health, and it had not arrived yet. Finally, in the afternoon, the permission letter arrived and now I had everything I needed. Danny’s office manager tried to print out the documents, but the ink was finished in the printer; he told me he would try to find a cartridge later and do the printing in the morning.
Thursday, May 28th arrived, George showed up with the printer cartridge, and at 10 in the morning I left Danny’s place for the 5 pm flight; I needed to be at the airport 3 hours in advance, and with all the police blocks and taking the ferry from the South Shore to Mombasa Island, we decided to leave 4 hours for the normally 2 hour trip. While we were on the Ferry, George, told me the car was not working and we needed to get another car; we drove to a garage in Mombasa town and George arranged another vehicle. Africa. Miraculously, I made it to the airport by 2 pm.
I joined the line to go through security. Here everyone was told to keep 1.5 meters between each other. At the counter, I reminded the TUI Airline staff, that my luggage was going to Toronto. She told me that she was not able to do that, and I had to pick up my luggage in Amsterdam, and then check in for my onward flights to Frankfurt and Toronto. I told her that it was made clear to me several times that I was not allowed to leave the Transit lounge in Amsterdam. After a few minutes, they told me I would not be able to go on the flight. A bit of commotion ensued and a representative from the Dutch Embassy, Martin, came over and suggested he would call the Immigration people in Amsterdam and see what was possible. After a good 30 minutes, he came back and told me he arranged for me to exit the Transit section and retrieve my luggage. I told him I was excited, as I had an 8 hour wait in Amsterdam for my next flight, and that exiting the transit lounge would allow me to go to a hotel. He then escorted me back to the check in counter; the person with TUI Airlines said she figured out how to arrange my luggage to go on to Toronto, without my having to pick them up in Amsterdam. In fact, all she had figured out was how to print the tag for my luggage that routed it from Mombasa to Toronto via Amsterdam and Frankfurt.
I got my boarding pass for the flight and went to the departure lounge, maintaining 1.5 meters distance between others. I then boarded the plane, only to find out that every seat was to be occupied, and the issue of being too close to one’s neighbour was thrown to the wind. I asked the flight attendant that was near my seat and she told me that, the focus was getting as many people home as possible and everyone on this flight had been tested for Covid 19 and given a green light. I told her that she had been told untrue stories by her management. I personally was never tested, not even a temperature check. The focus unquestionably was to fill as many seats as possible to maximize the income from this flight. It was scary. On top of which, half the people on the plane, not only did not address social distancing, but they were not even wearing a mask. An announcement was made regarding food….because of the Corona virus, there would not be any food; they distributed a bag to each passenger with a chocolate bar, a small bottle of water and bag of chips.
Upon arriving in Amsterdam, we were told that we would exit the plane by rows…. A few at a time, so that we can assume 1.5 meters distance through the terminal. It was absurd, after spending 8 hours on the plane loaded like sardines in a tin. I was nervous about my luggage; my confidence in this airline taking care of things was shattered by the lack of interest in maximizing the safety of their passengers. So, I decided to leave the Transit Section and check if my bags were sent on to Toronto. Immediately, I arrived at the appropriate carousel, I saw my luggage going around in circles. I took my luggage and put everything on a pushcart and headed out of the airport to find a hotel room to sleep; I had an 8 hour layover in Amsterdam. I checked into the Sheraton Hotel, had a shower, a few hours sleep and a nice room service breakfast. The restaurant was closed, so only room service was available.
I then proceeded back to the terminal to board my flight to Frankfurt, assuming 1.5 meters in the terminal. Interesting was the fact that there were very few people wearing masks, including people that were working at the airport. I boarded my Lufthansa flight; they spaced the passengers so that no one sat right next to one another. Upon exiting in Frankfurt, the 1.5-meter distancing was maintained throughout. I headed to the Air Canada gate to board my flight to Toronto. Air Canada was serious about the distancing; in fact when I boarded the plane, I was given a Corona virus kit, which contained a pair of gloves, a mask, a bottle of sanitizer, a couple of alcohol wipes and a bottle of water. The flight was half empty, I had 3 seats to myself, which not only give me some distancing from other passengers, but an opportunity to lie down and get a few hours sleep. The regular meals that these airlines provide was eliminated, and a wrap was provided twice, once upon arrival on the plane and again a couple of hours before we landed.
Arriving in Toronto was consistent with the distancing; we off-loaded the plane is small groups, maintaining the 1.5-meter distance between passengers. I was positively impressed with the effort Air Canada put into reducing the impact of the Corona virus on their flight and at the airport. I am now in Toronto; this 14-day self-quarantine is how my adventure has ended; probably a good thing, as it would be a miracle if I did not get infected somewhere along the way."
By David, Canadian