“with uncertainty, there is never a dull moment.”
– haresh sippy
a few weeks ago i went on a very strange journey. dizzy, hazy, and almost dreamlike. i was in a fog, it couldn’t possibly be real. i had already completed this journey dozens of times in the past, but this time it was disturbingly different. what a strange nightmare i was having, i hope i wake up soon…..
like everyone else, the nightmare i thought i was having was indeed reality and i was now living my life with a new set of rules thrust upon me by a global pandemic. travel plans, life goals, hopes and dreams were all abruptly put on hold and postponed. thousands upon thousands of questions were asked, hardly any were answered. every day brought forth new challenges, new fears, new emotions, and new uncertainty. what next? where to next? how do we even get to whatever or wherever is next?
for me, the dream i had was designed back in november with an approval of a work permit and a one-way flight booked for four months later to a city 3,500 miles away, where i would be starting a very new, exciting chapter of my life. my boyfriend would be flying over from norway to meet me in boston, we would enjoy my last few days in the city i had called home for 15 years, and then together we would pack up my suitcases, drive with my dog to new york, and all jump onboard a flight to oslo, cheers-ing as we crossed over the atlantic. fast forward 6 months and my reality is this: i am living at home with my parents for the first time in 21 years, constantly checking airline websites and border restrictions, trying repeatedly to get myself and my dog to norway with no luck. flights are cancelled, nothing is confirmed or consistent enough to book two seats for us to get there together without any hiccups before summer. i’m usually one to expect the unexpected but not even i could have foreseen the amount of mayhem this situation would bring about. i mean, good god.
anyway….. now that we have agreed we are all on this back to the future alternative of 1985, and that biff really messed things up for all of us, i can tell you the whole purpose of writing this picture filled blog. unlike the majority of the world right now, i have recently traveled to europe and back to the states (alone, no ruby yet!!!) because i have both US citizenship and also a norwegian residence permit. why would i ever want to travel right now, you may ask … well, i had to legally enter norway before may 27th or my permit would no longer be valid. it was approved back in november and with my plans dashed and the champagne no longer flowing aboard my march flight to the land of vikings and fjords, i was not able to move over when i intended. i tried to get the date extended and at the time the immigration department was not granting those extensions so i had to either let it expire and reapply, which was another nightmare that i was not prepared to consider, or get on a plane, hope it departed as scheduled and take my chances traveling into the unknown. guess you know what option i chose… “hva man gjør for kjærligheten” ❤
so here i was, up at the crack of dawn one sunny may morning driving 5 hours to chicago’s o’hare airport in a rental car to board an international flight in the middle of a pandemic….to validate the entry date for my residence permit. this should be fun, right? pretty sure the only saving grace of this crazy turn of events was the empty airport and even emptier plane.
all of my documents were checked multiple times and once i got through security and to the gate, i noticed how quiet the airport really was. no one was laughing, no one was excited for their upcoming summer trips abroad to meet friends and family. the hum and noise of the airport i once knew no longer existed. in fact, no one was really making any sound at all. everyone kept their distance from one another, masked, and in some cases fully engulfed in hazmat gear. wow, what a new world we are living in.
as boarding time drew near, the gate agents did another round of document checks (one guy was told his connecting flight to belgrade was cancelled and they were not sure when it would fly again so he was advised to return home and try again at a later date) and began to announce the boarding procedure. back to front, masks required at all times unless eating or drinking, and no food or drink service at all throughout the 8.5 hour flight. all drinks and food items would be waiting for us on our seats and we could request additional items as needed but none of the flight crew would be walking up and down the aisles offering service items. we were also instructed to manage our hand luggage by ourselves to avoid contact with others. i think the best part about these new corona rules and regulations was for the first time in airline history no one was gate crowding or boarding with the wrong zone. maybe this nightmare does have a silver lining after all.
on to the plane we go… the airline crew was super nice, happy (probably smiling too but i couldn’t tell as they were all wearing masks), and upbeat given the circumstances. i had already had 3 international flights cancelled prior to this one so i imagine they were just glad to be working and trying to live at least a small sliver of normalcy. work is better than no work, even if your commute sucks and your colleagues steal your lunch from the fridge from time to time.
as promised, a giant bag of food and snacks awaited me on my seat. soda, water, cookies, a sandwich, cheese and crackers, a banana, muffin, almonds and candy — i felt this was even more than they typically offer on a coach flight to europe so i was pretty happy. i also brought my own snacks so i was fully stocked. if you fly without sour patch kids are you even truly living?
another added bonus of international corona travel was a near empty plane. i am only 5’3” so i typically have plenty of space even if someone is next to me, but i was living like a king in coach. we were encouraged to spread out and anyone physically sitting next to someone else was questioned if they were traveling together (this had to be confirmed otherwise the person was moved to an empty location of the plane).
the flight was really smooth, surprisingly quick and the only thing i missed was a few glasses of red wine as i rewatched bridesmaids for the 100th time (no alcohol was served as there was no inflight service, as i mentioned 😫). we exited the plane and walked into one of europe’s busiest airports only to be greeted with dead silence. i saw one airport worker on a segway, two others cleaning and a small handful of people, most of them my flight-mates. other than that….. ghost town. they were still selling tulips though, corona is not going to stop the dutch from being dutch. if that happens then you know we are in deep trouble.
