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Catching flights and feelings: My first international flight after the pandemic was nothing like I thought it would be

My flight schedule included a domestic flight from Cape Town to OR Tambo and then onto Amsterdam where I would get my connecting flight to Bilbao. Picture Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

My flight schedule included a domestic flight from Cape Town to OR Tambo and then onto Amsterdam where I would get my connecting flight to Bilbao. Picture Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jun 10, 2022

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“Catching flights, not feelings.” That phrase seems to be the preferred caption for many airport photos posted on social media.

And yes, before the pandemic, taking an international flight was something as simple as packing a bag and heading to the airport with passport in hand. Now, it’s a different story altogether. Negative PCR tests. Vaccine passports.

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A few months ago, I was invited to cover “The Wellbeing Summit for Social Change“ in Bilbao, Spain.

I was excited; it was my first flight since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and more than two years since I had seen the inside of a plane.

File photo: Eleven hours later, we had landed in Amsterdam. Picture: AP

My flight schedule included a domestic flight from Cape Town to OR Tambo and then onto Amsterdam where I would get my connecting flight to Bilbao.

I would be more than 12 hours in the air, excluding transit time. I made peace with that, but nothing could have prepared me for the endless delays and flight cancellations on my way to my destination.

Boarding a flight from Cape Town International was a seamless process. When I arrived at OR Tambo, it was absolute chaos.

When checking in for my flight to Schiphol Airport, the line was a snaking mess of irate passengers. We were told by KLM staff our flight was delayed.

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By this time, it was well after 9pm - the time our flight had to depart. The boarding hall looked like a mass sleepover with exhausted people splayed out against their backpacks.

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Because of the long wait, many had become complacent, letting their masks fall to below their mouths.

When we eventually boarded the plane, an hour later than planned, I was squashed into an aisle seat. Also, KLM has a voluntary mask policy on their flights, making it a petri dish of all sorts of unwanted germs.

My anxiety shot up from worry to panic mode in a few seconds, Me, I decided to keep my mask on for the entire flight.

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Eleven hours later, we had landed in Amsterdam. Another delayed flight. Another long, exhausting wait.

It’s tiring work walking from one end of an international airport like Schiphol to the other.

An hour went by. Finally, an announcement said due to bad weather in Amsterdam, our flight was delayed.

File photo: The organisers of the event rebooked a Lufthansa flight from Spain to Frankfurt and then Cape Town. Picture: AP

I arrived in Bilbao just after 7pm in the evening, three hours later than anticipated.

Thinking the nightmare had ended, an incoming email five days later notified me my trip back home had been cancelled.

KLM had made the unusual decision to cancel all European flights to Amsterdam. The organisers of the event rebooked a Lufthansa flight from Spain to Frankfurt and then Cape Town.

The bright side? I only had one connecting flight back home.

The downside? They were both delayed.

In hindsight, I should have mentally prepared myself. The point is that it’s emotionally draining just sitting at any airport, no matter how many duty-free shops or “relaxation” hubs there are.

My advice? Have a few ebooks loaded onto your phone or tablet and cram your Spotify playlist with nostalgic tunes to keep you calm and centred.

And snacks, don’t forget the snacks.

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