My dad’s tales of travels during the pandemic
As many of you will know, I have had my Dad staying with me during the last few months. He had a heart operation in February, just as COVID struck, and so has been with us while he recuperated. The virus has prolonged his stay, but, like a migrating bird, he finally flew to the Caribbean last week for the winter (alright for some). But what an ordeal it turned out to be – for him and for us. This is a tale of triumph over adversity, of great human kindness, and of the value of calm and personal communication.
Fit to fly
Barbados (a stopping off point on his journey to Grenada) requires a “fit to fly” test. This means that Dad needed to arrive with a certificate showing he was COVID-free. These (so the Foreign Office tells us) need to be privately arranged, and such facilities are few and far between. A hastily contrived and opportunistic facility lodging temporarily within a Harley Street basement was all we could find, and Dad duly subjected himself to the unpleasant probing by the nurse (the worst 10 seconds of his life he told me) within the necessary pre-flight timescale.
The day of the flight arrived; the certificate had not. No worries: they guaranteed it within 48 hours. So long as he arrived in Barbados and could access it there, things would be fine. Apparently not, we were told at the British Airways check-in desk. Rules had changed (again) and they could not let him on the flight without the certificate. What to do? We had an hour and a half before the check-in closed. We called the test facility. No, they couldn’t reach the results unit, but we could email them. We did – several times. Still no response. Half an hour before check-in closed. The lovely Ronnie from BA was doing all she could to find ways round, but to no avail. Half an hour was now 10 minutes. We were faced with arranging a new flight (and a new COVID test).
I urgently called the test center and (once again) emphasised the urgency. Surely I could speak to someone. Finally, a call from Will in his car on the motorway. He had been informed and would hurry things. I sent him my email address, and with time now up (in fact 10 minutes after) the certificate arrived. BA was great and was holding the plane. “Can you run?” asked Ronnie of my 81-year-old, walking stick assisted, post-operative father. No answer necessary. She scooped him up and hurried him through the system. He made the flight. Nick and I were buzzing with relief and adrenaline.
Trouble in transit
All done? Sadly not. We had sent the COVID certificate (and completed immigration form) to Dad on WhatsApp. But he hadn’t picked it up. We called my now weary father. He couldn’t get the forms and he said they were not letting him transit, and that he had to quarantine in Barbados for seven days. No hardship for many perhaps, but it all costs, and after several months he wanted to be back in his house.
More initiative was needed. I found a number for the airport and was helped by lovely people at each stage in the chain until I reached the airport nurse (who knew?). “Call me back in 10 minutes; I’ll find him”. We did. “I have your father here. Send me the certificates on my WhatsApp”. We did. And off he went on his next connection (again with minutes to spare). The revitalized heart was being put through its paces at this point but appeared to be holding up well.
Finally, a call from the Grenada hotel we’d booked. He was exhausted but in place. One bag short in fact, but at least he was there (well almost – he actually lives in Carriacou, a small island just to the north). Further fears of more quarantine were rapidly dispelled (or at least he headed for the boat to Carriacou the next morning before anyone could say anything). And he is now back in his house, with rellies all fussing around him.
Dad finds peace at last
In these troubling times, where the better side of human nature is not always that evident, it was so comforting to have benefited from such great human kindness, and to have been able to instigate it thanks to being able to speak with real humans directly. So, thanks to Ronnie, to Will, and to the customs staff at Barbados airport. And the bag? BA found it. I have no idea at what stage it went missing, but technology, for this part at least has been invaluable. It should be with him soon, and he can sit on his veranda, looking over the sparkling Caribbean, serenaded by the cackling King Birds and sonorous wind chimes, with his ordeal finally over. At least until next year when he returns.