Travel in the time of Corona 5

Sunday 22 March – Phuket, Thailand

Just before 10pm local time (5pm SA time).  I’ve just completed and posted an entry to my travel log.  We’re lying on the bed watching a movie.  I have my laptop connected to the hotel wifi, open.  Waiting for news from South Africa.  President Cyril Rhamaphosa is due to address the nation as he did a week ago.  It looks like the address is postponed to Monday.  I am about to close the laptop when another item popped up on the news feed.  “Emirates to suspend all flights for 2 weeks from 25 March”.  We are meant to leave Phuket 1:35 am 25 March on an Emirates flight, transit in Dubai for 4 hours and fly to Cape Town landing the afternoon of 25 March.  My head spins – this is not possible – why would Emirates suspend flights – just like that??

I log on to the Emirates site – our flights are still displaying.  I check the Emirates app on my phone – our flights are still there.  Maybe this is a mistake, maybe the last flights are on the 25th. We get dressed – I need to check with one of the travel shops in the road downstairs – they have better access to online booking systems.  We get the lift down – press the buttons with a knuckle.  Outside the street is still busy.  First travel stall, closed for the night, second one closed too.  Third stall open!  It is just after 10 pm.  I ask the lady in the booth – does she know if Emirates flights have been suspended?  She hasn’t heard anything, but she’ll phone a colleague.  She phones.  No, they haven’t heard anything about a cancellation.  I tell her its been on the news.  We are booked to fly on the 25th.  I want to move our flight to the next available flight out.  She says she can’t change our flight because we did not book through them – I can buy a new ticket.  Is there space?  The next flight is in 3 hours – we won’t be able to make that flight, but yes the flight leaving 1:45am 24 March still has space – but she does not believe the flight on the 25th have been cancelled – best to call the Emirates call centre.  If our flight is indeed cancelled, she can help us to get on the flight for the 24th, she is open until 11pm.

We go back to the hotel – reception gives us the number, local and in Dubai.  In the room I try the 24 hour local number – the number is not available.  I call the Dubai call centre.  I’m on hold.  I listen to the same message playing repeatedly – selling Emirates flights.  Why would they be selling flights if they’ve suspended flying ?  We wait.  The add plays.  Whatsapps coming through from South Africa – have you seen the news on Emirates – they suspended flights – yes web site is telling us nothing, I am on hold to the call centre right now.  We wait – 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes.  Finally, someone on the other side.  I explain what I’ve heard.  I just need to confirm does that mean the flights of the 25th is cancelled.  The operator says they have not heard anything official – all they know is what has been on the news.  If my flight is still displaying on the website, we are still flying.  And if the news is true – what then? Wait until tomorrow then we’ll have clarity he says.  Wait?  Go to sleep with this hanging??  No, I need to change my flight I need to fly out on the 24th.  There are only business class tickets left for the 24th. And if we fly to Bangkok – are there any space left on the flight from Bangkok?  He tells me again to wait until the morning.  No – I could be stuck in a foreign country – please look if there is an option to fly from Bangkok.  He puts me on hold while he finds out about Bangkok. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, the line goes dead.  An hour into the call to the call centre in Dubai and the line goes dead.  I call again.  I polite voice explains – we are not taking any calls right now.

I’m nauseous, my stomach is in a knot.  Its after midnight in Phuket – the travel desk in the road would be closed.  I check the Emirates site again.  Our flights are still displaying.  I check News24 – the Emirates suspended news item is still there.  Concerned WhatsApp message from South Africa.  What is going on – I don’t know – the call centre seems to know nothing – they have now gone offline.

Then a Whatsapp – Emirates Airline has retracted the blanket suspension.  After pressure from governments.  They will still fly from and to certain countries – Thailand and South Africa amongst them – if the borders remain open.  Relief!  There is no ways South Africa would close its borders to its own citizens – we are flying home in two days!  I send out messages to friends and family – we’re going to be OK.  We go to sleep.