Updated: Apr 2
Day 2 - Yes! I’ve done it! I was wondering how long it would take me to give up getting into day clothes, since I’m not allowed to receive visitors to my hotel room nor go out at all in this state of penitent quarantine for returned globe-trotters. So what’s the point of dressing, I had to ask myself?
Then I woke this morning feeling a little rebellious. I took one look at my day dress (my daughter calls it my mini-dress but it’s just above my knees, not upper thigh length, let me assure you) and I decided today was the day for ‘deshabille’.
And since we’ve slipped so easily into French, may I use the word ‘negligee’? Yes, I stayed in my neg long after I should have become respectable. At least two thirds of the day ... (And please don’t act shocked that I’m not naked in bed every night. That was so 80s - and I am over forty, after all!)
The fact is my only incentive for finally deciding - by mid-afternoon - that I should dress (ie ‘dress myself up’) was when I had the thought that if my hand happened to slip from the door handle when I stepped outside into the hotel corridor to pick up the paper bag containing one of my meals, and the door closed behind me, I would have to go down to reception in that same state of deshabille since I’m not allowed to knock on any of my compatriots’ doors. A sobering thought! So I quickly took off my ‘oh so comfy between the sheets’ outfit for a sensible skirt - and kissed goodbye (or do I mean ‘au revoir’?) to my thoughts of a couple of quick day naps to allay the jetlag.
So, basically, I’ve been battling against the sweet solace of slumber to give you my impressions of the repatriation flight, as I’d promised yesterday.
It began when the Australian Embassy in Lima referred me to a travel company, Chimu Adventures, trying to organise a flight home for Australians left high and dry when Peru closed its borders at short notice - as it had every right to do for the protection of its own citizens. Some Aussies were left as high as Machu Picchu (that’s over 2400 metres) and others scrambling around or queued cheek by jowl (instead of 1.5 -2 metres apart) at Lima airport.
The Ambassador was very compassionate and efficient, especially considering the circumstances, in that the Australian Federal Government had not despatched a government-authorised Qantas flight to pick up Australians abroad as it had done during the China corona outbreak. The Ambassador assisted where she could, and that was essentially to work with Chimu, DFAT, the Latam airline which runs a regular service in conjunction with Qantas to Peru via Chile, and the Chilean and Peruvian aviation authorities. No easy task, I imagine. And so there were several possible go-aheads and then delays ... until a flight finally left for Australia on Sunday March 29.
The plan had been to carry 260 Australians and New Zealanders, but with the announcements of Australian borders closed and then compulsory quarantine in Sydney, the NZers were hived off to another flight. So the numbers varied a little over the last 24 hours before take-off.
And then there was a surprise package just as we boarded the flight at the national Fuerza Aerea del Peru airforce base in Lima. Airline stewards tried to put us all in Economy despite some passengers having paid twice the price for Business class. That is, $10,800 from Lima or, from what I heard screamed out loud on board, $12,000 from Cusco. The justification given by stewards seemed to be that the first two rows (12 seats) in the Dreamliner needed to be left empty in case of a need for isolation. That is, for actual corona virus cases. Yet Chimu had told us that anyone with the infectious illness would not be allowed on board but treated in Peru. And there were another 3 rows (18 seats) which hadn’t been set aside - and quite a number of those who’d paid the higher Business rate were justifiably angry that they were being shut out. ‘Bullshit’ was a frequent and noisy response to the arrangement and to the lame position adopted by the stewards that dissatisfied customers could claim a refund later. Needless to say some passengers prevailed, most with legitimate health concerns. But the unhappy divisive situation was repeated to some extent after the 5-and-a-half hour wait in Santiago for refuelling. Sympathy for all concerned was the only suitable response, with passengers having been stressed for weeks and then desperate for a safe way back home, while airline staff, on the frontline of dealing with the public and the possibility of contracting the illness, not fully informed of the details of the flight conditions that passengers had agreed to and paid for.
It was also disappointing to note that there were no medical checks of passengers as expected either in Lima or in Sydney, apart from a flick of the wrist temperature test near the forehead or in the ear.
Who would want that angry on-board situation repeated?
The Federal Government should get its citizens out of South America and other major centres of the world as quickly and efficiently as possible. The way Qantas has been managed over recent years, it’s clearly not our national airline. The Federal Government needs a 51% stake in its ownership, not just a handover of millions of $$$$$ (at least) to add to the complexity of the company’s former corporate profits and now corporate woes. This is not just a time for governments to prop up enterprises but to have them actually working in the interests of Australians.
And with that very disagreeable experience of the trip home relived in the telling (yet for which I’m still very grateful on arrival), I’m now going back to sleep, nightie in hand. (Yes, I think we’re familiar enough with each other now to drop the French.)
Check you tomorrow for Day 3 in my hidey-hole.
One wayward traveller’s opportunity to emote via her daily diary ... Copyright Christine Williams.