At last, heading out of Cyprus and back to work in Qatar!
I arrived back in Cyprus from my last offshore rotation on February 25th. The night before I was due to return to Qatar, the Qatar Authorities closed the state due to the Covid-19 situation. This was 24 hours earlier than had been previously announced.
I had started to pick up on comments on a few Facebook groups that the situation was changing, and then I was in communication with a colleague from work. This was around 10 pm, I was due to leave the house around 7 am the next morning.
Over the next few hours, we both tried to reach various call centres are personnel. Eventually, we received the confirmation not to travel.
I had picked up a hire car that afternoon to travel across to Larnaca the next morning, No need for it now!
I headed off to bed. The next morning, I returned the hire car from where I collected it.
From this point on it was a case of wait and see, I had spoken to work and they said sit tight, they will be in touch.
Then, everything went into further lock down, so wasn't going anywhere in a hurry!
Time past, more time past......3 months later, lock down restrictions started to ease in Cyprus, the airport had announced a re-opening date at last.
I received an email with tickets for my return on the 10th June, great, going somewhere at last. As there was no direct flights to Doha, Qatar from Larnaca, I had to transit through Athens.
A couple of days before I was due to leave, the Greek authorities announced they were suspending flights to and from Qatar. I checked with work and they advised that this information was correct and they would advise shortly new arrangements.
The revised tickets arrived and I was now travelling on the 12th June, transiting via Athens and Zurich, with an overnight stay in Zurich. I was told to book accommodation at the air side hotel in Zurich Airport. Dropped them an email reservation request and proceeded to book a hire car.
All going good, and the day before departure, there were still no new problems and I picked up the hire car, packed a suitcase. I was heading into Quarantine for 14 days, so also had loaded up with snacks.
Departure DayI woke early in the morning, as had an 8 am departure from Larnaca, into the hire car and off for the drive across Cyprus to Larnaca airport.
The roads were quiet as you would expect at that time of day.
Arriving at the airport, I went via the petrol station to refuel the hire car, there was no one there and it was self service only using the card machine at the pumps. Went round to the hire car drop off point. parked the car and again, no one there, but just a key drop box.
Walking towards the airport, I could see around a dozen people hanging around outside. Just as I got to the road crossing the door opened and they went inside, the airport had just opened.
Entering the departure hall, there was a temporary barricade setup, and everyone was queuing, observing the 2 m social distancing. Everyone was also wearing masks, as this was a requirement of the airport. This queue was for a temperature check by the nurse. A tripod with a thermal camera setup in front of the nurses station.
An airport employee then walked the line and informed us just to wait as they were waiting for the nurse to appear. She didn't start until 6 am and it was only a few minutes to go.
Once she arrived, one by one we were allowed through the station, as she checked us.
There were only 5 flights leaving Larnaca that day and everyone travelling was on this first flight to Athens.
Check InI went up to the desk, and they checked my details, and then started asking question about where I was going, and transiting etc.
The flight to Doha wasn't until over 24 hours after I was due to land in Zurich, so they couldn't check me all the way through, or put my baggage past Zurich. The check in desk got the Supervisor involved and he phoned Zurich Immigration to confirm they would receive us at Zurich.
As I was staying air side, and the bags were getting offloaded at Zurich, I asked how do I get my suitcase? They had no idea, and said to simply ask the transit desks in Zurich. I had no options, but to accept this and proceeded to check in.
After check in, proceeded through the usual security check / immigration and onto the departure gate. The lounges were not open, so the only thing was to wait at the gate.
We boarded the flight, again, masks were still mandatory on the flight, expect when eating or taking a drink.
Shortly after take off, we were given a snack bag. This consisted of a sandwich, chocolate, fruit drink and bottle of water. It all tasted fine, and was certainly needed, as the first food of the day!
We were also given a contact tracing form to complete and return to the cabin staff before landing. It had questions on who you were, your flight plans, seat number etc.
Athens Arrival / DepartureTouched down in Athens, we all disembarked. Face masks were mandatory in the airport.
I had already received my boarding card for the 2nd leg, and as we walked into the arrival gate, those who had a final destination in Athens were separated off from the transit. We were taken to waiting area in the gate next to those going into Athens. Our passports were taken away for checking and we just sat waiting.
The passengers heading into Athens, were all lined up and one by one went through a medical screening and swab tests and then all escorted out of sight somewhere.
Eventually, a police officer came and collected us and escorted us through to another area of the airport. It was one of the immigration halls, and told to wait outside the police office.
One by one we were taken into the office, details checked and flight details confirmed etc.
After we had all been processed, we waited some more. Eventually the first batch of transits who were heading on a flight to Paris were taken away.
We waited more. The remainder of us were on two different flights to Zurich. A lunchtime flight and an evening flight. A police office then took those of us on the lunchtime Zurich flight away and we got weaved through the airport, down random corridors and even went land side briefly and had to go through a security check back to air side, then more random turns etc. where we ended up at one of the departure gate areas. Our gate had not yet been announced so the Police held us in one area near a coffee shop that was open, where we could get something if we needed and also access to the toilets. We still did not have our passports returned.
The departure gate was confirmed, and the police escorted us to the gate and told us to wait and not go anywhere. An airport representative then checked all the passengers, and put stickers on the passports permitting us on the flight. There was some discussion with us as we were transiting through Zurich, whether we were allowed in or not, as we were over 24 hours. Once I explained that I was staying at the air side hotel, we got our sticker. (I say we, as there was another guy who was also travelling to Doha)
The flight was ready to board, so the police gave us back our passports, and waited at the gate for us all to get onboard.