from amsterdam, the flight to oslo was full. it was almost strange being on a full flight after an international flight being at 30% capacity. i had to sit next to someone but we kept as much distance between us as possible and both were masked up. they gave us a small sandwich and water, which were both left on the seat. no inflight service on this short hopper flight either.
as i arrived in oslo i noticed once again how quiet the airport was. similar with the picture above in amsterdam, not many people were wearing masks. getting through gardermoen itself was pretty standard with the exception of having to go back through immigration again. typically once you arrive in a schengen country you don’t have to go through immigration for a second time, so that was new. they were closely checking documents and questioned everyone without a norweigan passport. luckily i had my handy dandy norweigan residence permit so i was able to enter without any issue. i walked through a usually bustling airport and a typically packed and aggressive duty free shop all alone. no one was waiting outside customs to greet their loved ones. no love actually moments here today. it was sad and a little scary to see. one small store was open after customs and i saw a total of 5 people from baggage claim to the train platform.
so… as i said, i went to oslo for paperwork and after my mandatory 10 day quarantine (no one checked on me and i did not have to report where i was staying or going — although they have my address in oslo in their system so maybe that is why i never had to fill anything out, or norwegians are just trustworthy people, who knows) i sorted my official government business out and then enjoyed a little norweigan summer in my new home.
after 3 weeks in what should have been my new home for nearly 3 months by then, i was on my way back to the states to spend the rest of the summer with my family trying to figure out the best way to get my dog over to norway in the easiest way possible (it’s not easy and nearly impossible, great odds, thanks corona).
just as i started my journey, i was doing the same. multiple document checks, masks and empty airports and planes.
once in amsterdam, it was the same story as 3 weeks ago. most everything was closed (except for the tulips again), no lines at immigration and hardly anyone in sight. felt once more like an apocalypse and i was one of few survivors.
at immigration they asked where i was traveling, why i was there and checked my passport. super quick and easy since i have a US passport. from my observations, everyone who did not have a US passport or US green card were questioned a lot more than i was. i had about an hour before my flight to detroit and while we waited at the gate they went around to everyone in these little mobile stations to scan passports, ask where you had been and to basically clear you once more to enter the US. luckily most passengers were in masks and far away from one another so it felt pretty safe, relaxed and kind of futuristic to be honest.
once cleared, we were again instructed to board back to front. i was in row 14 so i just waited and was one of the last to board. no gate crowding and everyone was respectful of social distance, which was nice to see once more, all things considered.
this fight was even less crowded, if you can even imagine. keep in mind i was one of the last on the plane so the pictures below show most everyone seated. i overheard one of the flight attendants say there was a total of 55 passengers onboard…277 is the max capacity on that type of plane so it was around 20% full. 20% FULL ON A FLIGHT FROM EUROPE TO THE US IN THE SUMMER! wow.
as we jetted off west, the delta crew announced they would be doing a shortened inflight service delivering dinner and beverages. i was kind of surprised given KLM did not do this when i flew over, but that meant wine so i was happy!
once we landed in detroit we were given a form to fill out and were told we would be subjected to a short interview and temperature check.
i have global entry so i was able to go through that express line but it didn’t really matter in the end since we were all funneled to the same area for questioning. they took my temperature, took my form, checked my documents and i was interviewed twice. everyone was polite, respectful and it went quickly.
after i was cleared and reminded once again to quarantine for 14 days when i got home, i scoured another near empty airport to find a snack. i had one more flight to go and a very long drive back to iowa from chicago (good ole corona, no flights after 545pm from chicago to des moines anymore and when you land at 830pm that’s quite inconvenient). detroit was by far the “busiest” airport i had visited, i wasn’t expecting that. eventually i found a market open by my gate that offered a large selection of options. i got a freshly made salad, sat down far away from others and decided the detroit airport was actually reallllly nice. i haven’t been in years and i was impressed. sad 99% of it was closed.
after 2 hours it was finally time for my last flight of the day.. the flight felt more full than most of the previous ones (AMS-OSL excluded) but it was still pretty empty. masks were mandatory and everyone i saw had them on and kept them on throughout the flight. the flight was a total of 45 minutes and by the time we landed i was beyond ready to get into a car and get home. what a day. what an experience.
my experience flying internationally during the corona pandemic was something i will never forget. i spent an entire year not too long ago criss-crossing the atlantic, traveling, and crossing open borders without even thinking twice how that would or could ever change. i have a boyfriend an ocean away that i used to see every 5 weeks at a minimum. when we saw each other in may we had not seen each other for over 3 months. getting on a plane and having that freedom was something that was a part of my regular life. being told you are not allowed to see your family or your friends and sheltering, fearing, and living in constant uncertainty takes a toll on everyone. it has on me. often times i am sad, lonely, and scared. i struggle trying to get through the chaos this pandemic has caused not knowing what will happen tomorrow…. but i do know there will be a tomorrow and it is up to me to keep moving forward. while my plans did not work out the way i thought they would back in march, it doesn’t mean i give up and blame the world. it means i regroup and enjoy the time i have here with my family because whether by plane or by viking ship, an ocean is only an ocean and it will always be navigable, people have done so for centuries. through the waves, wind and high seas and through the dark there is always light, and it’s slowly becoming stronger. i can feel it. can you?