TRAVELING FROM LOS ANGELES TO MANILA (PANDEMIC TIMES)

It has been a year since I arrived back here in Manila from the US. Unfortunately, I can’t go back there yet since the embassy in Manila still is closed for B1/B2 applications. Yes, my visa expired already. It was such a bummer that I my trip didn’t go as planned because of this whole Covid thing, which I cannot stress enough to be taken seriously. Hence, I am not moving from my home.

Remembering all the hoops and uncertainties that I had to go through that time made me think, should I write something about it? I actually thought of writing about that process as a waste of time and would be of no value to anyone since it was constantly changing every, single, day.

I was hoping that time that the government will come up with a clear, easy-to-follow process. That way everyone can be compliant and avoid confusion especially in the airports where most of the action is.

Unluckily, the situation in the country has not gotten any better. Don’t ask why. So here I am a year later thinking maybe I should write about it. Maybe I should share `how I manage to stay on top of everything and come home in one piece.

My plan for the trip last 2020 was to land in Los Angeles, see a few sights then go visit my Aunt in North Carolina. After spending a couple of weeks, I intended to go to New York for a weekend. From New York, I wanted to fly to Mexico for the rest of my trip before flying back to Los Angeles and fly back to Manila.

Obviously, that didn’t happen since Covid did.

From The East Coast The West Coast

My plans for this trip only went as far as visiting my Aunt on the East Coast. New York was the epicenter of Covid in the US at that time. It was just plain stupid to push through.

From North Carolina, I flew back to Los Angeles. I chose to fly from OAJ rather than driving for hours going to Raleigh. The fares were dirt cheap as the number of passengers dwindled down because of the situation. Flight fares from OAJ or the Albert J Ellis Airport usually are expensive that a lot of people choose to drive to Raleigh instead. But like I said, the fares were so low that I just had to take advantage and save my relatives from the stressful drive.

An almost empty OAJ (Albert J Ellis) Airport

Given the situation, I was expecting that my flight won’t be full especially that it is a small aircraft and that social distancing needs to be observed. The flight was full! I was a bit concerned but thank God my aunt gave me a bunch of face masks that she made! Amazingly, it seems that many passengers weren’t concerned about what’s going on. A lot of them weren’t even wearing masks.

I had a layover in Charlotte, N.C. It is a bigger airport where they aggregate passengers who then Fly out on another plane. Since it was a hub airport, it was filled more than the OAJ Airport. It was a bit uncomfortable seeing a crowd in the airport. I was also surprised that the plane taking me to Washington DC seemed to be full also.

The ticket gallery they gave me when I checked in. 2 layovers in total.

Yes, it was a two-layover flight. But most of the flights were since there were not many people traveling at that time. So they had to shuttle and aggregate their passengers. It does make sense. From Washington DC it was a 6-hour flight to Los Angeles. It was tiring, honestly. Well at least I am already in LA, just a few days more and I will be back home. Or will I?

My plane from The Washington Dulles Airport to LAX

The Unexpected Angelino

I booked a hostel bed for a week near Hollywood Blvd at Hollywood Budget BnB GuestHome. I wanted to take photos of the nearby areas and the blvd. itself at night. I thought that it would be a nice addition to my portfolio. To my dismay when I arrived at the hostel, the manager told me that he was trying to contact me. To cut the story short (I’ll make another post for this) I think I was a victim of the bait and switch.

The pool at my first hostel (I don’t recommend this hostel)

Anyways a few days before my scheduled flight, Philippine Airlines informed me that my flight is canceled. I had to decide quickly where to transfer. It was a no-brainer, I didn’t want to stay at that hostel. So I checked out my options using Booking.com, Airbnb, and Agoda. Booking.com and Airbnb gave me the best options.

I chose to book with Airbnb, though they failed me numerous times already. They had the best rates.

walking around my new neighborhood in Korea Town (2nd hoste)

I tried to book the soonest available flight going back home. The soonest bookable flight though was a month later. So secretly with a happy heart, I booked my accommodation via Airbnb for a month! ^_^. I later thought that maybe it’s the universe telling me, “hey! you deserve to enjoy this trip even just for a bit! Stay for a while!”. Well, universe Thank You so much!

I honestly enjoyed living in Los Angeles. However, the reality is that it is not sustainable for me. I mean, my savings can support me for about a month or maybe two. Or maybe even rent out a cheap room. I know I can actually afford to live there, but of course, I have bills to pay in Manila and saving to build up. If I stay there, it’s just gonna go negative instead of saving.

The Rumi Hostel (Photo from Airbnb)

Trying To Get Back

EVA Air was really good at communicating the status of my flight. However, because of the constantly changing and worsening situation at that time, I keep on getting bumped off my flight. I kept on rescheduling to the soonest flights but it got to a point where I couldn’t afford it anymore. Taiwan, where I was supposed to transit, was scheduled to lift the transit restrictions for foreigners way beyond my authorized stay in the US. I could apply to extend my stay, but that would cost me $500 and another month in the hostel is about $400. It was way beyond practical.

Since staying in Los Angeles and buying a new ticket cost the same, I decided to book a new one. I thought that since it is based in The Philippines, I won’t have any issues with transiting in case of changes arise. So I booked one for about the same price as the round trip ticket I initially bought.

I was extremely vigilant in making sure that my flight was going through. I always check my airline’s Facebook page and my email for any announcements.

On the eve of my scheduled flight, uncertainty was prevalent within our Facebook group. There’s this announcement on the airline’s page that all flights will be diverted to Cebu, but no communication has been sent. Most of us were speculating that our flight will be canceled. True enough, it was. Still no email from Philippine Airlines.

