Coronavirus disease (covid-19) has put life as we know it on hold all around the world. I happened to be away at some point during this pandemic and I’m sharing my travel experience with you all. If you haven’t read the first part, you would have to read it first because this post is a continuation of the previous one.
Day 7 – March 17 2020 contd
I was called forward by an immigration officer and was asked yet another set of questions. I was entirely honest about my travel history, how I had planned this trip a while ago, that my original flight was through the US and how I needed to get back to go home. All the time, what my brother who lives in Chicago told me kept ringing in my head. “It will be difficult for you to get in now, how are you gonna do it.” My case officer decided to consult his supervisor and I immediately heard her say I couldn’t enter the US. She wasn’t helpful at all and told me blatantly that I had to remain in Canada because I flew into the US through the UK and there was now a travel ban for European countries. Hearing this meant a lot of things; my passport will be tainted with “denied entry into the US at the border”, I would have to fill in my visa renewal form that I was denied entry into the US, and it also meant that I wasn’t going to see my friends and family in Chicago. At this point, I was feeling a lot of emotions. I was devastated, angry but more sad than anything because my denial also meant I needed to buy a new ticket from Canada to Nigeria. I texted my brother and my friends to let them know about my present predicament. The supervisor then told me if I was under 21, she would have let me go under the condition that I stayed with my brother the entire time but since I was way over this age, there was nothing she could do.
I was speechless and remained quiet for a long time. I didn’t bother begging and now that I’m writing this I can’t figure out if it was bravery, stupidity or pride. My case officer asked me to go back to my seat and he studied my passport for a while. Then he went to meet his supervisor and told her he wanted to call CDC on my behalf. I couldn’t believe he decided to go the extra mile for me. I started praying silently for them to pick up and they did. He was told to allow me into the US not longer than twenty seconds into the call and I was beyond elated. For some reason, he understood my case and genuinely cared. He advised me to try to leave the US earlier than I had planned and got all my contact details. God bless you, sir!!! I collected my passport, sanitized my hands, got my luggage and went out the double doors into dutyfree. In case you forgot, let me pause to remind you that I was still at Toronto Pearson International Airport. I immediately texted everyone to let them know I had been let through. I was done with my holiday, wasn’t looking forward to my flight to Chicago and I wished I was going back to Nigeria instead. We finally boarded and left Toronto for Chicago. Before I could try to catch a nap, we had arrived at Chicago O’Hare airport. My friend, Jummy picked me up at the airport and my mood brightened up a little bit. After narrating my ordeal to anyone willing to listen, I showered, ate and tried to find sleep.
Day 8 – March 18 2020
I woke up to a gloomy rainy day in Chicago. All the shops and restaurants were closed and there wasn’t much to do but stay home. I sent an email to Travelstart, my booking agent to find out if my ticket to Lagos was still valid and if I could move my return date earlier. I was in a downer all day and just when I was trying to pick myself up, I got a forwarded message that The Federal Government of Nigeria was restricting entry into the country for travellers from China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Japan, France, Germany, United States of America, Norway, United Kingdom, Netherlands & Switzerland. This was a good thing to reduce the spread of coronavirus but a bad thing for me. I was in one of these countries and didn’t know if this meant I couldn’t get out. I did some research and found out that Nigerians coming from these countries would be allowed into the country. That didn’t make me relaxed though because I could only visualize the worst-case scenarios. Jummy was such a good sport, she kept trying to cheer me up. We went to Walmart and it felt good to be out of the house. I got my blood pressure checked and we did some shopping. On this day, there were 128 new cases of covid-19 in Illinois, the cases in Nigeria had risen to 8 and the new cases were people that flew into the country.
Day 9 – March 19 2020
As soon as I woke up, I checked my email. Travelstart had replied to inform me that my flight to Lagos for the 23rd had been cancelled and there were no seats for the 19th, 20th and 21st. I also saw an announcement from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority confirming the travel ban and clarifying the terms of the restrictions. I was relieved at the sight of a confirmation that I would be allowed into the country. Coincidentally, I received an email from British Airways informing me of changes to some of their flights but also reassuring me that my flight to Lagos was still valid and that an email would be sent to me if my flight got cancelled. At this point I was confused; Travelstart told me my flight was cancelled while BA said it wasn’t. I decided to confirm myself with my booking reference and low and behold the flight was scheduled as “on time”. I had some hope but I replied Travelstart to make enquiries about booking a new ticket or changing my return date. I began searching for flights and thought about going to the airport to get a ticket. I had to choose Travelstart’s response over BA because I know agencies get information before passengers. I tried calling BA to speak to a customer care representative and after waiting for so long, the rep told me he couldn’t help me because I didn’t buy my ticket directly through them. My brother in Nigeria also went to Travelstart on our behalf and it seemed like they were as confused as us.
The evening started with me learning how to play taboo reluctantly, playing taboo with a group of six people including me, my team winning, eating pizza and being hopeful about the possibility of being able to leave. I must admit I needed the escape and it was a good one for as long as it lasted. However, my evening ended on a sad note when I checked my flight status on BA’s website and saw cancelled. I wasn’t sent an email about the cancellation like they claimed they would. At this point, I was tired, frustrated and making frantic calls as rules kept changing every day. I came to a conclusion to buy a ticket back to Lagos on the first flight out and Delta seemed like a good idea because it wasn’t passing through Europe. The oneway ticket was selling for $1533 and Jummy said that was a lot of money to spend on a new ticket. We began searching for alternatives but the prices weren’t friendly. I even saw a BA ticket for my original return date which was two times over the original price. I went to bed with fear in my mind and no plan in sight.
