We had just finished roaming the streets of Madrid on Thursday, March 12th. We happened to book our honeymoon alongside one of my husband’s former colleagues. Luis & his wife Evelyn were visiting Madrid celebrating 25 years of marriage. Of course, we were going to sync up our schedules while we were in the city together. We just left Vacaciones Cocktail Bar, and we were venturing down a deserted alleyway walking to the main street to say our goodbyes. They were staying in town until Tuesday, and we were jetting off to Porto, Portugal in the morning.
You see, everything we monitored up until this time told us that we would be fine for another 30 days to get back into the states. When 45 decided to announce an EU travel ban, he failed to mention that U.S. Citizens were exempt from this. We checked with our travel agent/friend if our itinerary was still a GO, and she gave us the thumbs up. So we were going to keep pushing ahead. I remember my husband saying, “We are already over here, might as well keep going.”
So we did. We packed our suitcases when we returned to our hotel room. Set the alarm for 6:30 am, our driver was coming at 7:15 am, and then laid down for our final nights rest in Madrid.
We arrived at the airport around 7:50 am. We got in the check-in line for Tap Portugal and saw that the counter didn’t open until two hours before a departure. Our flight was at 10:40 am, so we had almost an hour to just wait in line. After connecting to the public wifi and searching Twitter for the latest COVID19 updates and checking what’s happening on Instagram, I decided to check out our return flight from Lisbon back to JFK.Provided by Giphy.com
I opened up my American Airlines app and looked up and gave my husband the most prominent WTF look I could. His response was, “What happened?”. “They changed our flight, and we go home tomorrow, not the 21st. But the flight is out of Lisbon, and this flight we are about to get on is to Porto,” I said.
After a few moments of silence, I said, “let me call American.” I wanted to figure out what was going on. We stayed in the check-in line. We were unsure of what we were going to do just yet. After about 18 minutes on hold with American Airlines, I told my husband that we should just go to the counter. We hopped out of line with our two gigantic suitcases and started our dash to another terminal to go to the customer service counter.
Our first stop was the Iberia counter. See, our flight was booked through American Airlines (AA) but operated through Iberia. We had about a 20-minute wait, and when we got to the counter, he banged on his keyboard for a little bit, then told us that he could not help us. Our return flight the next day was from Lisbon to Madrid to JFK. We were already in Madrid, so all we were trying to do was cancel the first part of our flight (Lisbon to Madrid) and just hop on the plane here to go home. The rep told us that since it was booked through AA we would have to go to that counter.
After a 15-minute wait, we get to the American Airlines counter, and Jeffery greeted us. I told him our issue and he said, “No problem, this is an easy fix. Let’s get that taken care of right away.” But after he pulled up our reservation and saw that we were flying Iberia, he gave us the I-can’t-help-you face. He tried to send us BACK to the Iberia counter. “We just came back from there,” is what I told him. “You are going to have to call American to get the first leg canceled, they are the only ones who can do it,” is what he told me.
Thankfully we had already been on hold for almost an hour at this point. See, my husband and I rotated the AirPods between each other on hold with AA. I had a feeling someone was eventually going to tell me to call AA, so I wanted to get a head start since I saw on Twitter that most people were on hold upward of 4 hours. “Not me,” is what I told myself when I saw those horrific wait times. But man, was I in for a shock.
Three hours. Three hours is the time I spent on hold waiting for a rep from American Airlines to pick up the phone. I was on hold for three hours, and then the system automatically disconnected me. “FUCK” is what I screamed out loud as the phone hung up on me. Luckily by the 2 1/2 hour mark, I had my husband also wait on hold with a different number that Jeffery gave us. He was about 45 minutes into his wait when I got the dial tone suddenly.
By this time, it was around 5:30 am EST. My travel agent would be waking up soon; she has a three or four-year-old. I was finally able to chat with her back and forth, and she immediately hopped on Europe Express’s emergency travel line and had someone call me within 10 minutes. My husband’s wait just hit 75 minutes.
