February 3, 2021
An old Yiddish proverb maintains that “Der mentsh trakht un got lakht.” Which famously translates to “Man plans, and God laughs.” If true, the Lord must be guffawing in Heaven these days over my ongoing battle to get back to what until March, 2020 was normal travel planning challenges.
Normalcy implies predictability, order, regularity—all elements of my life that don’t pertain any more to travel during the pandemic, whether for business or leisure. My innate hard-wired strength and natural state is to be in control, to think and see ahead, to be ready for any contingency, to know how to manage reality, and to move with alacrity to navigate travel changes beneficially. I’m well-practiced and good at travel planning. To a large degree, though, that’s all out the window now. With a few exceptions, I haven’t been real successful achieving selected travel outcomes since the coronavirus upended normality.
Flight cancelations & e-credits
Like a good and responsible citizen (and because the airlines dumped my flights), I canceled trip after trip last year during the shutdown: First to Tampa, New Orleans, Madison, and two separate trips to the Twin Cities. Then, most distressingly, I scuttled a two week trip to Morocco with my wife to celebrate 25 years of marriage. Our booby prize was time on the sands of the North Carolina coast last summer, wonderful in its own way, just not comparable to an exotic adventure on the sands of the Sahara. In the aftermath of those ghost flights, I now manage a fat file of e-credits with American and Delta for four different travelers (me, my wife, our son, and our daughter) with disparate expiration dates and a muddle of rules for use. Is that the wind I detect howling, or is it the Immortal chortling with amusement?
Bewildering South African travel planning
God’s sides must hurt from laughing at my ongoing battle to make another trip back to the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Originally planned for late January and February (I’d be there now had that worked out), South African shutdowns and related flight cancellations forced me to cancel and remake the complex arrangements for May dates instead. Which included figuring out where to get PCR Covid testing in the USA before leaving, acquiring scarce N95 or KN95 masks for the trip, booking new international flight reservations to and from Johannesburg, reserving an overnight hotel at the Jo’burg airport, securing new domestic flight tickets to and from Skukuza in the Kruger, changing car rental dates at Skukuza, modifying hard-to-get accommodations for 12 nights in the Kruger Park, and finding a place near the Kruger to get a PCR Covid test within 72 hours of my return home to satisfy new CDC requirements.
I did all that, too, even finally confirming day before yesterday two clinics in Nelspruit in the South African province of Mpumalanga near the Kruger Park where I could get tested.
But yesterday Delta canceled my flights in May to Johannesburg, crumbling all my carefully made plans. Now I must begin again from scratch, this time aiming for early November—nearly a year after my initial itinerary. This cascading turmoil of trip planning futility would make Sisyphus weep, but I’m betting the Supreme Being is grinning.
N95 masks, where art thou?
As I wrote last week, airlines and some countries are now requiring higher grade N95/KN95 masks. They ain’t cheap or easy to find. I guess it’s my job to keep the Deity in good humor.
Vaccinations, where art thou?
I wrote about getting my first dose (of two) of the Moderna vaccine two weeks back. Getting an appointment was a chaotic whack-a-mole process unworthy of the American reputation for efficiency. It hasn’t gotten any better since. But two weeks in, I am recovering from survivor’s guilt and full of buoyant happiness that my body is now resistant to the disease.
Vaccination? We don’t care about your stinking vaccination
But the sailing existential balloon of relief after being vaccinated fell to earth when I learned airlines, airport, and countries don’t give a flip about my CDC proof of Covid-19 inoculation. I am nonetheless required to be tested twice: once within 72 hours of outbound travel, and again within 72 hours of travel coming home. And none of those cheap, quick, and easy-to-find antigen tests, either. No, sir. Only the expensive PCR tests that can take up to two days for results will be accepted. Once again providing merriment for the Divine Spirit.
Airport testing, where art thou?
Covid PCR testing is rapidly becoming the standard hurdle to fly through the world’s airports, and yet on-site clinics are still rare. Making my job harder if I want to comply and fly.
Antibodies? We don’t care about your stinking antibodies, either
Like vaccinations, neither do airlines, airports, or countries care if I’ve had a Covid antibody test to prove if I recovered from a bout of the novel coronavirus and that my body was resistant to it. Because of reports of rampant community spread, I spent $130 at LabCorp before my first vaccination to be tested for Covid antibodies. It came back negative, so I probably didn’t have it. But if I was showing CV-19 antibodies, it wouldn’t help me travel, and it might even work against me if the presence of healthy antibodies triggered a false-positive Covid test. Did I just hear God chuckling?
Beach demand escalation
Maybe, I considered, another oceanfront rental house would be the ticket this summer if foreign travel is virtually impossible. Until I checked the usual realtors along the N.C. coast south of Cape Lookout. Beach property rental rates have skyrocketed and desirable places on the surf are as hard to find as truth in a state legislature. I was told pent-up travel demand from Covid containment is the culprit. I sense the Lord smirking.
Echoes of post 9/11 flying?
Now that airline crews have been granted authority to enforce passenger in-flight mask-wearing and “play nice” rules, and TSA with the same mandate at airports, I can’t help wondering when that policing discretion will go over the line. I recall a number of incidents I witnessed, and one where I played the victim, right after 9/11. Some airport and airline personnel had short fuses about real or imagined disruptions, and some flight attendants took their newfound power too far. I saw passengers ejected from planes for using a tone of voice perceived as “negative” or “threatening” for what I believed were legitimate complaints and questions. I sure want wrongdoers to stay off my flights, but I don’t want to be treated like a criminal or assumed to be guilty if I furrow a brow in flight.
Angst exhaustion, but…
Yeah, I worry and suffer endless frustration over dashed plans. It’s exhausting. But I am determined to go places, and I will keep trying until I get there. If it keeps the Creator smiling while I try, then God bless him(self).