Travel in a war zone. Travel in a pandemic zone.

By Refiq Tschannen, Associate Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

In my past professional life I used to commute from Amman / Jordan to Baghdad / Iraq during the war days from 2003 to 2011.   And I thought that travel was complicated.

Going from Amman to Baghdad we joined the American Airforce plane. According to UN Security regulations we should wear a helmet and bullet proof vest when landing in Baghdad, because once open a time a sniper”s bullet penetrated a plane and entered a plane. I felt kind of silly because others, such as Iraqi civilians or even US Embassy staff did not bother to wear all that.

Reaching to Baghdad we had to wait in the military base at the airport to ckeck in for the armored convoy that would leave for the Baghdad ‘Green Zone’  usually around 2 am.  If I was lucky I would be given a helicopter ride, but that was not always available.

The US army having occupied Iraq was not able to ‘secure’ the short road trip from the airport to the town. Or was it because the private security firm running the armoured bus service had to make money?

On the return trip we used to have to check in at 8 pm for the armoured convoy trip to the airport, leaving around 3 am usually.  One funny incident I want to tell you:  We had to spend hours in the waiting room. The private security company (KBR) was kind enough to provide a TV showing the cheapest and silliest video movies they could find. We (US military and civilian contractors and a few UN staff) were sitting there for hours watching silently one stupid movie after the other. Once there was a horror movie where giant insects invaded a village. One boy said “it will be over in the morning, the Government said on the radio and the Government does not lie.” The whole audience burst out laughing. This was the one and only joke they could find in the whole movie.

Anyway, I used to think that this travel in the war zone would be the most complicated travel. Well, it was part of my job and therefore I had to accept it.  (The food in the military canteens was not all that special, however, the American Ice Cream was appreciated).

And now comes the travel in the pandemic.  I was supposed to travel from Lombok, Indonesia, to Switzerland in mid May. I have a return ticket Lombok – Singapore – Zurich. Well, here comes the lockdown and no flights out of Lombok. Now – end of June – some flights are starting. There are still no direct flights to Singapore. Even flights via Jakarta to Singapore don’t work as Singapore is not open for transit passengers from Indonesia (yet).

Consequently IO bought a new ticket. I could not get a ticket out of Lombok to Jakarta so I took one from Lombok to Bali to Jakarta and on to Istanbul and Zurich. Tickets issued and confirmed, I thought.

First Turkish Airlines says the booked flight is not going please phone us. Took me 1 1/2 hours of phoning to get a new booking.

Next Garuda airlines sent a message that the booked flight will go two days earlier. OK rebooking everything.

And then Garuda pointed out ‘do not forget, we need a Covid-19 virus test if you want to enter our plane. OK, off to the hospital for the test.

Could it be that the travel in the war zone was easier than in the pandemic zone?

3 replies

  1. In case you want to know more about my ‘professional travels’ you may google ‘Glimpses into the life of a global nomad, part one to part ten’. Have fun.

  2. The pandemic travel, which before the pandemic took about 24 hours, is now likely to take six days

  3. update: So, I left Lombok for Bali on 30.6., due to a confusion from Garuda Airlines. I was booked Bali Jakarta on 4.7., but received a message from Garuda that ‘we have changed your booking’. I thought they said 2.7., so I tried to reach Bali on 1st, could not get a flight and therefore went on 30.6.20. After reaching Bali I received a message from Turkish Airlines that they suggest I would fly on 11.7. as 4.7. flight was cancelled and other flights until 11th did not connect well to Zurich. I went to the Turkish Airlines Office in Bali airport and told them that I could not wait that long. Then they booked me Jakarta Istanbul on 5th with a hotel stay-over in Istanbul and Istanbul Zurich on 6th. They also re-fixed that Garuda flight on 4th, I had to arrange the Hotel in Jakarta.

    Before travel I did that corona test. Negativ, fine, ok to travel. It was looked at during check-in in Lombok, Bali and Jakarta. Bali also checked that I did the online entry of the health declaration. In Jakarta no-one checked the online declaration, just the contact declaration filled out in the plane. Regarding the health declaration: in the plane from Istanbul to Zurich they gave me a contact declaration for Switzerland to fill out, but no one in Zurich collected it.

    What else to say? ‘Due to corona’ no hot meals were served. One sandwich from Lombok to Bali, another sandwich from Bali to Jakarta. For the 11 hours Jakarta to Istanbul two sandwiches and another sandwich from Istanbul to Zurich. All similar. Is that really necessary?

    And reduction of hand luggage from 8 kg to 4 kg ‘due to corona’? Hand luggage is hand luggage, how can a reduction change anything.

    I think the guys are fooling us?

    Ah, well. I reachged Zurich…

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