Toward the end of June, our moving plans started to get a lot more complicated.
The direct flight I had booked on United was cancelled. The Cairo airport was closed until further notice.There were no future commercial flights scheduled from Cairo to Bangkok.
Then Thailand announced that it was closing its borders to all commercial flights and all foreigners. After a couple of weeks they added an exception for teachers and students, but not for their dependents. So we made a new plan for me to go to Bangkok on a to-be-arranged repatriation flight (special charters organized by embassies to return citizens to their home country), and Andreas would go to the US to wait until dependents were permitted to enter Thailand. Because each passenger can only take one cat in cabin, we decided I would take Mishmish with me and he would take Rosie to the US. I booked a flight for Andreas and cat for Medford via Istanbul.
On July 17 Thailand announced some adjustments to the rules, and dependents of teachers could be admitted into Thailand. This was excellent news. However no pets would be allowed on the repatriation flights. I cancelled Andreas’s flight and made arrangements with a boarding facility in Cairo and a pet shipper to send the cats to us after we were settled in Bangkok.
Now we were getting into July and the end of our apartment lease. We didn’t have our visas for Thailand yet because the consulate will only issue a visa if you have a flight booked, and we didn’t. There was no telling how long it would take to get a reservation on one of the two or three repatriation flights leaving Egypt each month. Fortunately for us, some friends offered us their apartment to use while we waited (they had renewed their lease and then after weighing the risks decided not to return to Egypt at the end of summer). After the shippers picked up our boxes to be sent by sea to Bangkok and Medford, we spent a few days cleaning up the old apartment before moving into our friends’ place. We took the cats to the cat hotel across town, where they were installed in a lovely plexiglass room with two cat trees and a view of the Nile.
Meanwhile my school in Bangkok was working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and embassies all over the world to get their ten newly hired teachers onto repatriation flights in time for the start of school. In addition to us in Egypt, there were new hires in Ecuador, the US, Myanmar, and Israel trying to get to Thailand. We were all supposed to arrive in Bangkok three weeks ahead of the students, in time for two weeks of orientation for us newbies followed by another week of all-staff trainings. On-site orientation was now looking unlikely, especially after the government set a mandatory two-week quarantine for anyone entering the country from abroad. The school made plans to conduct new teacher orientation online, as most of us would either be still abroad or in quarantine during those two weeks. Starting July 27 at 4 am and 10 am Cairo time I attended virtual meetings with my new colleagues.
New Thailand entry requirements were added: in addition to getting a visa, foreigners would need to also apply at their local Thai embassy for a Certificate of Entry. For this COE we would each need to present:
1. Signed declaration form (emergency contacts and agreement to comply with Thai COVID regulations)
2. Proof of $100,000 medical insurance policy including COVID coverage
3. T-8 health declaration form
4. Proof of reservations for 14 full days at an Alternative State Quarantine hotel
Also we needed three items that had to be obtained within 72 hours of departure:
5. Fit to Fly – certification of general health, signed by a doctor
6. COVID-19 PCR negative test results certified by a government laboratory
7. Medical certificate signed by a doctor interpreting lab results and verifying that we were COVID-free
The biggest issue was still tickets. We had to get those first before we could apply for the visa or the COE, schedule the COVID test or medical check, or make the reservation at the quarantine hotel.
We visited the embassy to talk with the visa officer. He told us we had no chance of getting on a repatriation flight out of Cairo before October because there was a huge waiting list of Thai students wanting to return home who would get their tickets ahead of us. Cairo airport had by this time reopened, and he recommended taking a commercial flight to another country to connect with a repatriation flight. This would require coordination between the embassy in Cairo and the embassy in the third country, but it could be done.
Now it was August. My school worked without success to get us reservations on a repatriation flight out of Istanbul, then Dubai, then Qatar, Frankfurt, Japan, and Amsterdam. On August 10 while we were still pursuing the Amsterdam possibility, another flight opened up in London. The embassy in Cairo talked to the embassy in London, and miraculously on August 17 I got an email saying we were on the passenger list.
There were a few more complications. We had packed for the usual international baggage allowance of two 23kg suitcases per passenger, but on this charter flight we could only take 30kg each with no overweight or excess bags permitted. So we arranged for the cat shipper to also ship two of our suitcases for us. Also, EgyptAir informed me that we couldn’t get our boarding passes for the second flight in Cairo nor would they check our bags all the way through. The way Heathrow is arranged this meant we would have to do a landside transfer through immigration into the UK and back out again, which in turn involved another piece of COVID paperwork – although in the end Cairo did give us the boarding passes at the airport and checked the bags through, no questions asked.
The big crunch came at the end, in the 72 hours before flying where we first had to take the COVID test at a government lab, then go to a doctor’s office for the Fit to Fly form, pick up the COVID results at the lab the next day, take those documents and the rest of the items on the list to the embassy between 9 and 11 am to get the COE, and finally get a doctor’s COVID certification for the flight. There were problems at the lab where they initially said they couldn’t have the results done on time (we had to get the lab director involved to expedite), and that night there was a mixup with the appointment at the clinic and the doctor wasn’t there that day (we begged to see another one). The next morning the lab director had called in sick and we had to jump through more hoops to get the lab results., and then the doctor refused to sign the medical certificate (he objected to the wording on the form). We were late for the embassy but we called and they agreed to wait. That afternoon we had to catch my own doctor on the fly as he was driving to another hospital to get the final form signed.
Finally, the next morning at 5 am we left the key on the table and were off to the airport to begin our 26 hour journey to Thailand.
And that, dear readers, is how we got to Bangkok, at last.