The shortest San Francisco trip ever – March 20 was to mark the start of a beautiful 5 day trip to SFO. I made a request for this trip, because my nephew has been wanting to visit San Francisco for ages and he begged me to take him along if ever the opportunity should arise. Our plans were a bike trip over the Golden Gate, a visit to Sausalito and a stroll along the Coastal Trail with lunch at the Cliff House. The first hurdle was to get the trip assigned, I am not the only one praying for a trip like this, but I got lucky. The trip was on.
Then Corona hit Europe and Trump declared us Europeans the source of all evil. European passengers were no longer allowed to enter the United States. Bad luck for my nephew, but of course I was still going. With March 20 approaching and Corona rapidly developing all my hopes for at least a solitary bike ride over the Golden Gate and a lonely lunch evaporated. Word got through that the crew was confined to the hotel. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were reduced to take out pizzas and my only consolation would be 3 days of Netflix series.
I left home knowing that my intended homebound flight was cancelled and not knowing when I would be flying back. I did not exactly relish the thought of spending God knows how many days in SFO confined to my room, but the entire airline was also in the dark and getting any information on my return flight was impossible.
My flight from Amsterdam to San Francisco was half empty, only Americans returning to the USA in any way they could. Social distancing, the number one remedy against contamination, was easier than in normal circumstances, with only 150 passengers on board. Boarding was heart-warming; passengers thanked us for working and expressed their gratitude that we were willing to fly in order for them to get home to their loved ones.
As soon as we were in the air my captain started sending ACARS messages to the Operation Control Centre in Amsterdam to get our return flight confirmed. In the end we were told that we would return dead heading on the same aircraft right back to Amsterdam resulting in a nice FDP of 26 hours … but at least we were getting home!
In SFO we disembarked our passengers in batches of 10 at a time to allow local authorities to do a health assessment. It took us an hour to get all the passengers out; imagine what it would have been like if we would have had a full flight! We picked up our suitcases and went right to the check in for the return flight. While waiting for our boarding passes I noticed a young Indian couple. Their flight from Amsterdam to New Delhi had been cancelled due to Indian airspace restrictions and they were not accepted on the flight to Amsterdam, because they could not travel on. Despair was in their eyes.
The flight back to Amsterdam was full. No possibility of social distancing for the crew who flew us back as the aisles are only as wide as a serving trolley and the seats were ten passenger abreast. The only thing the crew could do to help protect themselves was to use gloves … and pray that all their passengers were healthy.
I reported for my flight at 8 o’clock in the morning on Friday and checked out at the crew centre at Schiphol Airport at 10 o’clock on Saturday morning. 26 stressful hours and I was tired … but home. I don’t think the Indian couple can say the same.
Please also think about writing a blog of your experiences flying at these difficult times – we are more than happy to share your stories too.