Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Today I Spent Five Hours on Hold with United Airlines to Cancel My Trip to Italy—Travel in the Time of Coronavirus

saffi karfelt, stephanie karfelt, italy, travel, coronavirus

This past weekend I flew to visit a sick friend. The airports were business as usual. Other than if someone sneezed. Then they got the death glare and hisses of indignation. A woman asked to borrow the little hand sanitizer I keep hanging on the side of my purse—it's a mom thang—telling me someone had sneezed on her. In a shuttle going between terminals in Washington DC a pilot sneezed on me. He tried to cover his mouth but it was one of those kind that sneak up on you. I get that because I have photic sneeze. It might be a blue-eyed thing and according to 23andMe DNA results it's a genetic thing, but if I look into the sun or get the rays hitting my eyes sideways it induces a violent sneeze. So I realize that sometimes it happens.

Still, dang it, cootie boy cover your beak!

All in all I follow coronavirus math, try to be smart, and always remember Edgar Allen Poe's short story The Death of the Red Masque. Moral of the story? You can run, but you can't hide, and like it or not we are in this together.

That last part is why I decided in the end to cancel my trip to Italy. For a good part of the past year I've been prepping to attend a writing workshop there. It's one that I was so lucky to get into. I've been spending a good amount of time huddled in my office writing away in preparation for it. Hours went into shopping for a cheap flight, hotels before and after the workshop, ferries, etc. Eventually I got it all done.

My round trip flight to Italy only cost just over $100. That's on account of my poor husband saying, "Hey, Saff, you can use my airline miles if you think it'll help." What I heard was, "Hey, Saff, let me leave you alone with my airline miles HELP YOURSELF." That's how I wound up with several "free" flights, two of them international.

Life does not get any better than that.

I just hadn't figured coronavirus into it. 

Because they cancelled my writing workshop. In a world where people are sick and some are dying, I know it's not a big thing but it was for me and I had to grieve about it for a few days. At first I thought I'm just going to go by myself to Italy. I'd purchased insurance, but it wasn't going to cover my prepaid non-refundable hotels or my "free" flight. Then I read some articles on protecting the herd. Namely, just because you're one of the healthy people that the virus probably won't hurt much, you're still spreading it. That means you could spread it to your sick friends, your grandmother, or someone else.

We're in it together. Like in The Masque of the Red Death, we can go on with our lives and ignore it, but it's still going to be there. So I spent my five hours on hold with freaking United Airlines, three in the morning and two more in the evening when they didn't actually do what they said they were going to do in the morning. I went to my favorite hiking place after and hiked for a couple of hours, waved at fellow hikers, and admired their doggos and grieved the loss of Italy.

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