Leon’s Travel Journal: Air Travel at the Height of a Pandemic

Leon's Travel Journal: Air Travel at the Height of a Pandemic

Editor’s Note: The following is a recounting of the trip that Leon K. took with his mother from Woodstock, CT,  back to China this past spring (2020). As a writing assignment, his tutor, Mr. Warnick, asked Leon to keep a daily journal of his trip and to take photos along the way, so that he could describe his travels in detail. Below is a day-by-day description of Leon’s trip, in his own words.

You will note that since Leon’s trip occurred in mid-April when the coronavirus pandemic was in full bloom, the airlines and hotels that Leon and his mother used were taking very serious precautions to keep their customers and their employees safe. However, this made for an extremely long and tiring travel experience for both of them. 

DAY 1 (April 10):

It was very early in the morning, around 5:45 am EST, when my mother and I left our rented house in Woodstock, CT, to drive to JFK Airport in New York. We had to leave really early, as there had been some cases where some people were not able to get on their flights because there were too many people in line and the tickets were sold out. Pretty much everything went very smoothly for us that day. My mom was driving the car; it was a 3-hour and 40-minute ride to JFK. On the way, I slept a lot and attended my science synchronous class. When we got to the airport, we had to return our rented car. Because there was barely anybody at the airport, it took us only a few minutes to return the car. Then we went on the airport train to Terminal 1, Korean Airlines (the airline we were to fly on). When we got to the check-in counter, it was around 9:50 in the morning. There were already quite a lot of people in front of us. The day was going pretty smoothly until the people at the check-in counter told us that our second flight on April 12th from Seoul, Korea, to Shen Yang, China, might be canceled. If the flight was canceled, we would be stranded at the airport, and nobody would take care of us. So, we had to fill out a form that said that even if our second flight was canceled we still wanted to take this first flight. 

 After our check-in, we went through all the customs’ inspection. The airport was completely empty. We were probably the only flight that afternoon in Terminal 1. We did some shopping in the airport and ate our lunch. At 1:30 pm we started to board our flight. When I got on the plane, I realized I was in the middle seat. Everybody was wearing masks, protective glasses, and gloves. Some people were even wearing protective outfits. On the plane I didn’t really do anything; I just slept, ate the food, and watched some movies. I managed to watch all three Rush Hour movies. They were very entertaining. With the fantastic martial arts of Jacky Chen and the comedic relief of Kris Tucker, I think they were great movies. 

 Day 2 (April 11):

It was a few hours into the flight when I woke up from a great sleep. Today, I didn’t do much; I just slept and ate. The food on Korean Airlines was actually much better than the food on Chinese airlines. I ate some pork with rice. I noticed that only the Chinese people were wearing full-protective suits. Korean people were not wearing them; they just wore masks, gloves, goggles, and normal clothes like I do. And they still continued to serve proper food, unlike what I had heard from my friends about the Chinese airlines. It was around 4:30 in the afternoon, when we landed at the Incheon, Korea International Airport, Terminal 2. When we got off the plane, we had to stand in an extremely long line. We stood in that line for more than one-and-a-half hours. Later we found out that the purpose of waiting in this line was to go through customs, hand them our forms that we had completed on the plane, and let them check our temperature. After that whole process, we took the airport train to Terminal 1.

On our way to Terminal 1, we encountered a problem. We thought that our flight the next day was in Terminal 1. Therefore, my mum had booked a hotel room in Terminal 1. The problem was that our flight the next day to Shen Yang was at the Concourse (between Terminals 1 and 2), not Terminal 1. This also meant that we did not have the proper pass to take the train to the Concourse and to get to our hotel in Terminal 1. Fortunately, a lady who worked for the airport helped us, and we got on the train to the Concourse. When we got off the train in the Concourse, we told the security guard that we needed to go to Terminal 1 because we booked our hotel there. After a lengthy conversation with the security guard, we finally went on the train to Terminal 1. After we got off the train, we found our way to the hotel.

