Leaving India

Traveling Home

We stayed in and followed the lockdown mandates and only ventured out for our essentials.  Our team leader Ravi was occupied with 20 guests in his house.  He recently got married the first part of February and his wedding reception was to be held on March 21st.  So his family came to town to celebrate.  The celebration was cancelled and so were the trains.  I do believe his relatives just started leaving recently! 

As the lockdown went on there were increased rationing of food and we thought that things were going to get a lot rougher as time went on.  We were making our own yogurt with a gallon of milk.  Milk is sold in little bags and we needed about eight to make it.  I was starting to have to visit 2-3 shops just to get enough milk since most stores were limiting how much I could purchase.

Bag of Milk

We weren’t in any danger, but what is the point of being there when there wasn’t any ministry to do?  We would have stayed and rode it out, but it didn’t make sense to us.  We contacted the US Embassy to register for repatriation flights.  Since everything in the country is closed, including the international airports, the only way to get a flight out is through a government arranged charter.  We put our names on the list to be notified when the flights were to take place.  Laura was then emailing her dad and he noticed a couple of commercial flights still available.  We were able to book a JAL (Japan Airlines) flight through Tokyo to Chicago.  The flight to Tokyo was a repatriation flight for Japanese citizens to get home, we just continued on to the U.S.  These flights were quite a bit cheaper than the gov’t arranged $2000-$2500 per ticket and with a family of seven, it was a substantial savings.  We figured it would be just better to leave when we could, then to be stuck! 

To get to the airport we needed a letter from the US Embassy allowing us to get through any police blockades.  The other challenge was how to get to the airport with no taxis, buses or rickshaws running.  We were able to arrange a ride with our landlord – what an answer to prayer.  When we arrived at the airport (which was closed by the way), we had to wait outside until our time of entry was to happen.  We sat outside with chairs and rows 6′ apart. 

Waiting to Get into the Airport

When it was our time to enter the airport we needed to maintain 6′ distance, wear our facemasks, sanitize our hands and our passports.  We then had our temperature taken before entry.  It is really weird being in a closed airport; kind of eerie.  The shops were closed.  Hardly any workers around.  There were also no lines.  Our flight to Tokyo was about an 8 hour flight, then we were to board another plan 3 hours later to Chicago.  Before we went to the airport we were made aware that our Chicago flight was cancelled, but there was another one the next day.  This meant we were prepared to spend 29 hours in the Haneda airport in Tokyo.  When we got to the check-in counter the clerk said we couldn’t spend more than 24 hours in the airport.  I am not sure if that was a new rule due to COVID or not.  It was probably because Haneda airport was not fully open and there wouldn’t be anything or anyone there for us.  She said we couldn’t board.  A JAL supervisor (a really nice Japanese man), made some calls and got us on our flight.  It wasn’t our plan originally to spend the time in the airport but JAL had  cancelled our flight in the first place.

When we arrived at Haneda we got some assistance.  They were able to book us on a flight 3 hours later to JFK, then and American Airlines flight to Chicago.  The flight to JFK was 14 hours, then a 2 hour layover until we flew to Chicago and spent the night.  Next day we flew to Alabama to start our 14 day quarantine.

Our flight to Tokyo was pretty full.  It was on Boeing 777-300 which is a pretty large plan.  These tickets were 7 of the last 9 available for the flight, but they ended up being Premium Economy.  Those were pretty nice seats for a long flight.  Our flight from Tokyo to JFK was the same size plane but was so empty.  I counted 22 passengers and 15 flight attendants on a plane that seats almost 250!  There was only one other person in our section.

It was nice to have plenty of room to stretch out and sleep on our long flight.  Praise God!

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