Day 10 – March 20 2020
I didn’t get much sleep as expected but I woke up knowing I was going to buy a ticket today. I checked my email for some good news but there was none. Travelstart emailed me that they found a seat for me for the 26th of March and I was going to have to pay N205,000 to be booked on that flight. There was no way in hell I was going to wait for that long. I feared some big announcement was going to be made by Monday and the last thing I wanted was to be stuck in America.
The Governor of Illinois planned to issue a lockdown order requiring residents shelter in place. I didn’t know if this meant airports would be closed but I considered the possibility. I spoke to my sister-in-law who was also trying to leave Canada by the way, about my decision and began searching for ticket options. By this time, the Delta ticket I saw from the day before was sold out (Nigerians no dey waste time), KLM was for $1500 and I didn’t consider it an option because it was flying through Europe. I found an Ethiopian Airlines one way ticket for March 21st at $1355. I tried calling the airline to confirm they were definitely flying to Nigeria and I was on hold for over an hour until the line went off. I decided to share my ordeal with a friend who told me to also check Middle East airlines. In my worried state, I totally forgot about them. I checked Emirates and Qatar there were no flights out of Chicago for the 21st and I prayed silently that Etihad would have a flight.
Etihad did have a flight for the 21st for $910.99, but the journey was long. If I bought the oneway ticket, I was going to get to Nigeria on the 23rd at 8:00am. I hadn’t slept in days and I just wanted to get back home on or before Monday. I shut down my computer, put my phones on silent and slept. Yes, you read right, I slept. I don’t know how that happened but I guess I was exhausted. I woke up two hours later and bought the ticket. Thank goodness I was able to afford to buy it. I kept wondering if the ticket would get cancelled and kept confirming it was still valid even after I checked in later that night. One would think I would have been calm by now but I wasn’t. I went out for a walk but sadly, it didn’t keep me calm and I obviously didn’t sleep through the night.
Day 11 – March 21 2020
I woke up to two new updates. There were ten new cases of covid-19 in Nigeria and 22 cases overall. Also, The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority released an announcement that effective March 23rd at 23:00, the Lagos and Abuja airports would be closed to international flights. This news was released on a Saturday morning and it confirmed my fears. I was happy I had booked my flight though I immediately checked its status again. I didn’t really feel like getting out of bed until I had to go to the airport but I had to go see my family in Chicago. All my panic, paranoia and confusion had given me no time to visit them. It was nice to spend time with family even though it was a short visit because the Illionois lockdown was starting at 5pm and I had to make it to the airport before this time. I went back to get ready and I ate pancakes before we left for the airport (don’t judge me, I needed comfort food).
The journey to the airport was short and soon it became time to say goodbye to Jummy. I was finally at the airport and leaving the United States (hopefully). I went to the check-in counter and the check-in staff asked her colleague if my flight to Lagos was scheduled to fly. She got a “yes” and I dropped my bags. I was dreading the twenty-nine hours’ journey to Lagos but I was also thankful that I was almost home. The flight was so empty that we all got to lay down on the empty seats beside us. The first leg of my journey was to Abu Dhabi and the duration of the flight was 13 hours and 25 minutes.
Day 12 – March 22 2020
We arrived in Abu Dhabi safely and I had to wait for 7 hours and 45 minutes for my flight to Lagos. I was tired but boy was I glad. And no, the hours didn’t fly by, they crept by instead and all the time I was waiting for my flight to Lagos to be displayed on the screens. There were so many people at the airport fully kitted with different kinds of masks. There were a lot of families and people with children and it was evident everyone was trying to get home. So many flights were cancelled, coronavirus was disrupting a lot of things for everyone. Before I sat anywhere, I wiped surfaces and sanitized. Whenever where I was got a bit crowded, I fled to a less clustered area. I eventually went to the food court and spotted CNN Traveller.
The news on CNN wasn’t comforting at all. There were more cases of covid-19 all over the world. I walked back to the gates after about an hour. A lot of travellers were sleeping but sleep was the last thing on my mind. I stayed awake texting my loved ones and also kept busy by writing.
Day 13 – March 23 2020
The flight to Lagos eventually came on the screens and not long after, it was time to board. There were so many Nigerians at the gate and this meant the flight was going to be full. I was among the last few people to board and almost every seat had been occupied. I get it, everyone was trying to get home but I was worried. The flight attendants had masks and gloves on and most passengers did too. The duration of the flight to Lagos was 8 hours and 15 minutes and it was a good flight. About forty-five minutes before we were scheduled to arrive in Lagos, we were handed out a medical questionnaire to fill about coronavirus and after I completed my form, someone asked for my pen. I considered not giving it to him, I’m not going to lie. I mean, why would you not have a pen with you if you’re travelling during covid-19 wahala??? Meanwhile, he was fully kitted with gloves and a mask but he didn’t have a pen. When the plane began its descent into Lagos, I sighed in relief and even took some photos.
The queue for our health screening was long and we were clustered. I still had to queue to get my passport stamped and waited a while to get my bags but I didn’t mind all this because I was finally home. On this day, there were 3 new covid-19 cases in Nigeria and a total of 30 confirmed cases overall.
I’ve been in quarantine at home since I came back and I’m thankful that I feel fine. However, today is just day four and I still have ten more days to know for sure. I start working from home on Monday and I’m grateful I work in a place that isn’t making us go to the office. Do I regret coming back home? hell no. As at today, there are now 65 confirmed cases of covid-19 in Nigeria.
Please stay safe and stay home.