We are back home in California and beginning our 14-day self-quarantine while beginning to recover from jet lag. It was a very interesting travel day and I am very thankful that everything went about as smoothly as is possible for International travel.
We got up at 4AM Beijing time, showered, had breakfast and finalized our packing. Our son, grandson, and a good friend arrived just before 6AM to pick up our luggage and drive us to the airport. With Beijing still under quarantine restrictions due to COVID-19 and the time of our departure there was very little traffic. Our driver even made a wrong turn at one point and was able to back up on the freeway to get to the correct exit. We arrived at the airport more than 2 hours before our flight and had plenty of time to get checked in and make it to our gate.
After getting our luggage on carts we entered the terminal and had our temperature checked. This has become routine over the last 3 months. We went to the information desk and when I approached the desk, I was quickly instructed to remain behind the yellow line that provided more than 6 feet separation. It was difficult to hear, but we did get clear instructions on where to go to check-in for our flight.
At the check-in desk we experienced the same separation requirement except when handing the agent our passports and ticket information. I had left my hearing aids out for travel and found I needed to put them in to be able to follow the instructions we were being given. Our luggage was checked through to SFO, but the two tubs we had with us had to be checked in at a different location in the airport. Normally, there would have been Air China employees everywhere who would have helped us find our way, but with an almost empty airport there were none that we could see. We could have gone back to the information desk, but before we could do that a kind gentleman who spoke English asked if we needed help. He helped us find the oversize baggage check-in area and we got the tubs on their way to SFO. With that done we were ready to head to our gate. At that point the man asked us if we would be able to give him any money for his assistance. We didn’t and recognized that we should have been more cautious about people seeking to provide us help.
Normally, in an unfamiliar place it is easy to see where the crowds are going and just follow. There was no one to follow, so we were grateful for signs in English. We proceeded through a couple of immigration and customs checkpoints before going through normal airport security. We had to remove most of our electronics from our backpacks, so the scanning and repacking process took some time. We were in no hurry and there was no one behind us, so it was a very relaxed process.
After a train ride to the International terminal we experienced our next health check. We had a detailed form to fill out and then our temperature was checked again. The woman guiding us through the process was dressed in a white hazmat suit and wearing a mask and goggles. We passed and could proceed to the terminal. It was eerie. Almost nothing was open and there was no one in sight other than airport employees. When we got to the gate, I couldn’t imagine that the flight would not be cancelled since we saw only one other passenger for our flight. There were no passengers at any of the other gates we passed. We felt better when we saw that cargo was being loaded onto our plane.
When it came time to board there were only 4 passengers. We were the only passengers in our section of the plane. There were more flight attendants on board than passengers. As soon as we got settled, we were brought a box lunch and a bottle of water. We had no further contact with the flight crew for the remainder of the flight. Just before landing all the cabin crew got into hazmat suits to go with their masks.
There were many more people in the Tokyo airport. It wasn’t as crowded as I remembered it, but it was not empty. Mask wearing was inconsistent. We had masks on as we’ve become used to that in Beijing. Everyone there wears a mask when out in public. I’m always a little anxious about finding overhead bin space, but we were in an early boarding group and I anticipated that there wouldn’t be any issues. However, on the way to board I was diverted to the side for a random security check. I assume I was being checked to make sure I wasn’t carrying any drugs. Grandma had gone ahead to board. The check didn’t take very long, but I wasn’t certain what I’d find when I got to our seats. As I entered our section of the plane a very nice flight attendant came to help me put my bag into an overhead compartment. Grandma had let her know what was happening and she was looking for me. Soon we were on our way and settled in for the long flight.
We only got a little sleep on the way home. It seemed that every time we decided to try getting some sleep, the plane hit turbulence and it was impossible. We’re very grateful for the in-flight entertainment options and watched several movies during the trip. Food service was the normal with the major difference being that all the flight attendants were wearing blue medical gloves. Only a few of them were wearing masks.
When we got to immigration at SFO some of the immigration officers were wearing masks and others were not. I thought that was a little odd given that the health screening didn’t come until after we checked through immigration. Only people coming from high risk countries had to go through the health screening. Since we were coming from China, we got the full treatment. The process was very similar to what we experienced in the Beijing airport, except that the people performing the check were much less protected. Everyone we encountered was very pleasant and the nice surprise was that our luggage was waiting on the carousel when we’d completed all our checks.
The drive home was uneventful with a quick stop at Chick-fil-A to pick up lunch. We quickly ate our lunch and went to bed. It was 3PM in Santa Rosa and 7AM in Beijing. We had been up and traveling for over 24 hours. We are grateful that God gave us the strength to bring us safely home. Once settled we found ourselves dizzy and feeling like we were still moving. We miss our family in China already, but we are very grateful to be home. We are hoping our bodies quickly figure out when day and night are here.