The Quarantine Chronicles: Episode 2
Day 2 - Sunday 2nd May - 06:00 - Frankfurt Airport Runway
After 12 hours in a metal tube watching back to back movies with a covid mask on wide awake whilst everyone around you is sleeping, it's fair to say I wasn't my best self as we landed in Frankfurt but I was thankful that I could actually get off the plane and start to snap my spine back into action.
We have just about 2 hours before our next flight which should be just long enough to grab a coffee and find our gate for the short 1.5 hour flight to London. Mrs H is pretty chipper having gotten a few hours so I make an extra effort to stick a smile on my ugly mush in order to maintain a positive outlook for what is an exhausting trip so far.
Mrs H grabs a couple of coffees and a Danish (shouldn't that be a German?) and we head to gate B22 for our last leg before our incarceration in the UK covid concentration camp. Frankfurt airport is pretty easy to navigate and after a quick scoot up the causeway to find Mrs H a much needed smoking area we're in our socially distanced holding area by the gate for 7am.
Just 5 minutes later and a small but robust woman yells down the holding area that everyone travelling to the UK will be processed into another area for boarding. We assume the position in the queue and spend the next 30 minutes bitching to each other about the 3 or 4 travellers who don't think queues apply to them and push in ahead of us with the airport staff do nothing to discourage the behaviour.
We duly wait our turn and when we get to the front of the queue, there is four security staff processing paperwork, and as is my luck, the one with that comes free for us is the kiosk belonging to the security person who makes you wonder if there's a village somewhere missing an idiot.
Lets call her Agnita. Agnita clearly doesn't understand all of the rules about travelling to the UK from a red list country but is trying really hard to pretend she's the leading authority on the subject. I present her with 4 documents:
Proof Of Covid Test
UK Passenger Locator Form
At first, things seem to be going swimmingly and Agnita looks over her glasses at each document whilst trying to read her instruction manual on pandemic standard operating procedure without me noticing.
Out of the corner of my eye I see Mrs H who had been dealt with by a significantly more capable human being and was ready to go through into the holding pen. We're just about to wrap things up and Agnita asks me to show her where on the Covid test form it says that my test had a negative result.
It didn't say that anywhere
The next couple of minutes was not my finest moment and my only defence is not having slept for 24 hours. Needless to say I'm not that proud of my behaviour. Agnita tries to be authoritative when she tells me she's not going to let me fly but this winds me up further as there is a slight sound of triumph in her voice that one often finds with people who have been given a level of authority for the first time. She clearly is not sympathetic and is definitely not empathetic. I won't go into detail but needless to say I lose my shit. Especially in light of the fact that Mrs H who has exactly the same documentation has been let through, that the paperwork was fine in South Africa and was also acceptable to the German police officers that were waiting for the "Unclean" South Africans when we left the plane.
It was all in vain though as Agnita may have had the authority to stop us flying but certainly didn't have the authority to use common sense or reverse her decision. The only thing she could give us was the information that there is a covid testing centre at the other side of the airport.
We trudged away from B22 with the eyes of other travellers burning into us as we'd held up the queue debating the rules of international travel to the UK with Agnita for longer than they would have liked. We decide to sit down for a few minutes and figure out what to do next.
We agree that the best course of action is to get the shuttle bus to the other terminal and go find Agnita's test centre. A quick internet check reveals that there is another Lufthansa flight to the UK at 14:00 so we have around 5 hours to make a plan.
10 minutes later and we're on the bus, luckily it has only one stop so no chance of getting lost and we know the gate of the test centre is Z14 (another gem of wisdom from Agnita) . We quickly find Z14 but no sight of a test centre but there is a pharmacy. Figuring it must have some kind of clinic, I try to communicate with a German pharmacist the only way someone from Britain knows; Loudly and slowly in English!
Luckily whilst she doesn't speak much English, the pharmacist does understand me enough to inform me that the covid-testing centre closed weeks ago......I hate you Agnita.
Back on the bus.
