A Masked Flight II

Singapore to London

Changi Airport Singapore

Landing in Singapore, we’re asked to remain seated. We are to disembark in groups, so there’s not going to be the usual rush to retrieve hand luggage and stand in the isles packed like sardines waiting for the doors to open. I’d read in the Singapore Airlines email that groups to connecting flights would be given coloured wrist bands and escorted to the appropriate gate. First off are all those catching a flight to Manilla (that’s one of the red zone countries). I don’t see anyone getting off down in economy. Then, to my surprise, the rest of us can disembark. A woman at the end of the walkway just indicates London Heathrow to the right. There are no wrist bands or escorts, just an eighteen-minute walk to gate A15. Changi Airport is not quite as deserted as Auckland. There are staff in PPE doing various tasks or standing around and everyone is wearing a mask. Gate A15 is not open yet so I get chatting with a fellow Kiwi who is travelling to see his seventy-one-year-old partner – the love of his life. She has Parkinson’s and cancer and he wants to take her back to Aotearoa but he’s not sure if New Zealand Immigration will allow that.

Over Indonesia

It’s time for a new mask – I’ve worn this one for over ten hours and a fresh one feels better. Wearing a mask for the first time, on this journey would be hard and once again I reflect on the practice gained on the Waiheke Ferry – only forty minutes though. However, I’ve not felt the least discomfort nor difficulty breathing

We are boarding in groups again, but first, a large contingent who have been sitting in a separate area are being escorted onto the plane by staff wearing PPE. The passengers are all wearing green wrist band. I wonder where they have come from and if they are sitting in a separate part of the plane. This AB 350 is fuller that the last flight but there is still only one person to every three seats. We have fourteen hours ahead of us.

Eat (the food is tasteless), sleep, read (a bit of James Baldwin), play games, attempt to watch a movie. The Avengers is three hours long – I lose interest after fifty-nine minutes as the plot has not even got going. Sleep.

We arrive early due to a tail wind, at 3.16pm. There is no managed disembarkation and no sign of the red country passengers with green bands. Perhaps the have already gone or are waiting somewhere to follow us. There is hardly anyone about so I follow the signs to the electronic passport recognition gates. These include other passports like Aotearoa NZ, Australia and Canada etc, but not Europe. There’s a small queue and three officials checking our documentation (The locator form and the evidence of a negative Covid19 test) before moving on to the electronic biometric gates. I’m recognised, in spite of my relatively recent beard and move onto the baggage claim hall, passing long lines of red zone people. As this list is mostly from Africa, Indian subcontinent and South America the people queuing are various shades of brown. They are returning because they are British or have residency. In the Baggage Hall I approach a monitor to find out which carousel will deliver my bag. A worker shoes me away as I’m coming too close to the red zone people being escorted by staff in PPE.

Do not sit on seat

It’s carousel number three and my bag is waiting. This has got to be that fastest exit at Heathrow ever. Geraldine is on her way, so I decide to relax with a coffee and something to eat at Café Nero. It’s take-away only – the seating area is blocked off and nearby seats are occupied by people or signs saying Do Not Sit Here. It’s a familiar sight from New Zealand’s lockdown, it’s just a shock to realise that Britain is still in the equivalent of our level three. The coffee and snack turn out to be a mistake as I have to manoeuvre my two bags whilst clutching hot coffee and other comestibles.  I’ve texted Geraldine to say I’ll make my way up to the drop off place at the top, having looked for a pick-up place on the ground floor, where red zone people are being loaded into coaches destined for quarantine hotels. Geraldine turns out to be at Nero’s so I retrace my steps and we greet with an elbow touch – no hugging and kissing yet. By this time, Heathrow has got busier and traffic into town is fairly busy. The Sat Nav wants to send us around the M25 which will take longer, so we confuse it by going through town. Geraldine is worried that we’ll get delayed by the ‘Kill the Bill’ protest, which our daughter is attending – good for her – but it’s all over by the time we drive along the embankment, through the City and Whitechapel to Stepney Green. The Family have brought me groceries and it’s just a matter of finding which box the kettle in packed in to make a cup of tea.


A Masked Flight I

Auckland to Singapore

Economy cabin

A calming, jazzy, behind-the-beat piano version of ‘Happy Days are Here Again’ is playing over the P.A. welcoming me as I settle into my economy seat on an Air Bus 350 flight SQ 282 to Singapore. After all the anxiety of that last few weeks I’m finally on my way. There is only one passenger every three seats and many of the rows are empty. There can’t be more than fifty passengers on this gigantic plane.

Auckland International terminal was deserted when I arrived at eight pm – no sign of any check-in desks opened. Anticipating long hours of sitting, I walked along the check-in zones, trundling my bags, sometimes behind, sometimes in front. I stopped to chat to a couple of cheerful Polynesian women at the help desk. They helped me to log on to the Airport Wifi. Check in wouldn’t be until around 9pm, so why didn’t I go upstairs to the Pre-departure zone and have a McDonalds? I smiled politely and said that I wasn’t too keen on McDonalds. I’d already checked my luggage weight and was pleased that my checked in case was only 17Kg but my carry on 2Kg over the 7Kg Limit. Moving my ‘Maori Made Easy’ book and dictionary plus some charger cables sort of did it. I’d got my laptop in a mini rucksack on my back. It will go into the carry-on after check-in.

