Take me home mission

COVID-19: Bringing Kids and Wife Home to Germany

by Yongsri

Originally, the girls and I planned to be in Thailand from February 25 until March 31. We planned to first go up north to do the Buddhist ceremony of 100 days after the passing away of my grandmother. Then we planned to come back to Bangkok. The two girls were to start their summer course at Bhiriyayodhin Kindergarten, which is situated in the same soi as our house, spending an entire month there in the summer class. We planned this since last November.

Prior to our trip, all the German friends wished us a wonderful holiday in Thailand. Only two Korean friends of mine asked “Are you sure about this? Aren’t you concerned about the Coronavirus? All my friends have canceled their trips to Thailand. It is probably safer here in Germany.” I told them that yes, I am a bit concerned. But honestly, I am more worried about the air quality in Bangkok.

Moreover, we are visiting our family in Thailand and they long for spending time with the kids. It’s actually not a leisure trip: no sight-seeing and tourist stuff. My husband was not concerned at all. He believed that this virus, same as other diseases prior to it, will come and go. So long as we washed our hands often, we should be fine. I bought two small bottles of instant Handwash Gels from the local drug stores, just in case it could be useful on the plane. I didn’t know where to find a mask. I didn’t see it being sold anywhere as Germans are not wearing masks despite the news of the Coronavirus spread. They probably think that masks are only for sick people. My Korean friend said the masks are usually available at the pharmacy, but do not bother to go ask for it now because it’s all sold out.

In attempt to have something at hand for emergency, I went to a home improvement store and found masks for construction workers. I bought two of them, just in case. We arrived well in Thailand, as smooth as silk, you may say. We went to the shopping mall for meals and grocery shopping. And found that Thais were already very cautious about the situation. There weren’t as many people as there used to be in the malls, which made it actually pleasant (as it was not too overcrowded) And many of those who were there wore masks.

In fact, the hand sanitizer gel or alcohol for hand wash were available at every mall and shopping center that I went to. In many office buildings that I had to visit, they had staff measuring visitors’ temperature before being allowed to enter the building. At the kindergarten, the director gave me a call prior to the start of summer course and asked about whereabout we have been to over the last 14 days. When the course started, every morning before entering the building, they measured the kids’ temperature, checked their oral and throat condition and washed their hands with hand gel. We the parents who dropped the kids there would also have to go through the same procedure. Such pre-emptive measurements gave me confidence in the school’s operation and safety.

Germany started to see the rise in number of Coronavirus infected people. My guilty feeling that I risked the girls health for bringing them to Thailand disappeared. Now I felt it is safer in Thailand than in Germany. I followed the development on the matter closely. The numbers of infected people rose sharply, particularly in North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria. Even though we live Frankfurt, Hessen, where the numbers were not that high, I couldn’t help feeling worried. I talked to my husband on phone and asked about how the situation is in Germany. He was cool about it and said perhaps it sounded worse in the news.

But in reality, the daily life in Germany went on as usual. Everything was available in supermarkets. I told him to stock up some food at home, just so that he would not be starving in case things got worse. At first he hesitated, but eventually agreed. The number of infected people in Europe rose rapidly. Italy decided to shut down.

In Germany, numbers also rose quickly. On Thursday, Bavaria announced a complete school closure. We in Hessen thought such measurements would soon be applied too. I am a member of the parents’ council, and they were discussing about the next move feverously. Eventually Hessen also closed down all schools and kindergartens until mid-April.

On the weekend, my husband and I talked. He still made jokes that it looks like it is now safer to be in Thailand. On Monday, I brought the girls to the Kindergarten as usual. The screening at the entrance showed that Emma has a slightly high temperature, 37.6 celsius so I took both girls back home. I began to feel panic, but Thanks God, she did not develop any sickness symptom. She was absolutely happy and lively, and by noon the temperature has gone down. I decided that day that I would finish up the grocery shopping that I needed to bring back to Germany and finished packing, so I didn’t have to worry about scarcity of items I needed in case things got worse in Thailand.

We went to a nearby mall later in the afternoon, and it was so empty that I felt guilty for bringing myself there. It seems most people had already practiced stay-at-home policy. I went to the supermarket area. There were more people there looking for stuff like me. The instant-noodles, ready-to-eat food and hand sanitizer shelves were empty.

At night, my husband sent a message asking if I have considered cutting short the trip and leave Thailand sooner. I immediately knew something is wrong because he is usually very relaxed about this. After the girls went to bed, we talked. He said prior to this, he felt totally comfortable with everything. But it seems the situation has deteriorated very fast. Many countries in Europe have closed down its borders. The U.S. have declared a national emergency and forbade entry of non-US citizens for 30 days which created havoc at all airports.

He believed that soon the EU would follow and issue such measurements as well. If I wait until our original date of departure, March 31, he is afraid that by then the airlines might not operate and it could potentially take months before our family could reunite. He believed that the virus would not die down within the next two weeks. Since it was already midnight, I told him that I would discuss with my family here (if they were okay that we leave early/cut short our stay) and tomorrow the next thing I would do is to go to the Thai Airways headquarters to find out about the tickets. We bought cheap tickets, so I was not sure if we would be allowed to reschedule the flight date, and if so, how much it would cost. We hung up and I went to bed.

