I thought yesterday’s roller-coaster ride had run its course when we finally relaxed over a glass of wine and a middle eastern feast at Za Za Ta. Instead, it reached a crescendo of panic when I received a frantic call from the UK around 8pm.
My friend, Victoria, was picking Molly up from the airport in a few hours and – as instructed – she’d rung ahead to make sure everything was on track at Heathrow’s Animal Reception Centre.
“They’ve told me I can’t pick her up because there’s been no arrangement made with a UK clearing agent,” she said, tensely.
I had no idea what that meant, but it didn’t sound good. It sounded disastrous.
It took several more calls back and forth between Brisbane, Cairns and the UK to establish that everything was perfectly fine and the Animal Reception Centre was talking out of its arse, but the damage was done. My stress level reached its peak and remained there.
Sleep was out of the question. I still needed to hear that Victoria had been given the all-clear to pick up Molly. And there was the small matter of the missing COVID test results, due at 11pm, which we needed for our international flights the next morning.
No test results. Anxiety rating: 88%.
12.15am: Friday 23rd July
Still no test results. Anxiety: 98%.
The test results arrived! Anxiety: 65%.
But still no word back from Victoria about Molly. Anxiety: 99%.
A message from Victoria. She’s on her way to Heathrow. Anxiety: 45%.
I dozed, fitfully, with one eye on the WhatsApp chats for more news.
Victoria called. Molly was safe, at home, munching her way through a bowl of her favourite dry food and tuna. She has bed sores and a slight list, but who wouldn’t after 3 days in a crate. The important thing is she made it. Now, we would too.
Checked in at Brisbane Airport for the first of our 4 flights to the UK. This one just takes us to Sydney, but our luggage is being checked through to London, which is a big relief. Manhandling 4 large suitcases and 4 pieces of hand luggage is an art form I don’t wish to experience again.
The Qantas check-in chick (probably shouldn’t call her that), consulted her screen and started working through the long list of paperwork we had to present: UK Government Passenger Locator Form, Australian Government exemption-to-fly approval, proof of negative COVID test result, proof of purchase of a Day 2 COVID test in London, proof of right to enter the UK, NSW Government border health declaration.
She checked and double-checked every detail on every form. The spelling of our names, our dates of birth, passport numbers, the time and date of our COVID test and so on.
Then she congratulated me on getting everything right and told us the day before she had to tell 9 international passengers they couldn’t fly because something had been misspelled on a form, or they took their COVID test too early. Can you imagine how devastating that would have been?
I think the check-in chick (I really shouldn’t call her that) was more relieved than us there were no mistakes in our paperwork.
We made it to Sydney and got a taxi to the international terminal.
I knew it would be quiet. But this was something else. There were 40 passengers checking in for our flight, and another 5 international flights leaving Sydney today.
That’s only 6 flights in one day from Australia’s busiest international airport.
We got through check-in and immigration (after more form checking) and out to . . . .nothing. Not one shop open. Not a cafe or restaurant.
We had arrived on the set of a movie about the end of the world, where a handful of confused survivors wander around a deserted airport in a dazed state of shock.
We’re on the plane to Hong Kong, with a welcome glass of champagne in hand.
Touch down in Hong Kong. Another deserted airport, but not quite as bad as Sydney. Here, there are a couple of cafes open, but the usual small-city-bustle of Hong Kong Airport has been reduced to the pace of a sleepy fishing village.
Our temperature is taken 3 times.
Suddenly our name is called over the tannoy. “Would Mr and Mrs Wicks on Flight CFX251 to London Heathrow please come to the passenger information desk.”
There seems to be a problem with our UK Passenger Locator form which was checked in Brisbane and double-checked by Cathay Pacific in Sydney.
She disappears with our forms and passports. 10 long minutes go by, then she reappears with a big smile. No problem. All good to go.
Anxiety: 10%. Heart rate: 130.
5.00am, Saturday 24th July – Greenwich Mean Time
We’re on approach to Heathrow.
What else could possibly go wrong?
I think it’s safe to say ‘Hello England. I finally made it home.’