The next morning we were awake around 4AM to catch the 445AM train (the first train of the day) to Zurich Airport, making our final journey from Zürich to Denver in a pandemic. Our flight was around 7AM. When we got to the airport, there as already a really long line to check our bags, and they hadn’t even opened check-in. Nothing to do but wait.
Soon enough, agents showed up and the queue started to move, and our journey from Zürich to Denver really began. This was going to be the moment of truth – will we have all the necessary information to be able to check-in and through to the US. After about 30 minutes in the line, we were called by an agent. Since all the regulations had just changed, the agent had to read through all the new rules and then determine how to move forward. She took a long time and explained that the new rules are very complicated. When asked to present particular documents (COVID test, vaccine passport, passport), we complied, and eventually our boarding passes were issued. We were told our bag would check through all from Zürich to Denver and that we wouldn’t have to retrieve it in Toronto. Breathing a sigh of relief, out of the corner of our eye a portly, bearded man was moving towards us, apologized for interrupting, and then asked the agent urgently whether the COVID test he had from 48 hours ago would be sufficient to re-enter the US. It seemed like he and his very Amish family were on our flight, and they hadn’t kept up with the changing Omicron US travel regulations. He was out of luck and had to scramble to get another COVID test – which of course was not possible since the airport test center had not opened yet. Ultimately, he had to change his flight to the following day to allow time to re-test. We were thanking our lucky stars that we managed to do he research in advance to avoid a similar fate.
Security was easy, and we spent a lot of time waiting at the gate, dreaming about being done with our trip from Zürich to Denver. Eventually, we had to queue at a little kiosk to get a special stamp on our boarding pass, once again acknowledging that we had a negative COVID test. Pretty soon it was time for boarding, which was easy once we had the magic stamp. The flight was on time, short, and in less than an hour we were in Frankfurt, making our way via buses, tunnels, stairs (yet oddly all the up escalators were broken) and through that massive airport, already running on empty, to our long-haul flight to Toronto. We enjoyed this fun snack on the plane.
The next flight also boarded on time so we thought we might be in the clear on our jourrney from Zürich to Denver, but proceeded to delay in pushing back due to luggage compartment issues. We were once again in Air Canada business class so at least the delay was in comfort, but we were starting to worry about making our connection from Toronto to Denver. This ended up being our undoing.
Once we landed in Toronto, we proceeded to sit for what felt like forever on the tarmac before deplaning. They allowed those with tight connections to deplane first, which was generous and surely needed given we had about an hour to go through all the airport procedures and make our flight. It did not look good. We ran through the airport. Cleared immigration and security quickly because people let us cut the line. Once we got to the US wing for re-entry procedures, that’s when we hit a snag. We apparently had to register and then wait for our bag. We could not proceed until our bag had arrived, and we knew it was quite a ways behind us. The procedures in this holding area were extremely unclear and the agents working were rude as hell. They laughed at us when we asked if they could expedite the bag, or whether there was a way to bypass needing to wait for the bag since we were going to miss our flight. At this point, since the bag was in Brendan’s name, we decided to split up. I went on through Global Entry and into the terminal to get to the gate and try to stall the flight long enough for the bag to arrive and give Brendan a fighting chance.
I made it to the gate a few minutes after they did a final call and mentioned my name, after running for 15 minutes with my luggage and heavy backpack through what felt like a mile. Brendan still hadn’t received his luggage, and they couldn’t hold the plane for him. I hung on until the last second, and we made the call that I should board – at least one of us should get home because our cats needed to be fed and cared for. So they closed the gate, and we then proceeded to wait for another 30 minutes as other passengers suddenly boarded. The fuck up was that because the flight closed, Brendan’s bag was no longer attached to the flight, voiding any ability for the system to clear him through even though he did get the bag before the flight left. I made it to my seat on the plane only to find another man in my seat, and made a joke that I was expecting my husband to be there, and he wasn’t my husband (was he!?). He sheepishly moved back to his seat one row up.
I made it back from Zürich to Denver ultimately about 30 minutes late, with tons of stress. Brendan barely made it back that night, and we were lucky he did. Not only were there weather delays in ORD (big surprise) which he had to get re-routed through on an indirect hop, but the flight he got put on was his last chance to make it home that night. He was an hour late leaving Toronto for Chicago, meaning he only had 30 minutes to make his Chicago to Denver flight and had to run through 2 terminals to get to the gate. By this time, I was landing, deplaning, and making my way to a Lyft.
I arrived home around 630PM, and cleaned up the house and ordered some Illegal Pete’s for when Brendan finally opened the door around 1130PM on his travail from Zürich to Denver. Exhausted and relived, we were both just glad he was able to get in that night. Ultimately, we had no regrets around the strategy of splitting up, as stressful as that was, and thought we mitigated the situation to the extent that we could have. While being a shitty way to end our trip from Zürich to Denver, it was apt for traveling in a pandemic. We were extremely lucky to have been one step ahead of Omicron our whole trip, and were able to get in to all 4 countries as planned and mostly on the days we had planned – and were owed some payback.
Were we glad we went on this trip? Heck yeah. Would we do it again knowing the complexity and stress of travel right now? Not intentionally. Were we still planning on going to Antarctica in February with Hurtigruten if it didn’t get cancelled? Yup. Also, gulp.