It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime.
A long weekend in London for a bachelor party capped with a Premier League soccer match. Then off to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day and a river of Guinness.
As I waited at the airport on a recent Wednesday earlier this month to board a flight to London with my fellow bachelor partyers, I was just thankful my wife allowed me to go.
Ten minutes before we scheduled to board, the excitement turned to anxiety as we looked up to see President Donald Trump address the nation. The president announced no travelers from Europe would be allowed into the United States because of the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
Regardless of your political affiliation, it’s a bit unnerving to hear your president say people will not be allowed to fly into America from the continent you are about to travel to. (Trump would later clarify that statement and explain that it did not apply to U.S. citizens, but we didn’t know that at the time.)
So, unsure if we were going to have to swim back from London, we boarded.
A few people got off the plane, but we departed for London where we had a wonderful four days. The soccer match, along with pretty much every sporting event in the world, was postponed within 24 hours of our arrival. But we still managed to send the groom-to-be off with a heavy dose of pubs, sightseeing, meat pies and more pubs.
London appeared unusually sparse. We walked right on to the London Eye on Saturday. There were always empty seats on the tube. It seemed London had gotten the quarantine memo a few days early. That left plenty of room on the sidewalk for walking and group hand sanitization breaks.
While out on Saturday I was notified that my flight home from Dublin, which wasn’t for another six days, was canceled. Then on Sunday, all entertainment in Ireland was effectively canceled, with shops, bars and museums forced to close. That didn’t leave much for us to do there, but two people flew out there on Sunday to check it out and report back.
Monday morning our advance scouts announced that they were flying back to Seattle. My travel partner to Dublin informed me minutes after I woke up that he spent more than he’d probably like to share on a flight home.
I panicked and quickly headed to the airport to see if there was any way I could turn a one-way ticket to Dublin into a flight home to Seattle.
The vacation was over.
On the tube ride to Heathrow Airport I alternated between trying to calm my racing heart and shopping for flights to Seattle on my phone. I came up with a number in my head for the maximum amount I was willing to pay for a flight home and prayed my wife would concur.
When I arrived at Terminal 3, I was greeted by a customer-service line about 20 people deep. I saw people crying, laughing, swearing and doing a combination of all three.
While waiting in that line, I overheard people from the United Kingdom giving their numbers to Americans and offering a place to stay if they were unable to get back across the Atlantic. On the flight to Seattle I heard Americans returning to the favor to their London counterparts who weren’t sure they were going to be able to get back to the United Kingdom.
I got to the front of the line and explained my situation to the customer-service representative. A few clicks later she was printing me a new boarding pass. I asked if there was a fee for the new ticket.
As I fought back the urge to cry, I bungled my way through security with far more liquids than my designated allotment. I also almost left my shoes in a bin. I’m sure I would have figured it out eventually even if the security agent hadn’t yelled at me to come back but, honestly, who can say?
My brain was spinning when I finally got on the plane. I couldn’t believe I was actually on my way home. I decided to celebrate with a Bloody Mary. After exactly two sips, my knee bumped the tray and I promptly spilled all over myself.
At least I had my shoes.
I was one of several travelers who were randomly selected to get our temperatures taken at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention screening checkpoint in Seattle, and as I waited in line, I laughed and reminisced with a couple of the guys who had been on my flight.
The trip didn’t go exactly as planned, but it was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We’ll tell our friends and families all about it one day.
After our quarantine is over.