‘Wow it must be really frustrating’, they say.
That’s one word for it.
You see if ‘frustrating’ was on a scale of 1 to 10, level 1 might be that your favourite cheese has sold out at the supermarket. Level 3 might be that you’ve specifically driven to a supermarket out of your way to find said cheese, and it’s sold out. Level 5 might be realising that said cheese is actually sold out indefinitely. Frustrating, but you’ll find another cheese I’m sure and in time, you’ll be ok.
Now imagine that same scale, but we’re not talking cheese. We’re talking trying to get on a flight to be in a country that you have every right to be in – because you’re a citizen. Level 3 frustration, is paying $800 to change the date from February to April, in the hope that said country would have sorted out some sort of alternative to $3000 quarantine on arrival seeing as though it’s been a year since that nonsense started.
Level 5 frustration is getting bumped off that flight to one a few weeks later thanks to caps on arrivals in said country getting stricter. Changing all the plans you’ve put in place for clients, study, work commitments, dentist appointments, property meetings etc etc to compensate for not having to be on a different timezone and in quarantine within a few weeks. 3856 phonecalls and emails later…. (with the postponing of everything being ‘well I may or may not be on a flight in a few weeks but I’m not sure I’ll let you know if they bump me again…’)
Level 7 frustration is getting bumped another month for the same reason, but being offered a $9500 upgrade to business class to guarantee your place on said flight. $9500? One way? Umm… no.
Level 9.5 frustration, is being offered one of the repatriation flights to through Germany to Darwin.
“But that’s fabulous!” you must be thinking.
Let me show you the process of thought that that offer triggered….
You’re right, it does sound good. The Australian government putting on flights for the 40,000 Aussies who are stranded abroad. Go Aussie Go.
So you look into it. $2200 one way and they sell FAST so have to make a decision immediately.
Right. Shelve all other work, study and personal commitments for the next few hours and see whether you can be ‘one of the lucky ones’ to get a guaranteed flight home – to a country that you’re a citizen of, and have 100% rights to live, work and play in.
- Look into getting from Oslo to Germany – shouldn’t be too hard – there are direct flights. About $300 one way with luggage.
- Look into Germany COVID entry rules:
- it says that as an Australian citizen you can only be there on transit and if you can prove you’re on the flight that will get you there for the shortest possible time before you need to leave on the QANTAS flight home, and
- you also need to pay for a PCR test that is issued less than 24 hours before flying which is virtually impossible unless you go to the express clinic which costs another $300.
- Check the tickets to Frankfurt again. Add another few hundred dollars for getting on the flight that will satisfy that rule for airport officials in both countries.
- Check QANTAS and Australia re-entry rules: also need to get the QANTAS approved PCR fit to fly test which is from a different clinic and also costs $250.
If at any point I get a positive result, all flights will be cancelled and tickets lost. No insurance company will cover you for anything COVID related so you’re gambling over $3000 already, and that doesn’t include a return flight to Norway (and $2000 of quarantine on re-entry) if any one of the cards in this perilous house of cards decides to slip because some other random law or rule has come into place with no warning (which literally happens every other week at the moment), rendering the whole Frankfurt mission a failure.
Yes, failure. Not being dramatic. If any of the rules change (ie Norwegian residents aren’t allowed into Germany due to a spike in infection, which is entirely possible as the codes change each week) all flights will be cancelled and all tickets will be lost.
And I’d be back to square one, in Oslo, just at least $5000 poorer.
The number of things that could, at the last minute change, is so much higher than the chance that none of them will happen and I’ll eventually end up in Perth in one (mental and emotional) piece, I decide it’s actually more sensible to delete and forget the email with the limited offer from Qantas (the special code for which was CRIKEY2021 – I mean you couldn’t make this shit up – is that their attempt at making us smile?)
Because to go through all that – for the ‘lucky offer’ of a non-refundable, one way flight for $2200 from a city I have to jump through COVID restricted hoops to get to, to board a flight with no onboard entertainment and limited food and beverage (they literally said in the offer email to bring your own food), makes no sense. Oh and the kicker is that in the invite email they admit that you probably won’t have any seats spare next to you because they’re filling these repatriation flights so that all seats are taken – ie – you’ll be packed in like the economy sardines you are – so much for social distancing.
And WTF happened to the flight caps the government has put on all other airlines forcing them to bump economy passengers in lieu of the business class tickets they can flog to desperate souls who literally have no other choice?
The $9500 upgrade to Business Class (one way) on the Qatar flight I have had booked since October 2019 all of a sudden starts to look appealing. Maybe I should just pay the money and go.