Fortunately it was not too difficult to fall asleep. The next thing I heard my cellphone ringing, with the ringtone I knew it is my husband. I looked at my watch, it was 6:30 a.m., which means it was past midnight in Germany. Gosh, he must have waited the whole evening, not going to bed, to give me this call. He apologized for waking me up and said that while I was sleeping, he has been researching about flights from Bangkok to Frankfurt in the next few days and found out that most of them are sold out. Those that were still available cost like 2000++ Euro just for a one-way economy ticket. The cost for three of us to come home would amount to 7-8000 Euro. With such a high demand, he did not think I would be able to reschedule my original flights sooner with my cheap booking class.

So he looked for alternatives and found that it was still possible to redeem tickets with miles if we pay a somewhat acceptable amount of fees. But while he was waiting to discuss this option with me, many of the available flights were already gone. At the point of talking, the soonest and only flight that we could get was Thursday. Flight on Wednesday, Friday to Sunday were all gone. If we agreed to cut short our trip and come home early, we must act now.

One voice in my head said… wait a minute, you haven’t consulted with anyone at home yet about this change of plan. But the other voice also said, look… if he wouldn’t want us three to go back, he wouldn’t have done all this. And he would not have peace of mind, would not be able to sleep, until we make the decision and see it through. I paused for a few second and then made up my mind. I told him we will go back to Germany. Please proceed with the booking. I stayed with him on phone throughout the entire booking as he himself was also not sure if it would go through.

There must be lots of people looking for flights right now and the concern was the website/system might collapse. It gave suspense every time he clicked next.

Finally, we made it. We got the confirmation message and the booking code. He apologized for making us cutting short our stay in Thailand and said sorry to my family for having less time with kids than originally planned. I told him not to worry about it. I was sure my family would understand. xxxxxxxxxx My husband’s prediction was on point.

Later that day, the EU issued a travel restriction policy, that non-EU-citizens would not be allowed to enter the 26 EU-member countries with a few exceptions. It also urged its citizens to come home before the travel restriction would become even stricter. I felt extremely fortunate to having already secured the new tickets. But deep down inside, I couldn’t help being worried if we would actually get to fly. It was still two days prior to departure. Anything can happen within these two days as the situation seemed to spiral downwards quickly in Europe.

Every day there were news of airlines drastically reducing their scheduled flights or even shutting down completely, within just a few days notice. I prayed. At the same time I also informed everyone, my family members, the kindergarten and all the friends I have planned to meet up. Everyone said the same thing that they could totally understand our situation and it was a good decision what we did. They were all concerned for us after hearing about the EU announcement.

My husband called again on Wednesday evening that he could not check us in online. He was concerned if there is any bug in the system or if we got kicked out from the system (and hence cannot fly). I told him we would only know tomorrow at the airport since it was already late at night and I did’t think calling the airline would be possible. However, I believed it will be okay. TG will still fly, otherwise we must have heard some news or announcement. Also, I thought in a situation like this, they might just want to check our travel documents before allowing us to check in. xxxxxxxxxx

On Thursday morning, we left home around 8 a.m. to go to Suvarnabhumi Airport. Normally we would avoid leaving at this hour because there would be a horrible jam (from experience, we arrive at the airport the same time whether we leave home at 8 or 9 a.m.). But on that day, traffic was relatively good. Yes, there was some congestion along the road, but it was considered very minimal compared to the usual traffic.

We made a record for arriving at the airport within 40 minutes, where normally it would take us more than an hour. We got measured temperature before entering the airport. At the check-in counter, I was really frightened deep down inside. I wondered if everything would go through, there was this mad voice in my head wondering if they will allow us to check-in because I knew the flight would be really full. And since we used miles to get our tickets, I was concerned if we would get bumped out for those who paid a full fare ticket last minute.

My concerns proved groundless. We got the boarding pass. The security check and immigration went smoothly. The airport was not as empty as I imagined, but it was not crowded. Many flights were cancelled. We went to the gate early (normally I would love to stroll around duty-free shops). As we got in the plane and sat down, I felt relieved… we will finally, eventually fly back home. Eleven hours later we arrived at Frankfurt airport. There were no temperature measurements of those who just arrived. But there were police checking our travel documents before reaching the immigration area. The new travel restriction really are being enforced.

My husband was waiting for us at the arrival hall. The girls jumped into Daddy’s arms before I could ask them to wash their hands. We looked into each other’s eyes and smiled. Mission bringing wife and kids back home was completed. We arrived well, safe and sound. xxxxxxxxxx

I would like to thank Thai Airways International for still operating at this time, allowing our family and many others to reunite.

A round of applause to the captain and all crew members for their excellent services. The flight was smooth as silk and for 11 hours on board, I completely forgot there was the Coronavirus crisis going around the world.

Also a very big THANK YOU to all my family members for their understanding and support, for accepting that their times with the girls would be cut short nearly in half, and that there were many errands that I should have done for them but I could not. I promise to come back and get them done as soon as possible.

Thanks to all of you who wished us a safe journey home. We did and highly appreciate your kind thoughts.

Last but not least, thank you to my husband for his love, care and arranging everything for us three. Your ability to assess the situation and act swiftly has helped us reuniting in time, safe and sound.

Love you.