August 20th, 3:52am
I popped out of bed as soon as my alarm blared it’s first note. Me waking up is kind of like a pop tart straight out of the toaster; I just spring right on up full force ahead. Why set an alarm with the intentions of hitting snooze when you can just get the extra 10 minutes of sleep? I took a quick shower and made hotel room coffee that was no better than burnt water while scarfing down lunch meat and eagerly checking my flight status.
Today was the day, I was headed to Australia.
Jeremy had to leave May 15th, and as Covid was getting worse and worse in the US, Australia was looking better and better. However, there was one tiny issue; the boarders were (and still are) completely closed both in and out. After a grueling application process of digging through emails, messages, and credit card statements to prove my relationship was real (huge thanks to Sally!), I pressed send and hoped for the best.
Shockingly enough it was approved that week, and within 24 hours I had a timeline for my last day of work, when I would be moving out, a train ticket home, and a plane ticket Down Under. Talk about a whirlwind! However, just because I had a plane ticket didn’t mean it would go well. Only 350 people are allowed into Sydney a day which each incoming flight being capped at 50 people, and there was a high possibility of getting bumped off the flight.
Yet, there I was in my hotel room just hours away from jetting off and no devasting “You’re flight has been canceled” emails… yet.
The theme of coronavirus is “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.” Or perhaps maybe it should even be “if it can’t go wrong, it will still go wrong.”
Let me backtrack four days.
I was at Penn Station for my train ride down to Virginia. Online I saw a notice saying “check your bags 45 minutes prior to boarding.” So I figured that was what I was supposed to do. I walked up to the counter, flashed my ticket to the short-tempered man who was peeved I interrupted the game on his phone, and he tagged my bags and sent me on my way.
After an easy breezy 6 hour train ride, I got off in Charlottesville and asked one of the workers where the checked bags were, ready to scoop them up to see my parents.
“Ma’am, this train has no checked bags.”
I frantically showed him my bag receipts fighting back the tears and he gave a shrugged, “I guess they’ll be on the next train.”
I went into the station and the woman said the next train coming in had a bag check, and that they would likely be on there. I told her I was coming from New York, to which she responded, “well that explains it.”
Isn’t New York known for being fast paced and on the ball? Apparently not. As to why the man in New York let me check my bags onto a train coming in 1 hr 45 minutes later still has me flabbergasted.
After an impromptu trip to Whole Foods followed by tacos and a margarita, 8:45 pm hit. I eagerly awaited for the incoming train, and seeing my bags being shuttled off was the best feeling in the world.
Something as simple as checking bags should have been fool proof, yet, what can’t go wrong will still go wrong.
Fast forward to 5:00am, August 20th
I wheeled all my belongings in two big suitcases, a carry on, and a backpack up to the United Airlines ticket counter. A pit of doom rested nicely in my stomach with anticipation of the worst.
In typical 2020 fashion, drama ensued.
I presented my travel exemption and passport, and sure enough the system flashed up an error alert. The pit in my stomach made its way up to my eyes and my heart rate spiked up to 110 bpm as I felt an anxiety attack coming on. I never used to be emotional or anxious, but what can’t go wrong will go wrong, and I have developed trust issues with life.
My deep breathing exercises were inhibited by my mask as my glasses kept fogging up, but I managed to keep it together as the woman waited on the phone trying to figure it out. 30 minutes later she printed up my boarding passes, explaining that my paper work says “Katherine Askegaard”, not “Katherine Marie Askegaard.”
Are you kidding me?
I flew through security and ran towards the illuminated Starbucks sign in the distance to put the approaching caffeine headache at bay.
Flight One: IAD to SFO
I walked onto a mostly empty plane, but for some reason my seat was in a dense pod of 6 completely full rows.
Not the best social distancing United…
A man in the pod asked the flight attendant, “So…. Is this considered social distancing?”
She explained we could spread out once the doors closed, which wasn’t a satisfactory answer for most. The man then said, “who has a twitter? Let’s post about it!!!” Perhaps I should have cared, but it didn’t seem worth the energy.
10 minutes later we were allowed to move into our own row, and I happily took a window seat and got comfy despite my unrelenting brain. What would happen when I made it to San Francisco? Would I be allowed to fly into Sydney? Was there a chance they’d make me turn around?
Remember, everything goes wrong…..
I fought to shut my mind off with a bit of writing and music, and somehow the 5 hour flight flew by. Half way through the stewards came around with a little snack pack of sorts that included a water bottle, Speculoos cookies, and chips. Not the most filling nor the most tasty, but I guess it’s the thought that counts?
