You don’t need a long memory to recall a blog entitled “Plan early ….. plan twice.” A week or so should cover it. An even shorter memory will recall how someone was pretty convinced he was answering in the affirmative to “Be in all respects ready ….”
Now is most definitely the time to add that another of my over-used and favoured sayings has always been, ………………….. “in the nick of time will do nicely.”
Like many, I remember when the most complicated aspect of international air travel was on-line check in. Covid has certainly changed all that. For reasons I wont bore you with, but I suspect you can appreciate, flying into a country that only started vaccinating a year ago and who only reintroduced Visa waivers on 10 Feb 2022, requires quite a bit of paperwork. A traveller arriving by air but departing by 70ft yacht adds another dimension.
My final pre-flight check list included passport, tickets, online check in confirmation, official letter from Clipper, two separate letters from the Philippine’s Department of Foreign Affairs and their Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, a copy of my NHS vaccination certificate covering both shots and the booster, proof of registration (via separate on line forms generating a personal QR code) of the Philippine’s “One Health Pass”, proof of having already downloaded the Philippines test and trace app (called Traze) which can only be activated on arrival, and finally, proof of a negative RT-PCR test 48 hours prior to departure by a testing service accredited by both the UK and Philippine’s authorities. And all that was just for the flight. My training notes, some Team-Coordinater-related paperwork and circa 25kg of rather important sailing kit also featured.
A rain soaked, wind-buffeted, one hour, rush-hour drive to Manchester Terminal 3 (from where I had departed two years ago) then followed, via a doorstep goodbye to Mum and a final stop just short of the airport for petrol. As I refilled the car I thought I’d better check the Terminal again ……. did so …….. and there it was …… Terminal ONE!!! Delete “ready in all respects” – insert “in the nick of time will do nicely.” Don’t worry. It WAS to get worse.
Moving quickly beyond the final lingering farewells, I find myself at the front of the check in queue. It is exactly 10am. I pass over various documents as requested. I answer a couple of questions. After a while the check-in chap stops and begins to look increasingly troubled. “Don’t worry, Keith,” I say to myself. “They always look worried at some point during check-in. I bet they’re even trained to look worried. Just wait till he checks the 9 year old passport photo against the bearded apparition in front of him,” I thought. Then came the small bombshell. “Your PCR test result has expired. I can’t let you check in.” Did I really just type “small” bombshell?
“You have got to be $#@&ing kidding me” …….was, thankfully, only what I thought. “I beg your pardon?” was, thankfully, what came out of my mouth a split second later. My test result was timed at 1050 on 19th Feb which was, he helpfully pointed out, 47 hours and 10 minutes before I started checking in. But, he rather unhelpfully went on, that is 50 hours and 20 minutes before the scheduled take off. “I therefore cannot check you in for this flight.” (##$%&€£ – feel free to insert your own expletive at this point). Time for a rather quick “Plan B.”
The “published” turnaround time for the sort of test I required was 3 hours. My Wednesday test result had been turned around in 2 hours and 3 minutes. The time was now 1012 and check in was due to close in 1 hour and 58 minutes at 1210. Beginning to look like a requirement for Plans C, D, and E and maybe NOT “in the nick of time” after all.
Cue a rather undignified sprint pushing a loaded airport trolley through the rain to a COVID test site outside the Terminal in the airport train station. Why is it that when you don’t really know where you are going, and you are really pressed for time, the large “COVID testing centre” signs you have been sprinting passed …….. suddenly disappear??? Probably the same reason that the first “official-tabbard-wearing” person you stop to ask for directions turns out to be a window cleaner! And almost certainly why the final doors to the airport railway station are not automatic and have to be simultaneous held open whilst wrestling with a trolley which had, by now, developed a mind of it’s own. Eventually I reach the centre, book in, pay, complete an online registration and have the required PCR test. Tick tock.
The test is timed at 1038.
Check in closes in 1 hour 32 minutes. “How long?” I ask. “Normally 2 hours” she replies. “Plan Z” I begin to think, “What’s the quickest possible turn around,” I ask, briefly explaining my position. “One hour 30 minutes,” she calmly replies. And with that she applies the only solution possible and puts an “urgent” sticker on my test. Tick tock.
The result will be e mailed to me.
When I get back to the check in queue ….. it is HUGE! Good. I need time. I don’t think I’ve ever been in an airport check-in queue before AND wanted it to move so SLOOOOWLY. Where are the family of 8 with 32 pieces of luggage when you really want them??? I’m at the back of the queue and its 1058. Unfortunately, all the check-in gates are now open. Bugger!
At 1200 precisely I am at the front of the queue. Still no test results. “How long have I got?” “10 minutes,” is the reply …. “but,” he adds looking at the remaining queue, it might be as “late as 1220 or 1225.” 1210 (normal closure time) comes ….. and goes. No test results. By 1215 I can see the end of the queue. Up steps a party of 6 “twenty-somethings” travelling together on the same booking. Stacks of luggage and, God bless ’em, 2 of them still haven’t got their paperwork out of their carry on luggage. You couldn’t make this up. And I’m not!
I am standing to one side, phone in one hand, paperwork in the other, watching the queue get smaller. “Ping” goes my phone at 1216. IT IS NOT MY RESULTS!!!
My results, timed at 1218, arrive by e mail at 1219. Test to result in 1 hour and 40 minutes. Let’s hear it for “urgent stickers” and long check in queues. In the nick of time will do very nicely indeed. All checked in by 1225 and a mad dash through security and a further sprint through all the Duty Free shops accompanied by broadcasts announcing the final FINAL CALL for my flight.
Oh and after all that …….. the result………was negative…… boarding was actually delayed …….. and we were 1 hour and 6 minutes LATE taking off!!!!!
Tonight, just over 24 hours after a safe and relatively uneventful arrival at my “Government approved” quarantine hotel, you might wonder if actually crossing the North Pacific can be anymore stressful than getting to Subic! I’m fairly confident it will be.
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