 After we got settled into our hotel room, my mum and I went shopping in the airport. The airport was absolutely empty; there was nobody there. We also went to locate the train that we would need to take the next morning in order to get on our next flight. Then, we went to get some dinner. It was quite disappointing because we did not find any Korean restaurants. So, we just bought some burgers and brought them back to our room. After our dinner, I watched some television, read my book, and went to bed early. We had to wake up very early the next day to catch our flight to Shen Yang. 

DAY 3 (April 12):

It was pretty early in the morning when we left our transfer hotel, around 7:00 am. We had planned to leave the hotel at 7:45, but in the morning the receptionist called our room to say that we needed to check out because we could only stay there for 12 hours, which nobody had told us. There is a check-in counter in the Concourse, so we got on the train and headed to the Concourse. When we arrived, there were already some people at the check-in counter, so we got in line. After an hour of waiting, we finally got our boarding pass. On my way to the boarding gate, I saw an Italian restaurant. My mum and I stopped there and ate some pasta and rested because our flight was at 12:00 pm, so we still had a lot of time. 

 After a few hours passed, we boarded the plane. On the plane, I did not do much. I tried to sleep, but it never happened because our captain kept talking about how it was so important to wear a mask. Then, when he finished speaking, they gave us two massive forms that we had to complete before getting off the plane. I didn’t really have a chance to properly rest on the plane. When we arrived in Shen Yang, the staff on the ground boarded our plane to do a brief health check. After the check, we got off the plane, and we had to wait in a massive line. Surprisingly, the line did not take as long as I had thought it would. When the wait was over, we had to go through a series of checks. First, it was a temperature check, then I got asked a series of questions related to the coronavirus. Then it was the coronavirus test, and then finally we went through customs. The whole process took around three-and-a-half hours. Thankfully, we knew someone from Shen Yang with a pretty high status in the city, and he found us a good hotel to quarantine in. 

 We got on a bus which took us into the city to our hotel. When we got to the hotel, we still had to wait another hour on the bus because there were too many people upstairs, and it was getting overcrowded. When it was finally our turn, my mum and I got off the bus first, thanks to our friend. When we got upstairs, we had to fill out some more forms, and we got our key to the room. Again, thanks to our friend, we were very lucky to have a double room, so I could be in the same room as my mum. Normally, I would have to be in a room by myself because I am already 14. It was pretty late at night, and we were exhausted, so we just ate our dinner in our room and went to sleep. 

 Days 4 – 8 (April 13 – 17):

The past four days in quarantine were pretty boring. I didn’t do much. I would wake up around 10:00 every morning and eat my breakfast. Then I did my homework for the rest of the day. After that, I ate my dinner, took a shower, and got ready for my two synchronous classes in the evening. Our hotel was very strict; we were only allowed to order snacks or other things on the first two days. However, the hotel that my friend and his family were quarantined in allowed them to order anything they wanted and also go to each others’ rooms. I guess nobody there cared about the virus as much as those in our hotel. The food we got every day was decent; it wasn’t really good or really bad, just okay. What really bothered me was the air quality in Shen Yang. It was so bad; that city had serious air pollution every day. I only opened my window a little bit in the morning to let in some “fresh air.” Another factor that really frustrated me was that from the first day I got to the hotel, the Wi-Fi was absolutely terrible. However, after a series of complaints by multiple people, the hotel finally fixed their Wi-Fi. Our quarantine time went by quicker than I thought it would, despite my desire to go back home to be with my dad and reconnect with my friends. 

Editor’s Note: Leon did not write this in his journal, but I am sure when he arrived at his final destination, he was so happy to be home, he must have been thinking about the old adage, “Home, Sweet Home!” We are all blessed to have homes where we were able to stay safe and healthy with our families during this pandemic. As those Rectory students who were forced to stay quarantined in hotels for two weeks before returning to their homes can attest, “There’s no place like home!”