The MIQ Chronicles: Travel Day.
I live on the New South Wales Central Coast, with a one and half hour train journey to get to Sydney International Airport. The increased security and earlier check-in time would have meant doing the trip with the early morning commuters going to Sydney. Something to be avoided with suitcases and bags. I had, therefore, booked an airport hotel for the night before so I could travel up in the afternoon.
The train trip involves changing at Central to the airport line. Never really worked out why the main Sydney station is just called ‘Central’. Not ‘Central Station’ or ‘Sydney Central’ or whatever. Just Central. Full stop. It gives the vague impression that somehow, something or someone got left behind somewhere.
Whatever. The airport line stops first at Domestic and then International (yes, they are also stand-alone words). Getting off at the international terminal stop is when the surreal stuff begins to happen.
The train’s carriages were reasonably full but I was the only person who got off at International, complete with a suitcase and overhead locker bag. About to the take the elevator, and looking back at the carriages, it was disconcerting to note everyone staring at me, with expressions ranging from surprise to outright jealousy.
“OMG! He’s flying overseas!”
Perhaps a little know fact for non-Australians: Australian citizens are currently prohibited from travelling anywhere outside Australia, with a few rare exemptions. This rule does not apply to permanent residents.
The International Airport station (sounds complete, doesn't it) is fairly deep underground and involves multiple banks of elevators to reach the departure area.
All completely empty, at four in the afternoon.
Checking into the airport hotel was normal, although all of the bars and restaurants were closed, except for one downstairs bar that served as the bar, dining and breakfast area.
At the airline check-in the next day, all went off smoothly, even if, as mentioned, there appeared to be multiple issues being addressed with various passengers. The flight was connecting to an onward flight to Fiji. Due the early evening arrival time of Sydney-Auckland flight, these people were having to spend 15 hours airside in Auckland, with no access to lounges or any other areas.
The whole immigration and security process was normal, even if I appeared to be the sole non-Chinese person leaving Australia! Without thinking, I took two photos of the queues at immigration and was made to delete them— they obviously have not heard of the cloud.
The main food court area after going through immigration or ‘Airside’ in the lingo, had one snack restaurant open at eleven in the morning.
I asked the guy doing the coffees if they sort of took it in turn. I was told the others found it too hard to adhere to the COVID compliance rules. Most of the business happened when a China-bound flight was leaving, a curiosity that the guy closing the WH Smith newsagency also mentioned (the next China-bound flight was at four in the afternoon).
So not only are the Chinese not coming to Australia anymore but they are also leaving in droves. Nothing in the press about that, and there were at least 3/4 flights leaving for China that day.
Before boarding, a quick look online at the capacity of the Boeing 787–9 Dreamliner flying me to Auckland showed 296 seating capacity. It was hard to see more than 50 passengers embarking.
We were two adults plus a couple with a baby in section I was in, out of about 60 seats. All very sad.
The crew were great and very cheerful and helpful, even though you kept expecting everyone to come back from the bathroom or wandering around the plane or whatever.
Auckland arrival was more of the same and pretty uneventful until arriving at the bus taking us to the quarantine hotel.
A masked and PPE gowned lady seated behind a desk-like table took yet more details, then pointed to the bus through the airport sliding doors. At the same time, almost as an afterthought, she pointed to the name of the hotel on a piece of paper in front of her on the desk.
Having spent some time on the quarantine forums before my flight, I knew immediately that this was one of the five-star quarantine hotels with an outside exercise area.
Result! Things were starting to look up.
To be continued — next up: the hotel.