The Trials and Tribulations of travel in the age of #COVID19 / Part 4

AVOIDING THE HURDLES AND HOOPS TO GET BACK HOME

(Posted 13th December 2020)

In the fourth and final part of this series I am taking stock, looking back as well as looking ahead – as within days from this post I will be off again, to Europe of all places and to France in particular.

But again, let me start from the beginning.

I had arrived by train from Germany into Belgium with a four day gap between arriving in Brussels and departing for Uganda.
That was in part because there were only two flights a week from BRU to EBB, something travelers should consider.
Hence I was not exactly a transit traveler like at the time when I had arrived in Europe two months earlier, posing some level of challenges to find out exactly what I was supposed to do and not break any laws or regulations.
Near the place where I stayed was the St. Luc University Hospital, originally marked as a COVID19 testing centre, but when going there – after endless attempts to call in and make my enquiry by phone – did I find the test centre closed.

Anyone flying to or from or via Brussels, should therefore check out the following website for locations and to get answers to FAQ’s – https://www.brussels.be/covid-19-testing-centres-brussels

That said, unless a test location is near one’s place of residence, I would recommend one takes the airport bus – leaving from many locations across the city – and take the test at the dedicated centre for travelers. If haste is needed a result can be, against a supplementary payment, obtained within 2 to 4 hours, in other words enough time to do the test and then check in for a flight.
Appointments should be made with the airport test centre in advance to be certain of having a test slot available. The website below also shows how to reach the centre from the city and should therefore be bookmarked by travelers flying to, from or via Brussels.

https://www.brusselsairport.be/en/passengers/the-impact-of-the-coronavirus/covid-19-test-centre-at-brussels-airport

The centre operates almost around the clock with down time for crew changes, administrative work and cleaning between midnight and 03.30 hrs (a.m.)

I had opted to go a day ahead of my flight, mainly for my peace of mind, and the return bus tickets, one purchased on line for Euro 1.80 and one purchased at the vending machine at the airport’s bus terminal at Euro 2.50 was affordable compared to a taxi fare of between 25 and 30 Euro each way – AND the busses were largely empty both ways.

Getting back ‘home’ a few hours after my test, having passed at the supermarket for some food – all other shops and malls were notably closed as part of Belgium’s lockdown – did I get back into WiFi range and hey presto was my negative test already in my mailbox. For those not able to print them out, save them on your phone with Adobe Reader or a similar programme to have it ready within a few clicks, when asked to present it – which will be at check in at the airport and definitely upon landing in Entebbe.

Come Saturday and it was time to close the suitcases and go to the airport.
Although a chat with the Brussels Airport website clearly said that the baggage wrapping facility at the airport was operating, it WAS NOT and neighbouring businesses told me it had been closed for several days already. Therefore, if any traveler needs bags to be wrapped, alternatives should be sought before going to the airport in Zaventem.

Check in was unproblematic, the business class counters had hardly any traffic and as expected, once handing in my passport, was I asked for my test certificate. Thoroughly inspected and the content magnified to be certain, did check in then proceed as usual, from behind a plexiglass screen by a masked and gloved Brussels Airlines staff.

When asking if the lounges were open was I told NO, THEY WERE NOT … so if traveling business class you should get to the airport as late as possible to avoid having ‘to hang somewhere‘ while waiting for the flight to be called for boarding instead of enjoying the serenity of a premium lounge with free drinks and snacks.

Notably was and is the lounge in Entebbe open and operating, under the new SOP’s of course but open regardless – other airports should take a leaf from that!

I made reference to my inflight experiences via TripAdvisor where under Brussels Airlines I filed my impressions, but for ease of access here are the links:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g1-d8729040-r779096964-Brussels_Airlines-World.html

https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g1-d8729040-r774817442-Brussels_Airlines-World.html

On arrival in Entebbe, due to a smart seat selection first off the aircraft, I was greeted by bucketing rain and even the dash to the nearby bus did not spare me or any other passengers from what locals would call a blessing from heaven … for sure it did not feel like one.

Off the bus – reserved for business class travelers, was it into the arrival hall and the first checkpoint was health of course.

On board were passengers given a health information form which had to be filled and was taken at the checkpoint before inspecting the COVID19 negative test result – again needing to be magnified on the phone screen to allow the staff to actually read it and verify the dates.

Uganda now has a 120 hours time window between the test being conducted and the time of arrival (and departure for that matter) giving some added and often much needed time in particular for travelers who for instance come from America – where the period between a test and getting the results may exceed 2 days – and then transit in Europe on to a flight to Entebbe.

Health and safety inspection cleared did immigration come next – again served from behind plexiglass shields by masked and gloved staff.

Final hurdle then waiting for the baggage, which for this flight was lengthy as the handling agent, instead of offloading priority baggage first, put it last on the rondavel, and not the first time for that matter!

The area around the baggage carousel was intensely crowded, few passengers paid attention to the 6 feet distancing rule, some had their masks hanging down their chin and no one in sight to enforce the regulations – so beware when you wait for your bags and do create, if possible, a bubble around yourself with a baggage cart and if that does not help enough a few sharp words. I did and hey presto, they all backed off pronto!
I know, all of them had to have a recent negative test in order to be allowed to fly BUT, who knows where they roamed and what they picked up since then so distancing is paramount from keeping the virus and its potential carriers away.

Few drivers were waiting outside the arrival hall, my own right in front and finally I was on the way home, for real.

https://atcnews.org/2020/10/24/the-trials-and-tribulations-of-travel-in-the-age-of-covid19-part-1/

https://atcnews.org/2020/11/22/the-trials-and-tribulations-of-travel-in-the-age-of-covid19-part-2/

https://atcnews.org/2020/11/30/the-trials-and-tribulations-of-travel-in-the-age-of-covid19-part-3/

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