Is the World Really Ready to Open Up?

“COVID-19 highlights how truly interdependent we all are. How reliant we are on cooperation, communication, and compassion to successfully combat the virus. It highlights how important it is that we work together for a sustainable recovery that delivers for our economies and our planet.” Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand

After completing our two month trip through Greece, I really felt the world was ready to open up again. We made travel connections seamlessly, complied with all of the Covid mandates, and were fully vaccinated. With only a few hiccups, all of our connections with trains, ferries, planes, and taxis were smooth and enjoyable.

Not so for our planned trip to Iceland.

My two college friends and Ron and I were looking forward to our 10 day trip to Iceland to see the Northern Lights. The first sign that maybe this Aurora Borealis bucket list item was not to be, was when Virgin Atlantic canceled our trip in July. “No problem,”I told myself. They notified me in plenty of time, refunded our tickets, and I rebooked flights on Icelandair, who partnered with Jetblue.

Then, Jetblue canceled our connecting flights to Iceland and I rebooked a second time. This flight was cheaper because I booked Iceland as a layover and we would end up in Sweden. We were excited because it would be our first time in Sweden.

Things began to spiral out of control when Sweden closed its borders to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens. So I rebooked again, although it was disappointing that we wouldn’t get to visit Sweden because of Covid restrictions.

A week before we left, I checked the seat assignments on Icelandair…only to discover that the Jetblue connecting flight from Iceland had been canceled…and no one informed me. I scrambled to book yet another flight. I kept telling myself, “You are a seasoned traveler. You’ve got this!”

Meanwhile, six days before we left, Jean was in an accident and totaled her car and she canceled her flight to recuperate. While helping Jean, I wrote to Icelandair everyday asking for a refund for the Jetblue leg of our trip. I was a little frustrated, but we still planned on going.

On Sunday, the day before our flight, Chris called. ”I have bad news. Very bad news,” she said. “All of my flights are canceled.”

I thought about what Jacinda Arden, Prime Minister of New Zealand, said about our reliance on cooperation, communication, and compassion to successfully combat the virus. I expected cooperation and communication from the many cancelations we had already experienced. Surely, Jetblue and Icelandair communicated frequently. That comforted me into believing that all was well and just Ron and I could continue with our plans to go to Iceland.

As we waited for our first flight to Atlanta from our tiny regional airport, a large man with a Trump mask wrapped around his neck stood behind us at check-in. The airport staff reminded him several times to wear his mask. Like a third grader who thought he could pass notes unseen, he looked around to see if anyone was watching, and if no one was in his peripheral vision, he removed his mask. Another couple nearby pretended to sip on soda through straws, and puffed up like cocks waiting for battle at the thought of someone reminding them to wear their masks.

We arrived in Atlanta and spent the day walking around the airport and waiting for our late afternoon flight to JFK on Jetblue. The departure board said our plane was delayed by an hour. We anxiously counted the number of hours needed to catch our 8:30pm flight to Iceland. We’ll make it in time. No worries. We still had an hour in JFK to catch our flight.

Things began to get real, when after boarding, the pilot said we were delayed because he had to fill out more paperwork and have it approved. Another 45 minutes passed, and now it appeared grim.

Our only hope was that Jetblue would notify Icelandair of at least 7 passengers’ late arrivals and they would hold the plane for us. The flight attendants couldn’t tell us what gate the Icelandair flight left from, nor could they help us in calling Icelandair and asking them to hold the plane for us. They told us it was a short distance from terminal 5, where we arrived, to terminal 7 where we departed. They told us not to worry, that we would be there on time. They didn’t know!

When the Jetblue plane landed at JFK it was 8:15 pm. We were seated near the back of the plane and our only hope was to try to run to the front of the plane before everyone left their seats. We made it to the middle of the plane, where a woman harassed me and screamed nasty things at me for blocking her path to get her luggage from the overhead bin. Luckily, she was seated in the middle as she snarled and lashed out at me. I had no place to go. I was trapped in front of a crazed woman. I tried to explain that we would miss our connecting flight if we couldn’t get to the front of the plane and we only had 5 minutes to get there. She continued howling at me and I finally shouted, “Shut up, just shut up! ” She rose with her hackles up and teeth bared. ”Fuck you, ” she shouted as her husband tried to restrain her. I was horrified! I’ve never been in a fist fight before! Ron tried to keep everyone calm.