Sense check. NINE AND A HALF THOUSAND AUSTRALIAN DOLLARS. For a one way flight home that you’ve actually already paid for and been bumped off more than once already. How long does it take you to earn that amount of mula? Add that to the $3000 of quarantine fees, and the $4000+ it’ll cost to get a ticket back to Norway. A simple return trip home 18 months ago would have cost a few grand at most. Now, we’re looking at what – close to AU$20,000? How many families who have literally had their livelihoods taken away from them overnight, could that feed? Even thinking about spending it starts to make you question your own morality.
My head hurts.
And so I wait. From being on the forums it would appear that Qatar Airways has a habit of telling you about 10 days before you’re meant to fly that you’ve been bumped. Then you get to sit on hold for a few hours until you get offered another $9500 offer to upgrade to Business Class, before they tell you that the next economy seat is another few months away.
By that point my visa renewal process will be in progress and I won’t be allowed to leave until after that has come through (which could be anything up to another 7 months of waiting thanks to all the offices being closed because of COVID), otherwise I run the risk of not being allowed back into Norway – where I’m running my Australian business, studying a Masters (yes, at least I’m being kept busy), living with my partner and maintaining some semblance of physical and mental health.
I think there’s a point where that word cannot be used for this kind of situation anymore. Frustrating is ‘the cheese is sold out’ kinda territory.
The waiting. The not knowing. The never being able to plan. The having control over nothing except the way you respond to yet another unforeseen change in plans. I mean your life ends up sounding like this:
MD: Oh hey do you wanna come over for dinner next weekend? We’re allowed to have 2 visitors at the moment so if you and your girlfriend are free do you wanna come over?
MR: Sure! Oh is that the 17th weekend? We may or may not have a cabin trip that weekend because we’re waiting to see if the restrictions lift for that area. Can we say a tentative yes and if the restrictions are still on, we’ll come?
MR: Or how about we lock in the weekend after that instead?
MD: Yeh, same for us that weekend sorry, we may or may not be going to see family. The last trip got cancelled because of the restrictions so we’re really hoping to go this time. Again, it depends on the restrictions both in that village and in Oslo. It’s likely everything will be open because it’ll be off season by then, but who knows?
MR: Yeh I totally get it. How about we lock in the weekend after that?
MD: Well that’s the weekend before I may or may not be on the flight to Doha and then to Perth so I’ve kinda gotta be in self imposed isolation because if I DO test positive then I’ll lose my ticket and I’ve already been bumped twice so I don’t wanna risk it…
but THIS is what life has become. Making tentative plans, and having plans B, C, D and E up your sleeve and completely thought through so that at any point if you need to switch then you’re prepared and ready.
Buying 5 different sets of trainers and sending 4 of them back because that’s the only way to buy a pair of shoes these days – online. Meeting up with one person at a time. Outside. At a distance. Saying hi and wanting desperately to give said person a hug and having to tap elbows to be socially responsible. Aching to do normal things like have a dinner party, go to the gym, join a foreigners group, build yourself a community in the new town you’re in, reach out to people, eat in a restaurant, meet up with your uni classmates for a pint, start your new life here.
Seeing the news that Perth has had an outbreak and the Premier has halved the already minuscule caps on international arrivals in to Perth makes me think it would be a miracle if I was one of the people on that flight next week, but without a cancellation email, anything is possible. Or is it foolish to hope? So I simultaneously cross my fingers and not hold my breath – while trying to stay focused on the clients and uni assignment deadlines that are looming instead.
The looming ’10 days before you fly’ date passes, with no sign of cancellation, so you start to think maybe this COULD happen – maybe I WILL be on that flight. You wait another few days, then think right, I should probably start to get prepared, it’s less than a week now, so I should book the ‘fit to fly’ PCR test, get my people at home to prepare my quarantine hotel pack (office set up, monitor, keyboard etc etc), start backing up my laptop, figuring out what I’ll need in quarantine, what supplies I’ve left in Oslo that I’ll need to restock in Perth…. then BAM. That subject line appears in your inbox: Important: Changes to your Qatar Airways flight details….. and you hold your breath, and open the email.
But seriously, with a booking reference number like OOHNO7 (I’m serious – check the image below from the Qatar app), I should have known it wasn’t going to be easy…..
I’ve been rerouted to Brisbane, a week later than scheduled, and after 2 weeks in quarantine I’ll need to purchase ANOTHER flight to Perth. So not only have I been bumped for the 4th time, by another week this time, but now to the city that is geographically as far from Perth as possible in Australia. When states in Australia are randomly going into lockdown when there’s a single case of COVID detected in the community. End game = I could get locked out of Western Australia after having gotten all the way to Brisbane.
I have 48 hours to make a decision. Accept the changes, request a refund to the original source of payment (a travel agency that has now gone bankrupt) or wait on hold for another couple of hours to find out when the next flight to Perth is that they can give me a lottery ticket to be on, or what a refund voucher might be worth.