The first flight of the day

I’ve come equipped with two documents, essential to get on the plane and into the UK; Proof of a negative Covid 19 test and something called a ‘Locator Form’. The Test had to be done within 72 hours of leaving Aotearoa New Zealand on Saturday morning at 0.15hrs. The test was booked for Wednesday with results expected on Friday, 48 hours later. I sold my car on Tuesday and decided to ride my Brompton bike to the GP surgery. I paid $200 and was told to wait around the back in the car park. The test was done through the car window. One of my worries was that the results would not be back in time but eventually a nurse emerged in full PPE. She was somewhat surprised to see me sitting next to my fold-up bike. I was done second, after a woman who was clearly not well. She was told to go home and self- isolate until she received a text. The nurse handed me a tissue and told me to blow my nose. I imagined this might be an additional way to collect the sample, but no I got the swab up the nose and I got to keep the tissue. It was quite unpleasant, going right up my sinuses and seemed to go on forever. I now sympathise with a friend working in Managed Isolation who has this done once a week.

I was very surprised to get a text and an email from the Auckland district Health Board the next morning to say I’m negative. Neither communication seems to have much detail as required by HM Government, UK, so I rang the surgery. They hadn’t been notified but advise me to come in on Friday and get a print-out.

Friday dawns and I have to fill out the Locator Form – online. Heavens knows what people in their Eighties and Nineties who don’t do computers would manage. Probably not travel. I’ve hopefully assembled all the information for the form in advance. I’ve purchased two Covid 19 tests for day two and day eight of my ten-day self-isolation. The list of companies who have seized an opportunity to benefit from the pandemic is endless and prices vary. I paid around £170. In return I got a code to enter into my locator form. An added worry was would the self-administered tests fit through the letterbox of my London house which was empty at the time. there was no way to find out. I tracked the delivery and suggested to the couriers that a family address in North London might be better as someone would be there. It wasn’t delivered to N11 and the couriers wouldn’t tell me where they’d delivered it as only the suppliers could divulge this information. I decided to wait until my son went to my house to un-pack my stuff from the store room. I need not have worried; the tests were there waiting. For someone who likes to be in-control, managing others from a distance can be stressful.

I needed flight details, the time of arrival and my seat number. Suddenly in the midst of filling out the form, there’s the possibility of purchasing a Test and Release pack, which I had planned to do when I got home. This test is done on day 5 and if negative I can get out of jail for £110. Whoopee. One anticipated problem is the lack of wifi in London as I can’t get anything installed until the 10 days are up. Buying the ‘Get out of jail’ test involves a code sent to my UK mobile number. The Vodaphone reception is so bad on Waiheke Island that I have to go upstairs and find a spot where one or two bars show and wait for the text. Eventually it’s all done and printed out and saved in my drop-box. I can relax until the Argentinian lads come to pack up everything, except the bike, in the store-room which they do in a record time of one hour fifty minutes.

After some lunch and some final cleaning, I cycle into the surgery to collect my printed covid test results, which, as I suspected, contain more information. I get back home hot, sweaty and soaking wet from cycling back up hill.

Showered and dressed, I wait for my friend Michael to collect me. The last few things have gone into the store-room. This included a large pile of washing which will wait for two years do be done. The Bike, which had been drying out in the late afternoon sunshine, a bag of toiletries and the cleaning gear take up the last few cubic metres. I am pleased with the shining stainless steel bench surfaces, the place looks like a show home, all ready for the tenants who will move in on Monday.

Auckland Airport Departure lounge

At check in all my documentation is declared to be in order, a huge relief, as I’m now allowed to get on the plane and I didn’t have a plan B for that. I’m one of the first to check-in and upstairs, the pre-departure lounge is deserted. Not a soul and McDonalds looks very closed. At security, one of my biggest hassles when travelling, I‘m the only one there. I can’t believe my eyes. No Queue. Immigration is relaxed but the automated gate doesn’t recognise my Kiwi passport – because I’m travelling on my UK passport. The nice man at the desk processes both for me. I travel though the deserted duty-free area into the departure lounge in the hope of an open bar where I can get a beer. Sadly, I can only get juice, nuts and crisps from one of those shops that sells everything and nothing.

Industrial Henry

A dismal automated floor polisher is going around and around, with a permanent smile on it’s face as it whirrs and clanks, seeming react when approached by stopping. Never have I seen an airport so deserted. There are half a dozen people sitting in the semi-dark. At the boarding gate, more people arrive. It takes less than three minutes to get everyone through the gates. No waiting around to be the first in your group so that important overhead locker space above my seat can be grabbed for carry-ons. I’d forgotten how much leg room there is in AB 350s. We are all wearing masks and will remain masked for the flight. I’m grateful for the practice of mask wearing on the Waiheke Island Ferry, Auckland busses and trains. The Chinese man over the isle is also wearing large clear plastic goggles – taking the whole thing seriously. With three seats to myself, I sleep most of the way, plugged into Mozart’s violin concertos.