It is by fortunate circumstance that I was allowed to leave the Philippines despite the many restrictions in international travel during these times. I have an existing resident visa for France that allowed me to pass through immigration authorities in Manila just a day before the Philippine government reimposed a ban on ‘non-essential’ foreign travel for Filipinos (not that my departure was non-essential). I was also able to enter France with minimal restrictions. I was surprised immigration at Charles de Gaulle airport did not even ask for any other documentation aside from my passport. I was merely asked if, after all the time I spent in France, I had already learned how to speak French. An odd question at the airport, but oui, I said, un peu, suffisant.
Let’s do this from the beginning. On the night of July 22, 2020, there were only three flights out of Manila airport’s Terminal 3–one for Amsterdam, one of Dubai and one for Doha. I was booked on the flight to Doha that would connect me to a flight to Paris. Given all the restrictions in international travel, I had expected the flight to be sparsely booked. I was wrong. The flight from Manila to Doha was packed to the last economy seat. The flight was full of overseas Filipino workers and seamen proceeding or returning to their work abroad.
The check-in process was exasperating. It took me and most other passengers more than two hours to get through the entire ordeal, primarily because the ground crew was understaffed, and prevailing protocols dictated that the staff checked the documentation of each and every passenger, ensuring that they were allowed to fly under Philippine government rules and allowed to enter the countries of their final destinations. Fair enough, but I was a little skeptical whether the airline staff were competent to assess proper documentation and the passengers’ right to fly out of the country or enter other countries’ jurisdictions. Anyway, it appeared that they had merely followed checklists and allowed everyone to pass through after all.
The immigration line was another ordeal. It took all passengers (which, if there were three departing flights full of passengers that night, probably numbered more than a thousand) almost two hours to pass through because there were just six or seven immigration officers screening everyone before the boarding gates.
I did not notice any passenger prohibited from leaving, so I would guess we all got through. Before boarding, all passengers of my Qatar Airways flight were provided face shields that were to be worn for the entire duration of the journey, except during meal times. There was just one meal provided during the entire flight, perhaps as part of protocols that sought to limit opportunity for exposure to any prospective carrier of the virus on board. Having a plastic mask in front of your face for nine hours is terribly uncomfortable, but a discomfort we were all willing to undertake if only to approximate a sufficient level of protection. I almost did not want to eat and remove my face mask at the same time as everyone else, but man, after the ordeal at the airport I was really hungry.
We arrived in an almost empty Hamad International Airport in Doha early in the morning of July 23. I have not been to Doha’s airport before but from the looks of it, although everything seemed to be functioning as they should be, there were far fewer passengers and a lot of spaces to move around for those who were there. There were only a couple of flights every ten or so minutes to select destinations in Europe, the US and other parts of Asia.
After a few hours over a cup of coffee, I boarded my flight to Paris. Unlike the packed Manila to Qatar flight, the flight to Paris was much well-spaced. All passengers were separated by an empty seat. We were still required to be on mask and face shield at all times except during meals. Again, there was just one meal provided during the entire seven-hour flight. I spent the entire time staring at my window, and re-watching and tearing up again over Hello, Goodbye, which felt relatable at that time. I was leaving, again, to pursue my dreams, and no romance, no nothing can stop me–but it is precisely because of love that I am doing it. Wait, what.
Seven hours later, we arrive in Terminal 2E of Charles de Gaulle airport. As I’ve mentioned, I was surprised that I was not asked for documentation as regards my health. According to the French interior ministry website, all incoming passengers from outside the European Union were required to present an attestation or a signed declaration of one’s health condition. I had prepared that but it was, at the time I passed through, not asked of me. Circumstances were in my favor indeed, as the next day, the French government announced that it was requiring covid-19 tests for all incoming passengers from several countries, including Qatar. I had missed the requirement by a day.
After the immigration counter, I had quickly picked up my luggage and proceeded to my new place. That was it.