Travel this year is different. Unless your head has been stuck in the sand, this statement is self-explanatory. The coronavirus, aka Covid-19, has turned what for me, is usually a miserable experience, into a potentially deadly miserable experience. The plane crashing is the least of my worries! Travelling right now is like diving into a Petri Dish and doing a couple of laps!! Sure, you may miss everything bad but…
Part One- The Shallow End
Long before there was a virus outbreak, I swore this year, that I would do my utmost, to make the travel-day experience the best I could for my wife. Honey hates travel-day and because I add to her misery… usually me by the end of the day.
My plan this year was to simply stay out of her face, and let her be miserable. DO NOT, under any circumstance, argue with her. Remember, she is as unhappy as I am. Don’t try to cheer her up. When she says “I’d like to get through security early,” I was NOT going to say “Ok, just one more smoke.” I was going to differ to her feelings of timing. I had decided to do my best to keep up, and try to stay out of the line of fire if something went wrong.
Both of us know we are going to hate the day and we are edgy even before we leave for the airport. Going there, is always easier than going home, but both suck! You’re either waiting in lines or your sitting in the world’s most uncomfortable seats. How do they do that??? Is there a special website where airports and airlines can find seats that suck??? A giant seating suck-mart?!! My travel-day is 13 hours long! I don’t feel my ass after hour 3!!! I spend the entire day with numb-butt!!!
Our return trip this year involved more sitting than usual and started right from our arrival at the airport. We arrived at the Puerto Plata airport two and a half hours before our flight to Toronto departed. This put us ahead of the groups from the resorts. There was no line and checking-in and getting our seats was quick. Honey and I have a spot at the airport, where we can go sit, and enjoy our last moments of warm island breezes before we enter security. Yes, Uncle J, you can also smoke there. So, it has an appeal for people like me. Once I go through security, I’m in the Petri Dish and my favorite stress reliever will no longer be available. I’ll linger as long as I can there, but as soon as Honey says it’s time, we move.
Going through security at any airport when it is busy is a gong show, but the Puerto Plata airport is gong-ier then most. They only have one functioning carry-on scanner, which meant that plane loads of tourists departing were making their way through a series of obstacles, most with no knowledge of the Dominican protocols for security. All of them pushing trays along a single set of rollers towards the scanner belt, removing articles from carry-on luggage and sorting trays as they move forward towards the small window in the wall. Panic setting in as they frantically remove shoes and belts before the scanner grabs their tray, all the while Dominican security is telling them hurry and move forward faster.
It’s the same every time. Honey and I had been those people once, but no longer. We have our sneakers and coats packed into our back-packs and know how many trays we require to separate our electronics. We are not in a hurry to catch our flight, and the Dominican security guard shouting to hurry when you’re departing the Republic Dominicana, has become as normal as the mariachi band playing when you arrive.
It is only after we have passed through customs and are in the airport waiting area that we look at an information board that informs us that our flight is late, and our departure time is 40 minutes later than scheduled. I hadn’t bothered to open up my laptop and check for messages before I entered security, I had been far too busy chain-smoking. When I finally looked there were three messages from the airline in regards to my flight. The Dominican Airport Authority’s electronic information’s input officer seems to be a little behind in the inputting. Our plane is more than 2 hours delayed!! That’s half a pack of smokes!! I’m on the wrong side of the door!! If this were a domestic flight, I could go back through security but that’s another country outside, you don’t simply step through the door for a quick dart!!!
We decide to go and eat something, breakfast at The Playa had been long ago, and our lay-over in Toronto would be much shorter. There was no need to panic, we had close to a five-hour window between our connecting flights. There are far worse things that could happen to a traveler than being stuck in an air-conditioned airline terminal in the Dominican Republic, I could name more than a few.
We have come to expect problems on travel-day, so we took it in stride. The bright-side, was that this at least was the shallow-end of the Petri dish. The only Corona virus these people had, came with a wedge of Lime disease. A longer delay here, meant a shorter lay-over in the deep-end and this was preferable. We move from the un-comfortable restaurant chairs to the un-comfortable gate waiting-area chairs, or rather formed-steel benches, shaped like chairs. My right cheek was already gone for the day!
Airport terminals all have one thing in common, announcements. Mechanical voices loudly spewing out information in a tone that is un-decipherable. There is no person standing over a microphone, mispronouncing someone’s name, it’s a machine. The airport tech simply types in the name and let’s the machine butcher it! They all have them now, and depending on what kind of program they use, some AI voices are better and clearer than others, and some terminal public address systems are far better than others.
In Puerto Plata they use a young male voice with a Spanish accent. Except for a person’s name, for the most part, the voice is clear with the accent. They could have picked a female voice with a Swedish accent, there are plenty of AI voices to chose from, but that would make no sense. If they did that than everyone would know it was a machine and not a real Dominican talking to you. The information that the voice gives you comes from a keyboard, and is written in Spanish, run through the translator, and out through the PA. They’re using the same system as Wendy’s sign-maker!! The language translator makes the AI’s translation sound like a cross between Yoda and Tattoo from Fantasy Island!
“Flight Two-Thousand Five-Hundred and Seven, your plane is almost here, your plane is almost here”. The voice started announcing after two-hours of staring at an empty ramp with no plane attached. Throwing us a bone, like Tattoo would throw Mr. Rouke, whispering in his ear, “Boss, da plane is coming.” Half an hour later the message started saying “Flight two-thousand-five-hundred-seven, your plane is here! Your plane is here!” “Boss! Da plane!! Da plane!!” Ten minutes later our flight from Toronto pulls up to the empty passenger-loading ramp and prepares to un-load its passengers. It is just over an hour behind schedule. This delay did little to impact Honey and I, others were not so lucky, and the delay had caused many other travelers increased anxieties. You could see this in their reaction when the aircraft finally arrived at the gate.
The voice is now telling passengers on our flight to get to the gate, “Your plane is here! Your plane is here! It will board soon! It will board soon! You should go to gate 9! You should go to gate 9!” The crowd starts to increase in the waiting area, and before the first passenger has dis-embarked from the arriving group, a line is forming at the departure gate. Honey and I sit calmly and watch this from our un-comfortable seats, no point congregating in a crowd, even if this is only the shallow-end, risk is risk.