Have you ever wondered what a repatriation flight is like? Never in our lives did we think we would one day be on a government flight - ever!
And because some of you may still be waiting for your flight and wonder what's to come, I'm writing down our experience for you. If you are not stuck in Cape Town, you might not know that South Africa has one of the strictest lockdowns in the world at this time. In another post, I will tell you about our time during the lockdown in South Africa.
This year we spent our Easter a little different than we had planned. On Easter Saturday we were brought back from Cape Town to Germany.
The news about our flight reached us on Friday morning at 7am. Since we were traveling with Baby, we were contacted already a few days before to give us the opportunity to take one of the first return flights. At that time we still had a regular Lufthansa flight scheduled for the end of April, so we were put on a waiting list for one of the last repatriation flights. To be honest, we weren't in as much of a hurry to get home like some others. Nevertheless, we already filled out the necessary forms and informed the embassy how we would be getting to the airport. We had to confirm that we did not have any COVID-19 symptoms and agreed to tests. We also scanned our passports and provided emergency contact in Germany.
Only two days after that, we found out that our regular flight had been canceled, and a total of four days after our last e-mail contact with the Consulate General and/or the Embassy, we were contacted again. This time we were informed that we were on the passenger list for the flight on Saturday evening at 10 pm. Attached we found a .pdf with the necessary information for the day of departure. Our flight ticket was sent to us on Friday evening directly by South African Airways. We did not have to print it out, nor was there an online check-in.
In the .pdf we were informed that we had to travel to a meeting point in the afternoon of our departure and under no circumstances we were allowed to go directly to the airport. Most rental car companies collected the cars directly at the meeting point despite the lockdown, as we found out later. For us, this was not relevant anymore, because one week before someone had driven into our car and therefore we had no car any longer. Of course, this had been a stress factor at first and some walks to the grocery store ended up being half-hikes with a baby. But our landlords were very caring and always helped us out if we wanted them to do so.
For the drive to the meeting point, one had to carry a pass, which was to be printed out and which was also attached to the e-mail. The pass was a letter from the German ambassador to the police. This pass would be shown in case of police control on the way to the meeting point. It entitled one to leave one's house, so to speak, and to move freely for the reason of the journey.
We were so blessed that our landlord drove us to the meeting point. He even organized a stamped document from the local police station, which said who and how many people he would transport where. So he was covered for the worst-case scenario.
Without further incidents, we arrived at the stadium in Cape Town, the meeting point for the repatriates, around 3 pm. Since we Germans love punctuality, there were of course already about a hundred passengers queuing up. A man in an orange safety vest with a German flag on his back handed us a form that we had to hand in later at the health check. The friendly helper from the Consulate General in Cape Town also approached us a little later to invite us to join the queue at the front - one of the benefits of having a baby.
We were asked to arrive at the meeting point on Saturday at 4 pm at the latest. Since we did not know if we would be stopped by the police on the way, we left 2 hours in advance. According to Google Maps, the trip itself should take 45 minutes - so we had more than enough puffer planned.
Without further incidents, we arrived at the stadium in Cape Town, the meeting point for the repatriates, around 3 pm. Since we Germans love punctuality, there were of course already about a hundred passengers queuing up. A man in an orange safety vest with a German flag on the back handed us a form that we had to hand in later at the health check. The friendly helper from the Consulate General in Cape Town also approached us a little later to invite us to join the queue at the front - one of the benefits of having a baby.
At shortly after 4 pm the gates to the stadium were pulled up and we had the honor of leading the German pack of almost 300 travelers. The luggage was a bit unhandy to carry, but unfortunately, we couldn't change that. In the underground car park of the stadium, black plastic chairs were placed along the side at a safe distance. These chairs served as a waiting area for the health examination. Since we were the first in line, we could proceed directly to the examination room. There we were asked how we were doing and if we had had any symptoms in the last 14 days. Then our temperature was measured. I had the baby in the carrier for the whole procedure, which was no problem at all. After the 5-minute examination, we were directed through a foyer where a packed lunch and water were waiting for us. The next hours we spent sitting in a big room waiting for our buses.
Unfortunately, there was no room for breastfeeding and no nappy-changing facilities, but we mothers changed diapers on the floor and I breastfed in a corner. The little ones could crawl a little and all 1-14-year-olds were even given an Easter surprise by the consulate team at Easter. To our delight, vegetarian food options were also available throughout the day.
At 18:30 we were allowed to get on the first bus. We were not allowed to sit next to each other and should leave a seat free, even if we lived in one household. In our opinion this didn't make much sense, because a little later strangers were sitting close together on the plane, because the aircraft was full to capacity. But the drive to the airport was fast and uncomplicated. At the motorway exit to the airport we were stopped by the police and the driver was controlled. Directly at the terminal police was waiting again. It took a little while to get used to see the airport so half-dark and empty of people. But on site everything was very well organized and we were taken directly to the check-in. There was also the possibility to change seats and after a quick and uncomplicated security check we found ourselves at the gate after only 10 minutes. There we made ourselves comfortable and waited the next two hours for boarding. Once again we enjoyed the baby bonus and opened the boarding gate. I experienced my first little shock moment shortly before boarding the plane when I saw people with white moon suits and face masks discussing whether we could already board the plane. The people in the protective gear looked like forensics. At the same time, I imagined them disinfecting the whole plane with big gas bottles.
It turned out, however, that it was the crew who would carry out the service onboard in this outfit. The entire crew worked on a voluntary basis. And even though the service on our 12-hour flight was a little more limited than usual, due to the turbulence after take-off and before landing, they were always engaged and smiling with their eyes.
I personally have never slept so well on a plane, even though 10 kg of love slept on me (as we sometimes lovingly call our chubby baby), I woke up quite recovered over the skies of Europe. Immediately after landing, the pilot thanked every single member of the crew by name and the passengers, almost 300 in number, applauded and cheered. Shortly before disembarking, there was a small moment of shock when a lady from the health department announced that the disembarkation was to take place in a particularly orderly manner and in accordance with the legal regulations: only four people could disembark at any one time, followed by a 4-minute wait! A murmur of horror went through the plane. We quickly calculated what this meant for us in row 50, namely 10 extra hours of waiting time! We were grateful that the lady repeated the whole thing in English and corrected herself in it. 40 people were allowed to leave the plane at once. The waiting time did not seem long.
At the passport control, we showed another form to the health office, which we had filled out during the flight. This was only to collect contact data in case someone on board had COVID-19.
Also, the baggage claim was uncomplicated, we only had to maintain a safety distance of 2 meters. The airport in Frankfurt was deserted. We felt a bit like part of a big all-inclusive travel group.
Some more information for travelers with babies: You really don't need to worry. The whole repatriation process, of course, takes a bit longer than a self-organized return flight, and for many of you Frankfurt or Munich is probably not the final destination, but there are helping hands and hearts all along the way. You can also use your flight tickets as train tickets and the rental car stations offer fast service and have enough cars for the journey. If you want a baby bed on the flight, you can arrange this directly at the airport. Our baby slept super well (on me) and is a fantastic travel companion. Of course, he also came to the point where everything became too much for him, but a little cuddling with mummy calmed him down quickly. Also, the other families were relaxed: Not only the parents but also the children. And even if oversize luggage cannot actually be transported, prams can still be checked in without any problems.
All in all, a super campaign. Now we are waiting curiously for the bill!