9:50am PST, SFO Airport
I dashed through the San Francisco airport at an unnecessarily fast pace. Boarding wouldn’t begin until 10:25am, but urgency seemed like the only option.
I sat down at my gate with a racing heart and sweaty palms, both induced by my unsettled nerves and 10 minute power walk.
“Katherine Askegaard, please come to the counter.”
I took a deep breath and gave myself a pep talk. “You’re calm, cool, and collected! You’ve got this, don’t panic, it’ll all be just fine!”
The woman asked me if I had an Australian passport, and I handed over my travel exemption and Visa with confidence. I’m unsure as to whether I came across as put together and even-keeled or erratic and twitchy, but after reading the paper and busily types things on the computer, she wrote “ok” on my boarding pass.
My nerves didn’t settle until I stepped onto the plane. In that moment I let out a sigh of relief, I was going to make it.
Flight Two: SFO to SYD
The plane was shockingly empty with 30 passengers, tops. I had a row all to myself with no one in front, behind, or to the sides. Instead of a window shade there was some fancy button that adjusts the light that comes in, which I thought was pretty cool.
Right on time the plane took off, and I kicked my feet up to settle in for the 15-hour journey ahead.
With so few people, a food trolley wasn’t even needed. The woman offered me chicken or vegetarian, and I was immediately handed my tray after requesting the chicken. The entree was a cheesy chicken alfredo of sorts over rice. It wasn’t half bad, but that might just be because melted cheese on anything will taste good. There was a side faro salad as well as a roll along with a mini bag of pretzels and M&Ms. It didn’t hold a candle to the food on Emirates from my flight to Aussie last January (by far the best airplane food I’ve ever had) or the meal on ANA to Japan last October, but it was equally as bad as the food on my United Flight last November from Hong Kong to Virginia.
I watched Parasite and Uncut Gems, both of which I’d highly recommend, before taking a snooze. I woke up to the sound of voices and was handed a sandwich in a bag with another pack of mini M&Ms. The “sandwich” was a bland roll with one drizzle of mustard, half a slice of cheddar cheese, and half a slice of turkey. I wasn’t impressed.
It’s much easier to sleep while laying down across three seats compared to uncomfortably leaning against a window, so I snoozed for another 4 hours or so before putting on The BlackKkKansman. I first saw this movie in theaters on one of my weekly 10am solo $5 Tuesday outings two years ago, and this second watch hit even harder given the recent racial injustices. Seeing the final clips of the violence in Charlottesville opened up the waterworks. I still can’t comprehend how skin color can be a basis of so much hate and violence, but let’s save that conversation for another time.
The final meal/snack was passed out. It consisted of a hot sandwich with egg whites and cheese, and it was actually delicious compared to the other meals. The warm buttery bread filled with a sharp white cheese and plenty of scrambled egg whites hit the spot and silenced my growling tummy.
7:00 pm: Sydney Airport to Quarantine
The plane landed and we were greeted with an announcement outlining the journey ahead. We would be going through a health screening, followed by immigration and onto baggage claim before being shuttled off to quarantine.
Unfortunately, we landed minutes after an incoming flight from Singapore, so we tiredly waited in a socially distant line for an hour before moving on to the next phase to avoid potential cross contamination. After a temperature check, each party chatted with a nurse about the symptoms of Covid-19 to look out for and the process ahead.
The line was stopped once more while we waited for Singapore passengers to hurry up. I was in a drowsy state of delerium and stared at the wall, willing time to hurry up.
Everyone sighed in relief as things got moving once more. We handed in our declaration cards and walked towards what I was dreading most… immigration.
Last time I came into Australia, I was pulled aside for questioning for 20 minutes and grilled with questions about Jeremy. I forgot his birthday and didn’t know his address (girlfriend of the year award), so this time I repeated the info in my head, expecting the worst.
I walked up to a nice blonde woman who looked at my passport, checked for my name on the list, and then just let me through.
Whoa!!! I wasn’t expecting it to be so easy!
My bags showed up, I made it through the luggage screening with no issues, and I took my seat on the bus, breathing a massive sigh of relief. After waiting yet another hour, the bus took off towards the mystery hotel.
There was no scenery given the fact it was 9:30pm and it seemed like the entire ride took place in tunnels, but as I gazed out, it hit me,
I was finally in Australia!
After arriving at the hotel, a military guy came on to read off an official statement from the government before we were ushered off two by two to get our bags and check in.
I was escorted up to room 918, and after a 5 hour flight, 15 hour flight, and 3 hours in the Sydney airport, I had finally made it. Despite my bleak expectations and worried headspace, the journey went exceptionally well. I guess things can sometimes go right after all.
How will the next 14 day in a room go? Stay tuned…