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March 21, 2020
San Francisco, California: Coming in for a Landing

Leaving the ghost town that is Sydney airport

Russell writes…

When we booked our return flight from Sydney to San Francisco, we did so in extreme haste. We were worried that at any minute the flight would disappear, fill up or be cancelled. We ended up with an American Airlines flight operated by Qantas Airlines. It didn’t depart until 24 hours after we arrived in Sydney. But it was a direct flight.

We had the choice of economy, premium economy or business class. In our haste, we booked premium economy. We immediately regretted not purchasing business class for a 15-hour flight. So when we arrived in Sydney, the first thing we did was walk over to the international terminal to see if we could get an upgrade. Qantas told us that because we had booked through American, Qantas could not make any changes. We would have to do it through American. The trouble is, there is no American terminal, desk, personnel or help of any kind at the Sydney airport.

Trying to get through on the phone would be impossible in the middle of both a coronavirus outbreak and a Global Level 4 Health Advisory. We were stuck with what we had. We sequestered ourselves in our hotel room for the evening and didn’t go back out; our dinner was a couple of noodle bowls and hot tea. On the positive side, there were no dishes to clean up.

Our original plan the following morning was to run to a Sydney grocery store and buy any food and supplies we could carry on the plane. But a friend back home told us that grocery stores were well-stocked. So we slept in and didn’t check out until 11:30 am. The international terminal was literally across the driveway from the hotel.

Our “home” for four hours at Sydney Airport

Social distancing, Sydney-style

We ended up enjoying the four hours we had before the flight departed. We took time to eat lunch and use the free airport Wi-Fi. We didn’t feel rushed. Best of all, when we boarded the plane, we discovered a glimmer of good news. Qantas has – hands-down – the best “premium economy” we have ever seen! It is the equivalent of business class on US carriers. If we ever fly to Australia again, we are absolutely doing so on Qantas.

“Premium economy” on Qantas is like “business class” on other airlines

Sunset from the plane. Good-bye (for now), Australia!

(We should also note that Qantas is scheduled to suspend operations and lay off all employees at the end of March. Despite this, everyone at Qantas was helpful and cheerful. We wish everyone at Qantas a safe recovery and a rapid return to business as usual.)

Our 15-hour flight home can be summed up in four words. Russell slept. Gail didn’t.

Arriving in the ghost town that is San Francisco airport

Our return to the US had a few logistical challenges. Before we left the country, we moved out of our house in Silicon Valley. Our intention was to move to another house in California’s Gold Country, but we didn’t have time to completely do that. Instead, we left rooms full of boxes and several cars in Silicon Valley.

With Silicon Valley now in lockdown, our plan was to head up to Gold Country and shelter in place. Somehow, we had to get from San Francisco airport one hour down to Silicon Valley to retrieve some needed boxes, then get from Silicon Valley three hours up to Gold Country. The trouble is, our car was in storage in a garage in downtown San Jose.

Our family to the rescue! Our son Joss retrieved our car from San Jose. Russell’s sister Joanne and brother-in-law Matt drove a caravan of their car and our car up to San Francisco airport to meet us. (A ride share was not feasible due to the six-foot social distancing policies in place with coronavirus.) Matt passed the car keys to Russell, and Gail wiped down the interior of our car. Best of all: Joanne and Matt had stuffed the back of our car with groceries and an ice chest. (They had even bought Russell a dozen of his favorite doughnuts.)

Honoring our six-foot distance, we waved good-bye to Joanne and Matt and went our separate ways. We arrived at our old house in Silicon Valley, where Joss helped us retrieve two months of mail and packages. Gail used the bathroom, then wiped down everything she had touched.

Before departing Silicon Valley, we made one last stop at the local Safeway grocery store for additional supplies. Three hundred dollars later, we were on our way. Our car was stuffed to the gills.

Driving the ghost town that is Highway 101 through Silicon Valley

The Safeway in Cupertino

We are all ready for survival mode! (Shotgun not included.)

Things here are both better and worse than we expected. There are still cars on the road, and there are still people out walking and bicycling. (The lockdown permits you to leave your home for “exercise.”) People at the grocery store are polite, through everyone looks tired and stressed. But there are no paper products to be found anywhere, including tissues and toilet paper.

We are now back in the United States. We are here two and a half months sooner than we expected to be. But we are (so far) safe and healthy!

Touchdown at San Francisco airport (Matt is practicing social distancing)

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