I discovered much later, after looking at my pedometer, that terminal 5 and terminal 7 were separated by a skytrain and almost one mile of walking. I ran behind a much younger woman who appeared to have experience in running marathons. I was proud of the fact that I could keep up with her, although it did worry me that I might have a heart attack on the way. I lost her when Ron and I took the skytrain and she didn’t.

At 8:30 pm, we caught up with another couple we met on the plane who were also going to Iceland. The check-in counter of Icelandair was empty and the plane had left. We all shook our heads in disbelief. We were only a few minutes late. Why was there no communication between Jetblue and Icelandair? Why couldn’t they hold the plane for 7 people whose plane was delayed? What do we do now? Where was our luggage? This was turning into one big clusterfuck!

The airline reservation agent at the Iberian Airlines desk told us to demand a night at a hotel from Jetblue. ”Don’t let them deny you your rights to a hotel room,” said the agent. He must have seen this one too many times. I told him not to worry that I could be a bitch if I had to be. He laughed, and called Icelandair and told us to go to the office to see if they had our luggage.

At Icelandair, we met up with another couple who had missed their flight and a young medical geneticist who was on his way to Munich, Germany via Iceland. We were all tired, hungry, and frustrated with the lack of communication and lack of cooperation. The couple said they really would miss seeing the Northern Lights if they couldn’t go, and I said (trying to be funny) that I would miss the Penis Museum. The woman looked at me with a strange look. I think she thought I was crazy, until I described the Penis Museum in Reykjavík, and she was intrigued.

Noreen, from Icelandair said she would look for our luggage and she sent us to see Rudy in the pit at Jetblue. What in the world? I felt like we were already in a big cockfight. What was the pit all about? It was past midnight before Rudy and another airline agent got us a hotel room and Icelandair found our luggage.

We met the Russian shuttle driver at the pick-up spot. He was grouchy and asked us if we were with American (Airlines). Apparently, our hotel was full of disgruntled American Airlines customers whose flights were canceled. The Russian was not pleased! After we arrived at our hotel, I asked Ron if he tipped him. He looked at me and laughed. Of course. I was afraid not to tip him!

Ahhh! At least we didn’t have to spend the night in the airport. Ron looked forward to a hot soak in a tub to relieve stress. Unfortunately, there was no tub in our room, and to make a bad situation worse, there was no water! We had to call a maintenance man!

We slept fitfully, hoping that we could be rebooked the next evening on the one and only Icelandair flight at 8:30 pm. We had to have new rapid antigen tests because of the 72 hour requirement. Rudy in the Jetblue pit told us that Jetblue had a free Covid testing clinic and we could receive the rapid antigen test in the morning before our flight.

We were still unbelievably hopeful to make it to Iceland, although the signs were all pointing to us going home. Another Russian driver picked us up at the hotel in the airport shuttle. This one was the ying to last night’s Russian driver’s yang. He took us to the clinic outside of terminal 5 to get our Covid test. But wait! Something was eerily wrong. The metal doors were chained. No sign saying the clinic was closed…nothing. The Russian driver told us to walk a little further to the next entrance. He followed us slowly in the shuttle. That gate was chained and closed, too!

This felt like a dark, grim cloud hovering over us. I had lost almost all hope of going to Iceland. Our trip was doomed from the beginning. There were signs all along the way!

The Russian dropped us off at Jetblue and we went to the pit again to find Rudy. The pit was packed with what looked like refugees being processed, so we found a supervisor who, at first, didn’t believe us when we told her the clinic was closed. She asked a security guard, and he confirmed it was closed. She called the clinic number, but never received an answer. Finally someone standing in line told her it was election day and all the offices were closed due to elections. Sigh! We were not able to get a covid test and the only one available in the terminal was a PCR test. We would not get immediate results, and it would cost each of us $210.