At this point I'm pretty broken. We sit on a socially distanced bench back at B22 which is quiet now our flight as left and I put my thinking cap on. It's Sunday morning at 8:45. We need proof of a covid test and we need it now. What can we do?
I decide that the only way we're going to solve this problem is to get hold of the basement covid testing centre in Cape Town to send proof of the negative test. An email should at least suffice as long as it comes from an official email address, I look up the phone number for the shop and make the call praying that my phone has international roaming on and working. I get a recorded message to say they don't open until 9am. We have 15 minutes to wait. Mrs H phones her most capable friend in South Africa and she agrees to get on the blower and get Dis-Chem to send proof of a negative test. Phew.
I always like to have a back-up plan so I get on social media and message Dis-chem, luckily somebody replies on twitter. I explain the situation and they promise to get someone on it.
2 agonsing hours later and I have an email with our official test results stating NEGATIVE in massive black bold letters. I get a printout at a little self serve kiosk and we're off to the Lufthansa booking office to book new flights (which I'm expecting them to pay for).
Luckily for us, the lady behind the counter at Lufthansa customer service is at the end of her tether after an endless string of irate customers who have been turned away from flights due to covid related paperwork issues and chooses not to take me on (which was a wise choice given my sleep starved mood) and she simply hands over new boarding passes.
Another couple of hours and the short flight from Germany to England is underway. Thankfully this was largely uneventful and by 16:00 we are off the plane and being herded down a special "Red-List" queue. The first event was to do the paperwork shuffle with Her Majesty's Border Control. Luckily the chap was Scottish, and from Falkirk the same as my wife so he treats us with respect and is really helpful in telling us what is going to happen.
The next step is we get issued with a "handler" so we can't make a bd for freedom. She takes us to the carousel and we retrieve our luggage. So far so good. Then we get taken to meet a nice man with handcuffs and pepper spray who reveals he is from Her Majesty's customs and excise and needs to ask us a few questions. Now this is where being "unclean" is actually to our advantage. It's pretty clear nobody wants to come near us let alone rifle through or luggage looking for contraband so when the customs officer asks if we have anything to declare I confidentially respond "No".
"Are you carrying cigarettes sir?"
"Yes, 2 cartons"
"Great that's Ok, you're allowed 1 each, any alcohol sir?"
"Yes, one box of wine and 2 bottles of spirits"
"Great, you could have actually carried more than that sir. Thank you for your time sir"
It is possible I may have miscounted Mrs H's cigarettes but I'm pretty sure it was close to 2 cartons [ahem], I was spot on with the alcohol.
We were then herded into a queue and told a bus would take us to our designated hotel. The wait was relatively short and by 16:30 we were on the prison bus waiting to be taken to the big house.
1 hour later the bus finally left and the traversed every hotel around the airport dropping people off. Guess who was dropped last. You guessed it; yours truly.
We arrived at the hotel and it was one I knew quite well from my days working in the UK so at least the surroundings were familiar. It's a Holiday Inn so the rooms are basic but comfortable and relatively clean.
We were sat down and given a briefing that basically could have been shortened to: "Don't leave your room, don't you dare, you'll got to jail if you do. Oh, and you can go out for 20 minutes twice a day for a walk with a security guard in the car park. Now go to your room and stay there for 12 days!"
It was just after 18:00 when we finally got to our room and Mrs H and I did what anyone beginning a 12 day lockdown would do. She opened the wine and I ordered diet coke from room service to go with my rum. I ordered 8 cans as I figured a relaxing evening in front of a movie with a little rum would see me off to slumberland quite nicely. Little did I know, those 8 cans of coke would cost me the princely sum of
22 English pounds. Yes that is R440 for 8 regular sized cans of coke. Ouch!
Needless to say, at the end of day 2 of our journey I was glad to be able to sit down and pass out. We're here, London baby! This has to be the weirdest experience I have ever had. We are literally in a prison but the food and cell are much better.
2 days down, 11 days of incarceration to go.
Until next time, keep living.