Last weekend I joined a unique travel club comprising of those who have travelled internationally during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Some would say a privileged group, others might suggest stupid, silly, or even selfish folk, either way, I completed what was a strange but interesting pandemic travel experience.
I’m confident in fighting off the flight shamers as my trip was classified as essential due to my role as manager to several Irish professional boxers. I travelled with a group of fifteen individuals, comprising of five Boxing Union of Ireland licenced professional boxers along with coaches and management staff. The aim of the trip was to allow our fighters to ply their trade in a professional boxing event in Luxembourg, four of the five fighters haven’t boxed in over a year. Our destination was Dudelange, Luxembourg. Our itinerary consisted of a flight from Dublin to Brussels, followed by a two and a half-hour drive.
Remembering my passport, driving licence and other pre-travel essentials was a challenge when life was ‘normal’, add a pandemic to the mix and I’m overwhelmed by sworn statements, passenger locator forms and a battery of Covid 19 tests, and don’t forget the masks, plenty of masks.
The first course of action once flights were booked was to arrange a Covid19 PCR travel test, which sets you back €99. Yes, before you ask, I did consider chancing my arm on a freebie from the HSE. Thankfully, I quickly concluded that I wouldn’t be the first to come up with that idea, a good move on my behalf as I have since heard of lost flights and cancelled trips from such shenanigans. In terms of costs, the flights, including a check on 20kg bag came in under €100, hotels were also cheap. Unfortunately, it’s the three Covid19 PCR tests that inflate the travel costs. It’s also worth considering the possible financial implications for someone required to take time off work to complete their isolation requirements once back in Ireland.
A quick google search took me to Randox Health Travel Centre, Leopardstown, Dublin for an express COVID-19 PCR test with guaranteed next day results. After a quick and efficient booking and testing process, I received my results and travel cert fourteen hours later. The travel requirements implemented by both the Irish and Belgian authorities is you must be in possession of a negative test within 72 hours of departure, I also require another test to re-enter the country. Next up was the Essential Travel Sworn Statement to confirm my travel was qualified as essential along with my Passenger Locator Form to ensure I was contactable throughout my trip.
If I had to select one positive aspect of travelling during a pandemic, it’s the ghostly quiet airports and airplanes. I arrived at Dublin airport at 2 pm, within 20 minutes id my luggage checked in, cleared security and finished off a bottle of water from the hydration station. Interestingly you know that one person at the security check-in who holds up everyone while they take off their shoes, empty their bag, set off the body scanner before removing the change from their pockets, yes, well don’t worry, they haven’t gone anywhere.
I’m not one for crowds and not one for flying, so the socially distanced passenger layout on our Ryanair flight FR1456 to Brussels eased my flight nerves somewhat. There is always a little voice in my mind telling me this is the flight, the doomsday scenario. My thought process in the lead up to travelling was that due to the collapse of air travel, planes would be unmaintained, unserviced, a cost-cutting decision I imagined. Always better off in a window seat so I can keep tabs on my side of the plane, ensure everything is in working order. Thankfully, no shortage of window seats.
Let me tell you what there was a shortage of, coffee, not a bloody drop of the black stuff to be had on either of my flights, like seriously Ryanair. I also overheard some other passengers voicing their surprise that a cup of tea was also off the cards. I put it down to technical difficulties on route but was not so understanding on the way home. Seems bringing hot water onto a plane packed to the rafters with a couple of mask-wearing, socially distancing passengers is just too much hassle.
Following some research, we arranged a walk-in Covid19 test at Brussels airport on arrival. Getting the test then would position us within the 72-hour criteria for arriving back in Ireland. This one worked out a little cheaper at €48. A throat and nose swab had been my experience of Covid19 testing to date. The Belgium method is a no messing about, one swab job, inserted as far up the nasal passage as physically possible. Not something I’d be wanting to experience again anytime soon.
Once landed and tested it was a straightforward drive to Dudelange, Luxembourg. The problem is nothing is ever really that straight forward. It turned out one of the cars we rented had somehow shown up on the system as cancelled. Blessing in disguise as we managed to get a mini-bus, one vehicle, one driver, happy days. It was a strange feeling being in such close proximity to so many people within the minibus, but the fact we had all been tested within the last three days provided a sense of ease.
Staying in a hotel where you can’t access food and drink or socialise around the reception or bar areas felt strange. Its these simple things that up until last year we took for granted, these normal social activities that remind us of just how much things have changed. Restrictions within Luxembourg are in line with Ireland, with all sit in restaurants and bars closed. One stark difference was the inclusion of a curfew between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. where movements of people in public spaces are prohibited.
The boxing event was held in the René Hartmann Sports Centre , a local sports arena, with only fighters, trainers, managers and officials in attendance, This was also another clear reminder that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, as a strange atmosphere hung over the evening’s proceedings. Unfortunately one of our fighters also went down to a shock defeat, in part to dreadful judging but id imagine performing in a sphere void of atmosphere didn’t help.
With the boxing done and dusted we headed back to Brussels on Sunday morning where we would remain until our flight home on Monday. Brussels presented a more relaxed proposition when it came to restrictions, certainly more people on the streets and food shops and allowing walk-in service. We stayed in the Warwick Hotel which is in the centre of Brussels and facilitates some beautiful sightseeing just a short walk in any direction.
Monday at 12.50 pm we took the coffee-less Ryanair flight FR1453 back to Dublin where we still had some work to do before our trip could be classed as officially over. The first requirement is that everyone who travelled must isolate for five days. Once this initial five days isolation period is over we require another Covid19 test. If following this test we are deemed Covid19 free our isolation period is over, if someone doesn’t fancy another test well then its a full fourteen days of isolation. I’ll take the test, please.
As of this writing, I’m heading into day four of my five day isolation period. Not long until I cross paths once more with the dreaded swab.