The Odyssey: A Pattaya expat’s quest to come home during COVID-19 – Part 1

Heathrow Airport Terminal 2 at 14.00 hrs last Friday.

This is what has happened since I got to the UK on Thursday, 19th March. It just gets better and better…

I was quite looking forward to this trip to the UK. Doing some business, seeing some friends and helping Thailand by promoting the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) to potential investors. Everything had been meticulously planned and I was ready for my first presentation in Liverpool on Friday, 20th March. Then I landed to see that everything to do with the local chambers of commerce had been cancelled due to COVID-19.

Still, I had my own business to do and so set off for a quick journey around the UK. First of all it was Liverpool then Harrogate. After West Yorkshire came Birmingham for three days but then things really did go pear-shaped. The hotel in Lymington cancelled my booking but I got the email three days beforehand so could not complain. Stupidly, I did nothing about it until the day before I left Birmingham but then reserved a room at the Holiday Inn in Reading. This is when things really did start to go tits up.

I arrived in Reading the next day to find that IHG (InterCon, Holiday Inn and Crown Plaza et al) had cancelled all my bookings without telling me. How I love the UK and it reaffirms my decision to leave there 25 years ago.

Must also Read:
The Odyssey: A Pattaya expat’s quest to come home during COVID-19 – Part 2
The Odyssey: A Pattaya expat’s quest to come home during COVID-19 – Part 3

I had rocked up in the afternoon having driven down from Birmingham only to be told Holiday Inns nationwide had cancelled all reservations except for those of Key Service Personnel. Whilst this was very admirable, no bugger told me and there is no evidence of any attempted communication and this was within 24 hours of taking the bloody booking! So Holiday Inn made me, technically, homeless at 15.00hrs on Thursday, 26th March. Fortunately, there was a hotel next door who were more accommodating – literally!

The next day I went to the Crown Plaza in Reading where I had booked in for two more nights. This was just plain shut with a notice in the window saying closed till further notice as they were obeying government instructions – er, what instructions?

As for getting home? Singapore Airlines had cancelled all transit passengers 24 hours before I was meant to come home – on Tuesday, 31st March, so I had to get an alternative. Just as I thought I had got something then that particular airline announced it was curtailing most of their flights including all of the ones to Bangkok.

Also, I had to find somewhere to stay. Fortunately, a friend of mine, Ian Chance, has a spare flat in Reading so I went there.

I finally found a flight that was looking promising – Lufthansa! Danke!

So, there I was, happy as Larry as I got on the Lufthansa flight from London Heathrow to Frankfurt on Friday afternoon. The last time I had flown to Frankfurt was in 1994, again with Lufthansa, and I believe the previous time any member of my family flew over there was my uncle Ian in 1943……..

I had passed all the relevant medical tests and had, officially, been declared germ free and so got all the required paperwork. Lufthansa assured me there would be no problems with the onward flight to Bangkok. We landed and then transferred to the lounge waiting for the second flight. Then it happened. I got an email from Lufthansa saying the Frankfurt – Bangkok flight was cancelled. Apparently this had happened when I was somewhere above the Belgian-German border.

It was then followed by a friend sending me this –

URGENT: Following an incident at Suvarnabhumi this evening (Friday, 3rd April) when incoming passengers refused to do quarantine, the director of CAAT has just signed this order prohibiting any more aircraft to fly to #Thailand for three days from midnight tonight to 11:59pm on Monday. Exemptions include state or military aircraft, emergency landing, humanitarian aid, medical & relief flights, repatriation & cargo aircraft. Also passengers already inbound.

Source: ด่วน คนไทยนับร้อยฝ่าฝืนกลับประเทศแหกสุวรรณภูมิกักตัวโควิด-19: คมชัดลึกออนไลน์

The poor old Lufthansa folk did not know what had hit them (but I bet their bosses were happy as there were only 29 people booked on the flight!) as all of us passengers toddled off to the Service Centre wondering what fate held for us next.

Not a great start. All the Lufthansa flights were full from Monday, 6th April to Tuesday, 14th April.

Whilst all the Thais were subdued and crying and the Americans and French shouting and complaining, I went to the other end of the service desks and asked politely what to do. A very helpful lady then organised the following for me – all at no extra cost:

– Free hotel in Frankfurt airport tonight

– Flight back to London the next morning

– Flight with Qatar on Monday, 6th April which was meant to arrive on Tuesday, 7th April

Asininely, I thought to myself, “let’s hope the Director of CAAT will have put his toys back in his pram by then”…

Thankfully, I had kept the keys to Ian’s flat in Reading and returned there till Monday, 6th April.

So the saga continued.

Heathrow Express – Platform at Terminal 4 at 14.30hrs on Thursday.

There I was, all packed up. I had just cleaned Ian’s flat (again!) and was in the car heading to Heathrow when I had a phone call from my wife saying she had heard something on the news about Thailand closing the airports again. We agreed I should carry on to Heathrow to find out. Optimistically (a.k.a. stupidly), I dropped to car off at Europcar and toddled off to Terminal 4 which is where Qatar Airways is based.

As soon as I walked in I could see there was a problem as there were a load of Thai women wailing and weeping whilst their male counterparts were gnashing and flashing their teeth at anyone who was brave enough to go near them

I avoided this ovine dentists’ waiting room and went to the enquiry desk where I was told that the government had caused a more than a wee bit of inconvenience for the international airlines for the second time in three days. As you may have guessed, I am being a tad polite here.

There was the odd query as to whether or not the politicians in power were actually capable of any form of planning and so able to make a decision more than four hours before bringing it into effect. I kept a discrete silence.

So, I jumped back on the Car Hire Bus, said hello to Geoff who was the driver. (yes, we were on first name terms by this time and I hope his granny in Abergavenny is feeling better) and he took me back to Europcar. They were fantastic and I am no driving round in a Fiat 500. Whilst this does not exactly have Ferrari like tendencies, it is more than adequate for popping down to the local off-licence to stock up.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that I can now announce the following:

The safest place to be in England at the moment is Heathrow Airport – see attached

I can vouch for the fact that the M4 roadworks around Reading will not be finished this year

The car knows the way back to Ian’s flat better than I do

I am now about to find out whether Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s or Waitrose sells the cheapest Scotch in Reading and repair to Ian’s flat – again!

Honestly, you could not write this stuff. I will keep you up to date with the next instalment.

Must also Read:
The Odyssey: A Pattaya expat’s quest to come home during COVID-19 – Part 2
The Odyssey: A Pattaya expat’s quest to come home during COVID-19 – Part 3


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