August 15th was 43 hours long. For us, anyway. Time zones are weird.
We had always planned to return home in August. Our original dream was to spend two weeks on a beach in Hawaii before a triumphant homecoming with family and friends. Like everything else in 2020 that didn’t turn out as planned!
In July we realized we had to get serious about getting home, so we booked one of the few direct flights available back to the US. Responsible travel now requires a game of Avoid-the-COVID, and we chose to fly through San Francisco instead of LA since the virus appeared to be better-contained up north.
We started our day with a covid test. Although covid had recently resurfaced in Auckland, there was a minuscule chance that we’d gotten it. Our home state, however, required that all out-of-state arrivals (with few exceptions) undergo a 2-week quarantine upon arrival. To avoid the quarantine, you had to produce a recent, negative covid test. We chose to get tests at a travel clinic that I’m sure was eager for the business. There isn’t much demand for travel-related healthcare right now!
Our flight left Auckland at 10:30 that night. The international terminal at the Auckland airport was quiet, and sported an unusual airline on the departure board: Ministry of Health. We’re not entirely sure what these were, but we know that the pacific islands (places like the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, etc) are trying very hard to keep covid out. The flights may be some sort of special screening or other precautions for essential workers or repatriation.
The flight to San Francisco was 12 hours long, and thankfully uneventful. Since covid resurfaced in the community in NZ, masks were now mandatory in the airport and on the plane. We wore them throughout, and are happy to report none of us had any trouble sleeping in the masks. We landed around 3pm on the 15th, 7 hours before we took off. Time zones are weird.
We weren’t sure what to expect upon arriving in the states. The San Francisco airport should have been packed during the afternoon, but it was relatively quiet. Immigration was easy even though I’m fairly sure the immigration officer didn’t believe our ridiculous story about being abroad for a year.
By the time we’d gone through immigration, we had our covid test results back: all negative. A relief, even though that outcome was expected.
When we booked the trip home, we bought tickets to fly to the east coast the same night we arrived in San Francisco. This would minimize our contact with others during the return. The airline had other plans for us though, and canceled that flight a couple weeks before we left Auckland. Since there are so few flights operating these days, we had no reasonable choice but to spend the night in San Francisco and catch the morning flight to Boston. We spent the rest of the day in a hotel room, ending a very long day by watching the lightning storm that would set a number of wildfires in the Bay Area.
The next morning we set off on the last leg of our year-long marathon, eager to be home and a bit nervous to discover what we’d find. That flight too was uneventful. Both our flights were thankfully free of the covidiots that we’ve all seen on the news, and both airline staff and passengers seemed to take health precautions seriously. In Boston we picked up one last rental car (since our car was in storage at a family member’s house), and I had to think a minute to remember how to drive on the right side of the road. I only got a little bit lost on the way home from the airport – a drive I’ve made countless times for business and family trips. Finally we turned the corner and saw our house for the first time in a year. The house was still standing, and so were we. We did it. We actually did it!