We left on a Sunday afternoon to Dubai International Airport.
We left on a Sunday afternoon to Dubai International Airport.

I boarded an international flight during a global pandemic and survived the stress of it all

By Buhle Mbonambi Time of article published Jan 5, 2021

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It was mid-November when the invitation to travel to Dubai in December dropped into my inbox. I felt like I was dreaming. Of all the things to happen this year, a trip to Dubai was the furthest thing from my mind.

The excitement kicked in, especially when the proposed itinerary landed a few days later. But then it hit me – going abroad wasn’t as easy as it used to be. The visa application is not longer the one thing to worry about – there’s this unseen problem called Covid-19.

And then I looked at all the things I had to do and the forms I had to fill in and admittedly got irritated with all the admin one had to do. Was it even worth it all? And then I got a reminder that I would have to do a Covid-19 PCR test and it would have to be negative test result, valid for 96 hours, for Emirates to even let me on to their plane.

And so began the preparation for the trip. I started wearing masks for a full day at home, to train my body to get used to wearing one on the plane. I upped my vitamin intake, steamed with menthol twice a day and tried my best to not go anywhere unless it was necessary. I dropped coffee and tea for ginger, turmeric and garlic concoctions. I gargled with lemon juice and salt.

I read up on every website that had tips on what precautions to take before an international trip. I basically lived on the Emirates app, checking for travel updates, almost every two hours. I needed to be certain that I was fully informed and had everything, including information about Covid-19 PCR tests and all the necessary travel documents.

Now imagine my worry when on the day before the test I started getting all the Covid-19 symptoms. I suddenly had the scratchiest, itchy and raspy throat. My chest was tight. My nose was suddenly leaking and I had a headache that just wouldn’t go away.

I had already started packing and was three-quarters of the way in, but I started doubting if I was even going to be able to travel. Stressed at having to take the test and likely testing positive, I started unpacking some of my clothes and put back my passport in the box I keep it in. I laughed, bitterly at my excitement for the trip and how on brand it would be for 2020 to take it away from me. As I left my home for the test, I had little hope of passing it.

After queuing for an hour at a lab the next day, I finally did the test. I had both the nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal tests and it was uncomfortable and painful. Even the nurse apologised when she saw a tear trickling down my cheek. I winced and attempted to smile bravely. She smiled back and as I drove away, the waterworks began. I was convinced that I was going to test positive and I wouldn’t be able to travel.

So when I received the text with the negative results later that evening, I let out a loud whoop and then started frantically packing again. And then suddenly, all the “symptoms” I had, disappeared. It was bewildering.

Emirates cabin crew have eschewed their stylish uniform for gowns, gloves, masks and face shields.

We left on a Sunday afternoon to Dubai International Airport. The one thing I was concerned with was whether I would be able to keep my mask on for the whole eight hours; how safe it would be on the plane; and if extra care had been taken to make sure the plane and our seats had been sanitised.

As I boarded and saw the Emirates cabin crew in their PPE, laden with travel hygiene kit boxes in their signature red, filled with masks, gloves and sanitisers, I was relieved. Gone were the beautifully tailored garments. Instead they were covered up in gowns, gloves, masks and face shields.

I was shown to my business class seat and quickly briefed on the measures they had taken to make sure that I would have a safe flight. I was then urged to keep my mask on during the flight and if I needed a new one, or anything else to make the flight as comfortable as possible, to let them know.

The Emirates Travel Hygiene Kit has masks, gloves and sanitisers.

When we arrived at Dubai International, the safety measures were heightened even further. As the busiest airport in the world, it made sense. The whole airport was emblazoned with Covid-19 awareness signage. It was impossible to ignore and also a relief.

We went through thermal scanners when we arrived at Dubai International Airport. If you have any Covid-19 symptoms, you’ll be taken to the airport’s medical centre for further checks, and if you don’t have any symptoms, you can continue to Immigration and collect your baggage from the carousel.

You know what made it even better? Fellow passengers were following the rules and regulations. The lines at immigration had the clearly demarcated signage of where to stand and no one was making things uncomfortable for other passengers.

Even when fetching our luggage at the carousels, there were reminders to make sure there is a 2 metre distance between you and the other passenger.

And soon we were done, and after waiting at customs to clear the camera of a colleague, we were off into the city, ready to explore what it felt like to travel a foreign city during a pandemic.

I have always believed that the reason Covid-19 has grown so much is our refusal to follow rules. Our belief that we know more than epidemiologists has always bothered me. The airlines may try to adhere to all the rules and put measures in place to make the journey as comfortable and as stress free as possible for their passengers, but it is up to the passengers to make sure that they do what is required of them.

So it was a relief to see all passengers adhere to the rules, and not only that, but make the effort to be considerate to other passengers and cabin crew. It made what was an already stressful situation much more manageable. And I felt less guilty about travelling during a pandemic.

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