I started to cry! I was tired, overwhelmed, angry, and frustrated at the inefficiency and lack of communication between the airlines. I just wanted to go home.

Bye bye Icelandair.

Lloyd, at the Delta check-in counter was very sympathetic to our plight. He booked us on Delta to Atlanta that afternoon, then we had a short flight the next morning to reach our home.

Once again, we had to run to catch our Delta flight. A pilot was behind us and I asked him if he was flying to Atlanta. He was the pilot of our plane! I was overjoyed and babbled on with relief about how Delta had helped us get a flight out of Nicaragua during the civil revolution, and how Delta had gone out of their way to help us with several other problems, including our botched Iceland trip. I wanted to hug him! We were loyal Delta customers!

When we boarded the plane to Atlanta, we both were filled with relief, until the pilot announced that the door to the airplane wouldn’t close and he had to call maintenance. We just turned to each other and laughed.

We used to love flying. Years ago, when we were dating, our favorite date spot was the Pittsburgh airport. We could sit in a terminal restaurant, drink milkshakes, and watch travelers arrive and depart. We knew then that traveling was our passion. We long for those carefree traveling days.

NPR describes the decay of customer service as skimpification. “It’s all about maximizing profit now. The economywide decline in service quality that we’re now seeing is something different, and it doesn’t have a good name. It’s a situation where we’re paying the same or more for services, but they kinda suck compared with what they used to be.”

Kinda suck is an understatement. I think we have both developed Post Traumatic Stress syndrome from this unbelievable set of circumstances leading us to cancel our trip to Iceland.

The decay of the service industry blinks in neon warning signs everywhere. Airlines put customers who call them on hold for hours. Restaurants, bars and hotels are understaffed and stretched thin. The quality of service seems to be deteriorating everywhere, yet we pay the same or more and the buzz phrase for the deterioration of services is “ It is because of Covid.”

But, to stop the degradation of the service industry and tales such as mine, we need to work together. Times are hard during Covid, yet for a sustainable recovery to help our economies, we need cooperation, compassion, and most importantly, accountability.

We need to stop blaming Covid for the lack of quality we encounter daily in the service industries. Service workers problems are all of our problems. A good society shows compassion to its workers. It demonstrates to each and every worker that they are ”worth it” and pay them a living wage with decent health benefits.

A good society helps us fulfill our goals and our dreams, whether they be travel oriented, education, family, or any other goal we strive to achieve.

This pandemic has shown us how truly interdependent we all are and for the sake of our wold economies and our planet, we must be able to work together to combat this virus. This tale, fraught with anxiety, has shown us that we are still very leery of traveling. Traveling during covid is not for the faint of heart.

Do you think the world is really ready to open up?

24 thoughts on “Is the World Really Ready to Open Up?

  1. Pingback: Covid-19 in 2021: Five Lessons for Travelers - Latitude Adjustment

  2. Oh my goodness, what a tale. I think traveling anywhere is fraught at the moment, but it seems like everything that could go wrong with your trip, did. Maybe it was payback for the relatively smooth time you had in Greece – ha!

    You ask if the world is really ready to open up, and I honestly don’t know. It seems like countries everywhere are still figuring out how to manage tourism post-Covid. And it’s not even post – this pandemic is far from over. But I agree that the problems with the service industry have been brewing for a long time; Covid has just pushed the envelope in some catastrophic ways.

    All of which presents some real challenges for us travel addicts. Case in point: we just returned from a visit to Aruba and Bonaire, two of the “ABC” islands of the Dutch Antilles. Because both islands require a negative PCR test, we had to get tested three times in a week at SIGNIFICANT cost (I tell ya, someone’s making a fortune on all this testing!). And it also meant finding testing locations on both islands and careful attention to timing. But if it’s the price we have to pay to help these countries keep their populations safe, while still enjoying some travel freedom, we’re willing to do it.

