The word of the day is….Surprise. Another good one? Remarkable.
After reading about the utter chaos in airports over the weekend as people rushed to return the US, we had very low expectations for our return today. In Barcelona on Sunday, our hotel announced that it was suspending its evening reception (a day earlier than they initially said they would and an hour before it was scheduled) and the breakfast buffet. A continental breakfast would be served in our room, with the staff keeping a distance of about 5 feet from hotel patrons. It wasn’t bad…hot coffee, a plate of breads and danish, a plate of cold cuts and cheeses, and all the accompaniments. We had enough left over for lunch, since unlike Europeans, we do not typically eat cold cuts for breakfast. Also on Sunday, the hotel was noticeably empty and all the staff members were wearing face masks and gloves. We were told that the military had been called in to enforce the ban on walking around the city. Everyone was to stay inside unless going to the doctor, grocery store, or pharmacy.
So this morning we got to the airport around 6:00 am for a 9:00 am flight. Lines had already formed at the counters to check in, since we couldn’t do so on line. We had an odd interaction at the check-in counter, as the woman interviewed us without asking about travel….rather, what did we do for a living, what are our favorite hobbies…topics like that. Then, she handed back our passports and boarding passes, and that was it. When we discussed it later, all we could conclude was that she wanted to talk to us for several minutes each to see if we became short of breath, which would mean we possibly had coronavirus. But the virus was never mentioned. Odd.
All the staff at Barcelona airport who passed us smiled at us, wished us a good journey…over-the-top friendliness. Airport personnel normally don’t do this, and not to this extent. The flight wasn’t sold out, as we sat in a middle row of four seats and had them all to ourselves. When we arrived in Miami, we found that only 20 people would be allowed to deplane at a time. That turned out to be our longest wait of the day, maybe 10-15 minutes. We had filled out a health questionnaire, and were led to two people who collected it and took our temperatures with a zap to the forehead. We proceeded to a passport kiosk, where we scanned them and received a paper receipt. The kiosks were readily available. When we got to immigration, we had a 10-minute wait in line and were done in a minute. From the time we deplaned until we were outside calling an Uber, only 20 minutes had passed. The Uber was three minutes away. This was exactly an hour ago, and we are in our hotel and writing a blog! Remarkable. And surprising.
The first photo is the path in front of us, walking to the passport kiosks. Practically empty. The second is an available passport kiosk. The third and fourth are the people ahead of us to see an immigration officer. It was like the gates of heaven had opened. We had read of people waiting over six hours, jammed together in lines over the weekend. They fixed it quickly, as crowds are the easiest way to transmit coronavirus. We were treated courteously and in a friendly manner. We found out upon checking in to our hotel that the gym is still open (we are guessing not for long); the evening reception with hot food, salad, wine, and beer is still on for tonight; and the breakfast buffet runs every morning as usual. Spain’s actions were more drastic, but they have many more cases of coronavirus. The US is the last place we expected to be in the middle of March (after having been gone from the US for only 16 days), but considering these “extraordinary times” (as our pilot kept calling them), we are happy to be back and grateful that everyone made the process a painless experience.