Shortly after take off, again, we were all given another snack bag, containing a sandwich, chocolate, fruit drink and water. Masks still remained mandatory during the flight except when eating and drinking.
We were given another contact tracing form to complete and return to the cabin staff before landing. Much the same as the one in Athens, but this time from the Swiss authorities.
Zurich ArrivalTouching down in Zurich, we disembarked. There was only the 2 of us who were transiting further, the remainders were all heading into Zurich.
At this point we didn't really know what was going on, were we would see our bags, how we would get boarding cards etc.
We had a wonder through the airport, and headed towards the transit hotel. We did sport doors to baggage collection, but these were one way, no coming back.
We managed to find an airport representative in an office and they weren't really sure either. Told us to speak to this agent or that agent, but everything was closed not many airport staff to be seen anywhere.
In the end we decided to through the one way door and see if we could get our bags at least. What's the worst that can happen, they send us back?
At the end of the corridor, there was a police/immigration point we talked to them, explained what was going on, they checked our passports, said there was no issues and we were free to go and get our bags etc. He said that one of the handing staff had been looking for us as they were waiting for our bags to be collected. One of the officers then proceeded to show us down to the baggage hall and showed us who to speak to.
Arrived in the baggage hall and could see our bags. We spoke to one of the staff, explained what was going on and he said one of the other offices was trying to see were the bags were going. He said we could take our bags and go and stay in the airport Radisson and just come back tomorrow and check in as normal. When we told him that we had been instructed to stay air side, he said we were okay to leave. He then proceeded to show us through customs, through the airport all the way to the corridor along to the Radisson.
Overnight StayArriving at the Radisson, I requested a room, paid for it and then headed up to my room.
Opening the door using the key card, things looked a bit out of place, the furniture was stacked up, the bed board was off, there were tools in the bathroom and the curtains were piled on the floor. I went out the room and grabbed a workman who was passing with a coffee machine, and asked if he was working in here. He replied yes, and I explained that I had just checked in. He was a bit surprised so went to call housekeeping to come and sort the room out.
The woman from housekeeping promptly arrived, and apologised for the mistake and said she would let me into one of the available rooms. The hotel was still soft opening from the lock down. As we walked along the corridor chatting, she said they will upgrade me to one of the suites as way of apology. She let me into one of the rooms, and then said she would be back in 5 minutes with a new key card for me.
It was a large corner suite with views out over the airport. separate table and living room with TV. trough into the bedroom and an ensuite bathroom with a large bath in the middle of the room and separate shower area and toilet.
After getting settled, had a quick freshen up and then headed down to the hotel foyer to meet the other guy who was also travelling to Doha, head out for a beer and something to eat.
We went back into the terminal, near the main transit hub between the airport and tram/bus station, but there was very few places open, we did eventually find somewhere with beer.
Sat down and had a couple of pints, but when we ordered the 3rd round we were told they were now closed. They still had restriction in place due to the lock down. measure and had to close at 6, as was many of the other places.
Over in the food court area, there was only a couple of the outlets open, but we did notice that the Chinese food outlet did have beer, so settled for some food there.
After this, head off back to the hotel, we would meet the next morning at check out time to go and venture into the airport to see about checking in for the next flight.
The next morning I fully opened the blinds in the hotel room to get a full view from the room.
In the hotel foyer, they also had a big tower which appeared to be a robotic wine rack. He is a picture of it from the 5th Floor window next to the left.
Back to the AirportAfter checking out of the Radisson, headed back over to the airport, and went to find where we were checking in. After finding the right terminal and row number, we were a bit early and check in wasn't open yet. There was a Starbucks open in the building, it was the only thing. Sat down for a sport of breakfast and a drink.
After a while, went back to the desk and checked in, then proceeded through the security check towards the gates.
After the security, we headed toward the gate, but there was a sign that said there was no food beyond that point. We decided to got back to where there was only the Burger King open, and grab some lunch as no telling when we might get something next.
After this we headed towards the gate, and waited for it to open. There was only about 20 people on the flight, it was an A350-900, so would be pretty empty!
The airport gate area was basically empty. Hardly any people moving around.
Boarding TimeThe flight was ready for boarding so on we all got.
I was fortunate that whoever booked my ticket, had booked business class. However, I was the only one travelling in this class. Needless to say, I called to board first. I got onto the plane, and was shown to my booked seat, but the cabin crew said I could have any seat I wanted in business as I was the only one.
It was very strange........ The Qatar Airways staff were dressed in full PPE, i.e. white coveralls (with hood up, gloves, face mask and safety glasses. They must be roasting, but they continued to be their usual professional selves that we have come to expect for Qatar Airways.
I sat down and was was offered a pre-take off drink. This was unexpected, I thought or maybe had wrongly expected there to be a reduced service due to the current situation.
I managed to enjoy a couple of glasses of bubbles before we departed.
The staff also dropped off the menu and drinks list, so looks like it is full service. Just before take off, my order was taken, and also asked when I wanted to eat.
And we are off!
Dinner was served shortly after take off, and through the flight, the staff had a steady stream of beer to take me through two movies!
Next stop Doha, Qatar........
You can carry on reading over on my Qatar-Is-Calling blog, and find out how we were handled at immigration, medical checks and into quarantine.