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  • Cathy Bill

Getting Home During the Pandemic

Updated: May 20

We flew to Lisbon on February 29, 2020 but not without trepidation due to the Coronavirus. Family members questioned us about our travel plans, but after talking it through, we decided to take our chances and make the trip.

Traveling to Portugal didn't look too much different; a few folks were wearing face masks in the airports and I did see some people wiping down tray tables, arm rests, and anything they might touch. We did the same with our Clorox wipes and we had a couple bottles of hand sanitizer on standby, too.


Our trip included three plane rides; the first from our city in Kentucky to Chicago, then to London, and finally to Lisbon. Trying to save a few bucks, I hadn't purchased seats for our long flight from Chicago to London prior to leaving. When I checked online the day before we left, there were plenty of open seats so I didn't think much about it. After I had checked online though, unfortunately, due to the high number of empty seats, the airline later combined two flights into one, making for a totally packed plane.


While waiting to board our flight in Chicago, we noticed that another gate had a direct flight on Air Portugal, known as TAP, from Chicago to Lisbon. This bit of information later would prove to come in very handy. Isn't it interesting when the universe plants little clues here and there and you actually notice them.


From London, we flew to Lisbon, took a taxi into the city and had a total blast for ten days. So glad we made this last trip before the virus became a full blown pandemic.

It wasn't until the last day in Lisbon that we really began to comprehend the impact the virus was having on international travel. That evening we packed our luggage and went out for a pizza, naively thinking everything was going to be fine for the trip home in the morning. Once back at the apartment, happened to look at my emails. Sometime while we were having dinner, British Airways sent a notification that our flight the next morning from Lisbon to London had been canceled-just flat canceled. I tried to use their website to reschedule a different flight. It was useless. When I called British Airways, they weren't taking calls so that was useless, too.


After my major freakout, we remembered there were direct flights between Lisbon and Chicago on TAP. Using Orbitz, we bought tickets for a flight on TAP that left the next morning, kissed goodbye to a thousand dollars we didn't plan to spend, and got out of Europe before travel took on a whole new level of crazy.


All that night, before leaving Lisbon, I couldn't help it, I kept waking up and checking my emails, afraid that our flight on TAP might get canceled too. Luckily, that didn't happen.


Leaving Lisbon, we saw a lot more folks wearing masks and there was a sense of unease as we moved through the airport.


When we boarded the plane I realized our seats were in the middle of a row of four.

Not ideal, but it actually worked out great. The flight was crazy empty and we had the whole row to ourselves.


I can't begin to describe how much of a relief it was when the plane took off and I knew that when we touched down, we were going to land back in the United States.

When we arrived at O'Hare in Chicago, it was like a ghost town; there were very few people at the international terminal;  it was just empty.


Television monitors were broadcasting the news and as we walked through airport, on our way to pick up our luggage, we stopped to listen. Trump was announcing upcoming travel bans and health screenings for anyone entering the country from Europe.  What a close call getting home!


Even though it wasn't required when we returned to the States, we decided to go ahead and self-quarantine for two weeks. Truth be told, we're pretty much still self-quarantining, staying safe and happy to know that new adventures are waiting.

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