So what do I decide? Is it worth risking another bump? The months are quickly passing and the reality of being locked out of Norway if I leave unvaccinated and without my second year of residency visa, is starting to look very real. Do I wait until later in the year when vaccinated people might have more freedom of movement? Do I risk not being able to get a Power of Attorney arranged in Australia in time to sign the mortgage papers on the property I bought middle of last year, scheduled to be completed at the end of this year? It’s not a straight forward question of do I want to go anymore – it’s do I need to go, and at what financial and mental cost is this game of Russian Roulette going to take?
So I ring the airline to find out when the next flight to Perth is, and whether it’ll be within a sensible timeframe to get to Australia and back to Norway before my residency permit expires. Middle of June. Too late. So I ask what the refund or voucher situation is. They can’t tell me because the Doha Office is closed and they need the original ticket information (which I had to pay $800 for the privilege of splitting into a new booking so as to be able to change dates in January, because the travel agent, STA Travel went bankrupt); and there’s no exemptions from Qatar, even though they’re the ones that kept bumping me, which is the reason that taking the flight they offered to Brisbane doesn’t really work.
It’s now a case of ‘if you make a voluntary decision to cancel this flight, you will need to pay the fare upgrade to get on another flight to Perth’. If I had accepted a refund or travel voucher after they had bumped me, I’d be eligible, but because I had to make a decision within 48 hours to take the Brisbane option (otherwise the only other option was middle of June which would have been too late), I’m now eligible for nothing and getting to Perth will cost extra AGAIN.
So now it’s play Russian Roulette with the ticket to Brisbane, or lose the ticket entirely. I decided to write a list. The options were doing my head in. Once I wrote it down it was pretty indisputable. I sent it to a number of friends before asking their advice – well would YOU take the Brisbane flight if these were the conditions?
I decided, after that many hours on hold trying to get some sort of refund or travel voucher, that it simply wasn’t worth it. To go back to Australia under these conditions, or to continue trying to get some sort of compensation for the situation. The reality is that I was bumped 4 times, until my ticket was essentially useless and due to expire, and now I was out of pocket for a ticket I couldn’t use, and Qatar wanted to assume zero responsibility.
I was done. Mentally, emotionally, physically exhausted and just no longer up for a fight. If any of you reading this know me, you’ll know that it takes some kind of superhuman Herculean force for that to happen.
So I cancelled the trip, contacted my tenant, and started the next chapter. One that will see me literally pack up the rest of my home of 8 years from the other side of the world with the help of my community in Perth, and see out the summer in Oslo (which, quite frankly, after surviving a winter in lockdown working and studying at 150% load, will be well appreciated and well deserved). Unless something else throws a spanner in those plans.
Because this is the new normal. All familiarity with the world we once knew has gone. All sense of normality is gone. The only thing I can rely on is that nothing is any longer reliable or likely to stay the same, and that I should have bought shares in the liquor store in Oslo.
That kind of mental and emotional load for months on end, takes its toll. I started this ‘what if’ game in March last year when sitting on a rooftop after delivering some teacher training with old friend Cat from Bali. Surely it won’t go on for more than a few months right?
If only we knew at the time that we would be in month 16, with still no idea where the end of this nonsense might find us.
And all I have to say is this. We are safe. We are warm at night. I have a lovely home to live in, with my ever supportive and understanding partner #hedeservessainthoodstatus
Yes, I am separated from the home, community and life I have in Australia. Yes, this has made packing up a house, and preparing to buy a second property a little bit more challenging via video link. At the end of the day though we have money coming in, each other and our health, so really we do have a lot to be grateful for. So many couples and families have been separated for over a year now, we really are the lucky ones.
I cannot even begin to imagine what those people must be going through who have expired visas, no homes to live in, no jobs, and/or stuck in a foreign country stranded.
There is literally nothing anyone can say or do to make this situation any better, and you get to the point where the frustration level is so off the charts, that it isn’t even frustration anymore. It’s just an empty, hollow kinda feeling that you have to surrender to – languishing is a good word for it – and there’s a brilliant article on it here from the New York Times.
You just have to hope at some point it will all pass when the powers that run the world get their shit together and sort out a solution so that we can see the people we love again. We’re exhausted – physically, emotionally, mentally and on a soul level we’re beaten.
Scott, I know you’re doing the best that you can, but please, on behalf of all the stranded Aussies out there, make quarantine available for Australian citizens that need to come home. Vaccinate the quarantine staff. Let commercial airlines who are still willing to fly to Australia, get your citizens home. Ask Jenny. If it were your daughters, I’m sure they’d be on the next federally funded jet home.
We’re all someone’s loved ones, and just want the same. To be home. Where we have the right to be.
For anyone wanting to support someone who is stuck like me in a COVID inspired clusterfuck, I would also recommend reading this article which is now ever so much more poignant, 10 months after I originally wrote it, on supporting someone who is going through hell.