    Here’s a side note about “air rage” and that ugly and confrontational passenger you had to deal with. On our way home from Aruba last week, our flight was delayed an hour and a half as we sat on the plane, waiting for “some additional passengers” to board. The flight attendant shared that these people had come in from Panama City and had been denied entry into Aruba, and thus were being sent back home on our flight. By the time the people boarded, we were cranky and starving – and they came on with food and beverages and a seemingly nonchalant attitude about the whole situation. Instead of feeling compassion for them for what must have been a ruined vacation, I found myself having to fight real anger at these people. It gave me a different perspective on how some passengers might be driven to lash out in nasty and even violent ways (although I hope and pray I’ll always have the emotional maturity to rise above the anger).

    As Jacinda Ardern put it so well, we’re all going to have to draw from a deep well of cooperation, communication, and compassion – and a huge reservoir of patience – if we want to experience anything like what we were used to in the old days. I think you have all that in spades! And I know your next trip will go better. You’ve paid your dues 🙂

    • I have so many things to add to your comments that it could be another post, so I will reply with just a few questions. First, do you think when the pandemic is under control (probably never over) that the poorer countries will continue to ask for PCR tests? It is quite lucrative and I only hope that the money is directed into healthcare for the local people. This could also apply to the additional fees for “Covid cleaning” when we book Airbnbs. I wonder if these extra fees for Covid related things will ever go away.
      Second, concerning “air rage.” Why do you think so many people are so angry? Do you think people are misdirecting their anger? Does the media fuel our “air rage” and other rages of Covid? So many questions, so few answers. I think we all need therapy. I read about pain reprocessing therapy, where chronic pain can be controlled through mind exercises. I think we all need Covid reprocessing therapy to redirect our anger. -Ha!
      Thanks for making me think, Susan. As always, happy trails to you both.

      • That’s a really good question about PCR profits. Sadly, I seriously doubt ordinary folks will see any benefit from the craploads of money being made off testing, cleaning, and every other Covid-related service that wasn’t here before. I’d love to be proven wrong, but there’s just too much greed in this crazy world. And too many opportunistic types who will find a way to keep profiting off Covid long after the pandemic’s over. Sorry, you caught me in a cynical mood!

        And gosh, I wish I could understand the anger. I know that, speaking for myself, I’ve never had a lot of patience for other travelers who do stupid things that delay or inconvenience everyone. As you pointed out so astutely, air travel had already become nightmarish long before Covid, and putting a lot of tired, frustrated, and uncomfortable people together in a situation they can’t change, that’s bound to create lots of hardship or disappointment for them, is a recipe for a lot of anger. Particularly for people who don’t have much self-control. The media is probably contributing by over-hyping every outrageous thing passengers have done lately. But I swear I don’t remember any stories about passengers punching flight attendants and knocking out their teeth before Covid. I just don’t think that was happening. Or people screaming “fuck you” at other people they’ve never met, just because they can’t get to their overhead bag.

        Covid reprocessing therapy? Sign me up!

        Have a nice evening, amiga! And yay for your new plan to go to Belize.

  3. I took a recent trip from Managua to Miami to get vaccinated with the single shot J&J because the two-shot Sputnik vaccine I received in Nicaragua is not accepted by the WHO. It took two days to get to the city, take a PCR test, and catch a flight out on Avianca which is the only airline left with regular service to Nicaragua. In Miami, I got a jab of J&J and started planning for my return. The government of Nicaragua requires a PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival in Nicaragua and sent to them for approval 36 hours before arrival. So I had to pay extra for a same day test result. When I got to the airport Avianca told me that MINSA, the Nicaraguan health authority, had not approved me for travel. So I lost my flight, had to buy another ticket, do another test and pay for another four hotel nights… only to arrive at the airport for a second time to be told by Avianca that MINSA had not approved me for travel. This time, I dug my heels in and after being a polite (I’m Canadian after all) bother, the Airline staff admitted they were looking at the passenger list for another flight… and in fact I was approved… but I couldn’t board because my Nica residency had expired (true) so as a tourist I had to prove onward travel by purchasing another ticket to leave Nicaragua on the only airline with service to Managua… Avianca. In 13 years of living in Nicaragua I have never seen the onward travel rule enforced… but I sat on my suitcase at the checkin counter and bought a $300 ticket I would never use just to get on the dam plane. My Nicaraguan wife called a contact she has at MINSA to ask what was going on and was told that Avianca and MINSA are in a spat over testing requirements so each blames the other… cooperation is not a cultural concept commonly found in Nicaragua. I will not fly again any time soon.