I tried calling customer service but they couldn’t give an answer.

Just Keep Trying

Several hours after speaking with the airline representative, I received an email that night. It said that my flight for June 20th is canceled! I was honestly confused about what to feel. Thank God I was able to put myself together. I called Philippine Airlines really early in the morning. It felt inconvenient since they should have just rescheduled us automatically rather than having us call them.

Anyways, I easily got through their lines. I think I was this guy’s first call. I asked about the scheduled flight that night for Cebu that I saw on their site. I was so ecstatic as he informed me that I got a slot for that night’s slot!

I quickly went back to my room and to fix my luggage. I also informed one of the house managers that I am no longer extending my stay.

Pre Flight Drama

I spent my last few hours in Los Angeles buying some stuff that I can bring back home. I thought that with everything that has been going on, it’s gonna be a while before I can come back.

With my bags locked, I booked an Uber to the airport around 5 PM. My flight was not until 10, but I am not taking any chances.

I thought that I am really early. Then I remembered that I am flying with fellow Filipinos. That means, getting to the airport hours before your flight is normal. Yeah, knowing how Filipinos are with their appointments; your know, Filipino time? We are extremely cautious with airports and flights. Needles to say, there was a long line of people trying to check-in already when I arrived.

Tom Bradley Terminal

Checking in was fine. The only struggle was staying in the line for more than an hour. It was awesome to be in the Facebook group. There was a lot of support from people in the same flight and for those who are still waiting to get their new slots.

As I reached the check-in counter, I placed my carefully balanced luggage on the scale. They asked me about my quarantine hotel reservation in Cebu and my ticket. It was easy, except for the long wait.

My incredibly balanced luggage. All were right on the limit!

Flying Back To The Philippines

My flight boarded a bit later than scheduled. It was expected though. Having all these new protocols obviously can create confusion. So I try to stay patient.

Everyone was cooperative, no one trying to create drama.

waiting at the boarding gates
My ticket going back home

Upon boarding the plane, I learned that it was a full flight. There was no social distancing. Well, unless you want to pay extra for it. I wasn’t complaining at that point. I just wanted to get home. So I kept my mask on as I have been.

The flight went as usual. They serve meals and drinks while on protective gear. Though hidden behind the new uniform they are wearing, you still feel the warmth of the PAL flight crew. It was such a comfort being taken cared of by Filipino Hospitality.

After a few hours of sleep and wake cycle, I finally heard the pilot announcing that we are about to arrive. The flight crew then prepared everyone for the touchdown. My heart was racing in excitement.

Quarantine In Cebu

Since we were one of the few first Non-Expats (Overseas Filipino Workers) arriving in the country, we were fortunate that our quarantine wasn’t really full-blown isolation. We just had to take a swab test and contain ourselves in our rooms until we receive the result of the test.

Line for the immigration counter
Waiting for my turn to get swabbed for covid testing.
My specimen

The initial batches of results came in just a few hours after we checked in. Mine didn’t arrive until the following day. The good thing about booking a quarantine-hotel is that they provide all meals.

It was quite nerve-racking when I was one of the few left without our results. I had to email and call people just to get my certificates. I do not understand why it was so disorganized. But that is how it was.

It was almost lunchtime when I received my certificates. The people at Eloisa Hotel were just awesome. They offered, without me asking, to print my certificates.

The only problem now is that my flight to Manila is not confirmed yet. As I said, nothing was clear with the procedures. They didn’t tell us if we have to book it ourselves or they’d (quarantine officers/PAL) be booking it for us. There was just not enough instruction given. Some of my co-passengers said that we can go to the airport and they will just let us in even without reservations. I doubted that. I also have huge luggage so I didn’t want to risk going there only to be turned away.

Some of the people who did go to the airport were accommodated as chance passengers, some just were not fortunate enough. Since I was already in Cebu, I thought of staying for maybe a week. But watching the news on the TV wasn’t sounding a bit optimistic. So I just stayed a couple of days more and flew back to Manila on a weekend.

Way Back Home

Finally, the day came. I stayed in an Airbnb just right off the airport for convenience. Believe me, though, it was not easy to find a hotel or Airbnb. Most of them were shut off or are asking for a minimum of one month’s stay. My bookings were canceled one after another. It was just frustrating because Airbnb didn’t do their part in making sure that their listings are actually active and accepting just like how it shows on their website.

Anyways, my flight back to Manila came and everything went smoothly at the airport. Everyone wore masks and face shields (which I still disapprove of). I also bought some chocolates at the Mactan Airport, cause I ate many of the ones I bought at Ralph’s in LA! lol!

Bye Cebu!
Socially Distanced Flight at last!
Line for baggage claim

My brother picked me up, he was way too late. I was the only one at the airport that seem to be ghost town-like. But then I am grateful. This is the first time someone is picking me up. No one ever offered and I don’t want to be an imposition.

So there, that was how challenging getting home at that time was. I was just thankful that I got home before my authorized stay expired. Getting stuck in Los Angeles was also bearable because of the people I met in the hostel. I hope I get to meet them again in the future.

As of this writing, things have been complicated already. The government seems not to know how to go with their quarantine policies. Vaccines are already rolling out, albeit, not enough for everyone. At least though we are moving. I also hope that traveling across provinces, regions or localities would be standardized. They do allow movement for the most part. However, learning how complicated it gets to visit other places makes you just want to give up your plans.

Till the next time, we actually get to travel. I hope soon before I go insane.

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