The representative on the other end gave me the most bogus solution to our problem, which marks the time when I got frustrated. See, all this time, I was calm and relaxed. I wasn’t angry or upset. I was level-headed. But when she told me that I should go to the counter at Ryan Air and BUY A TICKET FROM PORTO TO LISBON, I lost my shit. “Ma’am, I will not be doing that. I am not going to take an additional three flights just to get back to Madrid tomorrow. That is not happening,” is what I said. Remember, if we did get on our flight, we would have been in Porto, not Lisbon. We would have had to figure out a way to get to Lisbon.
After she told me that the U.S. travel department didn’t open for another two hours, we hung up. With her set to call me back in two hours to see if we got our problem fixed. My husband’s wait is a little over 90 minutes now. I now call the same number he called and just waited. Twenty-five minutes passed, and I got up yet again to bother my new friend Jeffery at the counter.
“Not yet,” is the look he gave me once he saw me in line still with the AirPod in my hear. “No one has answered for you yet,” he asks. I told him no. At that moment, he picked up the phone and told me, “I will stay on hold with you until we figure this out.” He was my saving grace at that moment. I now had four people on hold with AA to figure out this simple cancelation — Jeffery, my husband, myself, and my travel agent was awaiting a call back from AA, she pretended to be me. This was divide and conquer time.
Jeffery hangs the phone up. I gasp. He told me he was going to try back and use option 2, the Spanish only line. And within 15 minutes, someone answered the phone. Unbelievable. Collectively my husband, Jeffery, and I probably spent 6 hours on hold to never get a response. I jump up and down as I hear Jeffery speaking in Spanish, and I say, “Can I hang up now?” He replies with a yes and I shoot over a text to my husband saying we got someone on the phone. We were in the middle of a text conversation about purchasing one-way flights we saw on Expedia. We were minutes from pressing buy when Jeffery, our savior, got someone on the line.
My husband wheels over our overweight luggage with a sigh of relief, but now we have to find a place to stay. He reserves a room at the Hotel RIU España. We loved the rooftop when we visited on Wednesday night, and the burger on the bar menu was delicious. We figured, why not spend our last day in Madrid, in style. We don’t have to leave the hotel, and we can eat dinner on the rooftop and grab a cocktail in their chic lounge.
After being held up in the airport for five hours, we are finally in a Uber back to the city to go to our hotel. We got our flight squared away, and we depart the next day at 4:40 pm.
When we get to the check-in counter at Hotel RIU España, we are greeted by confused looks. And versus them saying, “what is your last name,” it was more like, “how long are you staying here.” The manager, who was standing near check-in, proceeded to tell us that the entire hotel is shut down. He said if we were staying past tonight, there is no guarantee that we would have a room. The rooftop was closed. Room service was suspended. The bar was closed. There was a possibility that breakfast will be available the next morning, but that was up in the air. My husband and I look at each other — this is crazy.
After we drop our luggage in our room, we set off on foot to find somewhere to eat. Madrid had just issued a city-wide closure of all businesses to go in effect at midnight that night. But some businesses had already started shutting down. After a 10-minute stroll, we stumbled on an open Mexican restaurant. It was empty, with no customers’ insight. Good for social distancing, but horrible for the business. After two rounds of amazing margaritas, and with our leftovers packed away in a to-go box, we set foot back to the hotel.
By this time, it was around 2:30 pm. And we were stuck in our hotel room for the rest of the day with only ONE English channel available to us on the TV — CNN International. So that means, all we were watching was consistent COVID19 updates and breaking news. Talk about depressing.
I tried to take a nap, that didn’t work. I read for a little bit. My husband listened to his audiobook. I exhausted Twitter and Instagram. The only thing left to do was take melatonin and knock myself out. All I wanted to do was go home.
Breakfast was available the next morning. After an early breakfast and a few more hours of CNN International in our room, we were headed back to the airport for our 4:40 pm flight. The airport was not as crowded as I anticipated. Check-in was a breeze. Security lines were short. But you could tell people were on high alert. When we were checking our bags, my husband let out a small cough, more so to clear his throat. The gate agent gave us a piercing look. I mean, we can’t even clear our throat. After that, I marched right into a store and bought two packs of cough drops. There was no way I was going to get caught coughing nowhere until we got home.
After waiting three hours to board our flight, we are seated. Ready for our 4:40 pm push back. I was nervous, thinking that the plane was going to be full. Luis & Evelyn also took Iberia from JFK to Madrid, and when they tried to rebook to our flight, they were told it was full. They had to be routed from Madrid to Cancun to JFK. What?! But when the boarding doors closed, our middle row of three seats only had two occupants, my husband and me. #Thankful.