    • Oh my, Chris. How frustrating. And it isn’t only because of Nicaragua. We won’t fly Avianca or Spirit for those reasons. They are incompetent, unorganized, and their customer service sucks. As far as the onward travel, that has been enforced by most airlines for many years. Before we received Nicaraguan residency, we had to buy TICA bus tickets to prove we had onward tickets to Nicaragua and to get on the planes. We always flew in and out of Liberia, CR because it was easier to just cross the border and the flights were always cheaper.
      I am afraid these travel tales of horror, like you described of your trip, will be the new norm. Maybe it is time to make a large, sturdy sailboat. -Ha! Thanks for sharing, Chris. I am so sorry you had to go through this for a jab of J&J. Who would have ever thought our world would succumb to this?

      • The only other time I was required to have proof of onward travel was flying home from Tampa 10 years ago, another US location. In all my trips from Canada onward travel has never been mentioned and officials at the airport in Managua have never ask for it. Here’s another odd thing… when I arrived in Managua I was sent to the customs counter to have my bags inspected. The official opened the bag, said everything was fine then charged me $3 for the inspection and took 5 minutes to hand write a lengthy recite. And I noticed on her uniform the title DRA and asked her if she was a medical doctor… she was. What a waste of 6 years of education! The government is so desperate for income some of their invented taxes and tariffs are absurd… and the MINSA PCR test is a good example… only government can administer the test and collect the $150. It is so profitable they have opened a second testing site. And in cases where the destination does not require a PCR test to enter like Colombia, the traveller still needs a PCR test to enter the airport in Managua for check in.

  4. I give you and Ron credit for the continued adventures.!!! Plan a trip to Northern Canada to see the lights. Sorry, no hot springs, but you can go dog sledding :).

    As for the comments from people having to wait on the phone for customer service for so long. Please remember that most of the agents you talk to are not “situated” in the US. Countries, like where I live (Philippines) have been in strict lockdowns. So your call agents can not get to work to help you.

    Patience!!!!!

    • Thanks, Nancy. We were thinking about going to Canada to see the Northern Lights. Ron’s brother lives in PEI and we miss him. And excellent point about the phones of customer service. I never thought about that. Hope you are well. Hugs!

  5. Oh Debbie Debbie! And I thought that getting stuck in an ancient elevator was an interesting diversion!

    Sometimes I reach that point of tears as well. We try our best, but eventually the tears release the valve…

    So sorry that you were not able to reach your goal, but oh my, you should win a prize – or ten!

    • How wonderful to hear from you, Lisa. I think about you often. I try to look at all problematic situations as lessons to be learned. This time, I was knocked over the head many times..hmmm. I think the lesson here is a lesson in patience and waiting for the right time. Also, I wonder if it could be a sign. I never believed in signs, but on our way home, a close friend called to tell us his wife passed away. Now, we can help him. We are headed over the mountain today with food and loving comfort.

  6. Hi, Deb. We met up with you and your husband in Meteora, Greece and exchanged some travel stories.

    I am so sorry to hear of your repeated issues related to your Iceland trip. You did everything right in your planning and constant rebooking. It is heartbreaking to read and know that this same thing could happen to any one of us.

    Our trip in Aug-Oct to France, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and Greece, like yours, basically went off without an hitch. We are fully vaccinated, completed the appropriate forms and followed other protocol. We were pretty optimistic about the state of travel after that trip.

    Now, only about 3 weeks after arriving home, we really feel that we may have just “lucked out” with our timing. We have a “kinda similar” destination trip as yours next summer – a 30 day cruise to Iceland/Baltic/Scandinavia, with a 30 day self drive trip in Denmark/Norway/Sweden after. With the virus levels now increasing in EU countries again, and with Norway/Sweden not currently open to U.S., we are back in the same watch and wait game. It is extremely frustrating. Now, when we can’t be sure of the status of a trip, nor what obstacles will be thrown our way; we all miss out on the anticipation of a trip

    I agree with you on the state of the travel industry, while also acknowledging that there are some awesome employees as part of the industry. My major complaint is trying to call/message personnel at the airlines to request info or make changes. While knowing that staffing is still an issue, multiple multi-hour calls makes me want to tear my hair out!

    My best to you and your husband, as we all try to navigate this. Here is to more travel and being able to find our way around the world again. 🥂

    Keep blogging, really enjoy your writing.

    Jane

    • Jane! How wonderful to hear from you. Thank you so much for your insightful comments. We were teased into believing that the world was ready to reopen with our smooth travels through Greece. I really expected our trip to Iceland to be the same. After returning home, 24 ours after we left, we were exhausted and relieved. Neither of us could believe it had only been 24 hours. We had been through so many airport battles and stresses. Whew!
      We have a trip planned to Belize for January. We are keeping our fingers crossed, but stocking up on travel insurance for our next adventure. We are always independent travelers, and seldom take even day tours. However, we are exhausted from all the planning and cancelations, etc. Now, we are considering an Egyptian small group tour for the early spring. We want to relax and let someone else handle all of the problems. Haha! We are keeping our fingers crossed for you, too. Safe travels.

      • I can imagine that, although very disappointed, you just felt a huge sense of relief once arriving home.
        Travel insurance is a must, esp after this past year plus! As we get older, and are doing longer trips, we have started to mix up our independent travel (like our recent Greece, etc. odyssey), with some group related travel/cruises. It is very rewarding, but so time consuming to plan independent travel, esp if arrangements need to be cancelled/rescheduled/modified. We have a tour this January, and it is nice to just sit back and wait for the touring company to do all the country research and make the plans/decisions!
        All the best to you for Belize and Egypt! Egypt is def a place where we would do a tour. Hope that all works out for some continued travel, will be thinking of you and waiting on that next blog post!

        • Thanks for your comments, Belinda. You are right. Travel insurance is a necessity in today’s world. However, like everything else, the cost of insurance has risen tremendously. Now, there are different types of travel insurance depending on what you want to insure. I think I will write a post about that. Thanks for the inspiration. I am so surprised that we are looking forward to taking a tour! Haha! It isn’t like us at all, but it will be so relaxing to have someone else in charge for a change. 😜

    • Thanks. But, it was an exercise in persistence. Once I make up my mind to do something, I don’t give up. I didn’t win this battle, but I learned the sad truth about travel during Covid, and it isn’t relaxing.

  7. Wonderful Deb. So so sorry you had such a mess and were not even able to make the trip. To answer the question, no, I, personally do not think the World is ready to open up. Things are still in flux, cases go down, then they go up, with nary a warning. I am setting my sights on spring 2022, and even that, with full acceptance that this may not happen.
    Meanwhile, have spent my travel dollars in a new pellet stove, and will hunker down warm in front of my new fireplace and weather yet another Canadian winter watching the snow pile up 😁

    • Stay warm this winter, my friend. After this fiasco, I tend to agree with you. Also, here is a Facebook response from a friend that I thought was interesting. Not only is travel more difficult, it is now more expensive.

      When I was trying to get from the US to China this summer, there was a typhoon. I checked my email and saw that my flight was cancelled and rebooked for the next day on a flight that was also cancelled. They didn’t rebook after that. 5.5 hours on hold to be told that the next available flight was 11 days later. They didn’t even try to get me on an earlier one knowing they only had a limited number available each week. I ended up sitting for another three hours refreshing the booking page to grab a last minute open seat. Still have $4000 tied up in credit. Original one way return ticket was 7500! It’s so hard these days and the tests I had to do twice were $500 each 😦 it’s not worth traveling right now unfortunately.

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