The flight was comfortable. We were about 45 minutes delayed getting off the ground because the airport only had one runway open. The plane was full of people in masks and gloves. We didn’t see anyone who looked ill, except one man who walked up and down the aisle with such caution. Every time he passed Julian, we would lean far left to make way for no contact.
After watching Hidden Figures, The Accountant, The Sun is Also a Star, and three episodes of Sex in the City, season 2, we landed at JFK. I also finished reading Twilight and started New Moon during this trek across the Atlantic. The minute we touched down, we were instructed not to move from our seats until instructed. I knew there was going to be some sort of screening process when we landed, but I didn’t know what exactly was going to happen. I hopped on Twitter and typed “JFK Airport” in the search bar and read some of the latest tweets. “No screening” is what seemed like the common theme. But then we got a text from Luis & Evelyn. After four hours in JFK, they were finally on the road home to Upstate NY. Welp, that meant something. I just didn’t know what yet.
An overhead announcement begins, first in Spanish, then in English. Flight attendants were walking down the aisle with a CDC document that we had to complete. We were instructed again not to leave our seat, but this time we got a little more. “Please do not leave your seat until we get further instructions from the CDC. In the meantime, please complete the travel declaration and wait for additional directions.” said the announcer. We had no idea how long this was going to take.
With the seatback entertainment systems shut off, I open up the Hulu app on my iPhone. Since we are back in the states, I can take advantage of the Hulu app and my unlimited hi-speed wifi. Real Housewives of Atlanta Season 5 it is. I am currently in a binge. OMG, soooo good! After about 30 minutes, we were a different voice. And instead of the announcement being said in Spanish first, it was English. The CDC had arrived. Finally, yes!
We were instructed to gather all of our belongings and have our declarations completed in hand as we deplane. Our temperature would be checked before we stepped off the plane. Finally, standing up for the first time in hours, we get to inch closer and closer towards the front of the aircraft. Walking past first-class and seeing for the first time their luxury accommodations. They had the seats that turned into beds. Ugh, jealous.
We get to the front of the plane, and it looks like something right out of a movie. I see three or four CDC employees fully covered in hazard gear. I felt like I was stepping off a plane into another universe. I pushed back my curly bang to allow the temperature gun to read accurately. 97.4 is what the nameless gentleman said. 97.6 for my husband. They make a note of this on our completed sheet, and we are on our way. Or we think.
Now we are all clumped together in the customs line. I feared this. I saw on Twitter the lines at DFW and Chicago O’Hare airport. People were waiting for six hours to get through customs. Our line didn’t seem as lengthy, but I knew it was an hour-plus wait. And an hour-plus wait where social distancing appears to be a foreign concept. My husband had to tell these twentysomethings behind us, “Hey, can you back up just a little bit for me please,” because they were right on our backs.
Once we turned the corner, we see why there is a holdup. They only had two windows open to service over 200 people. After another 45 minutes, three more windows finally open up. And after 90 minutes of waiting in the customs line, we were breezing to baggage claim to grab our luggage.
If we were to return with our initial travel arrangement, we were set to land at JFK today, March 21st, at 8:10 pm. I had booked us a cute hotel in Brooklyn right by the bridge with a world-star restaurant inside, and a 9:30 am bus ride back to DC the next morning. All those plans were canceled. I booked a car, and we were on the road back to D.C. by 11:30 pm. I got us out of New York and onto the New Jersey Turnpike. My husband carried us the rest of the way.
The roads were empty. There were barely any cars in sight. What used to seem like a five-hour drive to JFK ended up being three and a half hours. We pull up at home at 3:15 am. Exhausted and ready to crash. Neither one of us got any sleep on the plane. After washing our hands and then taking showers, we were in bed. With a massive sigh of relief that we finally made it. We made it home.
We woke up the next morning and returned the car to the D.C. airport, and just like that, our travel adventure was over. We looked at each other later that afternoon and just said, “damn.” We couldn’t believe what we had experienced in the last few days. It was unreal.
A story to tell our future kids. One day.
If you missed Part 1 of the story, check it out HERE!