Apr 10th, 2020, 10:22 AM

Travel Devastation During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

By Isala Gray
Empty terminal in CDG
An almost empty terminal in Charles de Gaulle Airport, Image credit: Isala Gray
How travel bans, lockdowns, and losing hundreds of dollars lead to my hasty decision to leave Paris

It all started the day before my impromptu birthday trip. I was turning 25 on March 12th. For months I had been pleasantly denying the date until my friends convinced me to take a day trip to Prague in the Czech Republic for a small celebration. Prague had crept its way onto my bucket list only a week before deciding to visit, so I was excited. I felt so spontaneous and I couldn’t wait to discover the deep history of alchemy and the mysticism that filled the streets of Prague. One great thing about going to school in France was easy access to travel throughout the rest of Europe.

When I mentioned the trip to a teacher in class on March 10th, I was met with eyebrow raises, eye rolls and questions from classmates. I assumed some people would have some hesitation amidst COVID-19, but I did not expect this much hesitation from the entire class.  I wasn’t sure why the resistance. As of March 10th, children were still going to school in France, people were still going to work and cafés were still filled to the brim during lunchtime. France and I hadn’t fully understood or accepted the horrors of COVID-19. It’s safe to say we were both blissfully in denial. 

I continued to ignore my classmates, but by the end of class I was filled with doubt and I decided to check recent news involving COVID-19 in Prague. There it was, in bold black letters… Travel Ban. My heart fell into the bottom of my chair. 

Now, not only was I turning 25, what seemed to me to be the end of my entire world as I knew it because I'm a little dramatic, but I was turning 25 and had wasted hundreds of dollars on a trip I could no longer attend. My admittance was being actively denied by the government of the Czech Republic. 

I had actively ignored, disregarded, and denied everyone’s worries and warnings when booking the trip. And now, I was paying for it. This was not a great way to start 25. I was another year older and none the wiser. 

That same night, I decided to attempt to seek out refunds for the money spent. Maybe I could redeem my 25-year-old self and act with some type of responsibility. I was extremely proud of my new 25-year-old self. Yes, I had decided to travel during a global pandemic, acted with little care for my health as well as others and possibly lost hundreds of dollars. But, I had finally started checking my emails.

Packed Luggage, Image Credit: Unsplash/Erol Ahmed


While I took on this task, I had no high hopes going into it. I assumed no company would issue me a refund. I had spent 100 euros on a flight from France to Prague and another 100 euros on a hotel room. 

The hotel I booked was the Cosmopolitan, and it was the home away from home I was looking for at the time. The ticket I purchased was nonrefundable, but since the government had issued a travel ban, I figured a refund was in order. After a couple of unanswered calls to the hotel, I decided to email. I explained my situation, stressed the extenuating circumstances and explained it was my birthday (hoping to score some sympathy points.)  The hotel offered me a redeemable credit for up to one year. While it was no refund, I still considered this a win. 

My next attempt at a refund was for my plane ticket I purchased through Air France. I decided to cancel and request a refund one day before the trip. While the directions were hazy and led to multiple browser windows being opened at once on my laptop, I completed every step. After a week went by with no communication from Air France, not even an automated message confirming my trip cancellation, I decided to call to speak with a sales representative. After an hour of waiting for a sales rep, I gave up. I figured Air France was just extremely busy, and they’d get to me when they got to me. Another week went by and I decided to give email a try. Air France responded with an automated message stating their sales and service center was experiencing longer wait times during the "exceptional circumstances" and that they would get back to me as soon as possible. One month later, I received an email from Air France asking me to reapply for the refund. 

Not long after my horrible decision to travel to Prague, during what I now know to be a devastating global pandemic, France announced a 15-day lockdown. People were asked to stay indoors, and many businesses were shut down by the government in order to promote social distancing. This lead to my college switching to online classes and my job letting me go. 

Again, not grasping the magnitude and threat of COVID-19, I was pissed. I was completely consumed with complaining about how COVID-19 had affected me and my time. At this point, I decided it was time to leave Paris. I packed up my whole apartment, which had housed the greatest past two years of my life and left for Los Angeles. I decided, if I was going to be on lockdown, I was going to be on lockdown in sunny LA with a support system, also known as my family, my dog, and my boyfriend. 

Closed shops in Charles de Gaulle Airport, Image Credit: Isala Gray 

I booked a direct flight to LA on March 19th. Worried about crowds, I arrived at the airport six hours early. I was shocked to see, that this was not the Charles de Gaulle I had gotten so used to. The airport was empty, shops were closed and pieces of trash could be found on the floor and stuck in between seat cushions. Sitting in that empty airport, I finally realized the horrors of COVID-19.


An almost empty terminal in Charles de Gaulle, Image Credit: Isala Gray

128 people traveled from Paris to Los Angeles on my flight that night, according to a flight attendant. My seat neighbor was a woman who had just been stuck in Egypt for two days due to flight cancellations and delays. Like most people on the plane, she was eager to get back to her family. When it was time to take off, we sanitized, closed our eyes, and dreamt of LA.

When I finally landed in Los Angeles I couldn't wait to bask in the sunshine. To my surprise, the rain was pouring down. My ride had overestimated how long it would take me to get through customs, so I waited on the curb outside of LAX Airport. On that curb outside of terminal four, I had time to reflect. Turning 25 is a milestone and a journey in itself. I saw 25 as getting older, and I abhorred getting any older than 24. Just like I despised getting any older than 23 the year before. While I was growing by age, I hadn't felt I was growing internally. The days leading up to 25, I had acted with reckless disregard and ignored the signs of a worldwide pandemic. People were sick and dying and I had thought turning 25 was the true definition of suffering. The quietness of the two airports gave time for meditation and contemplation. I had lived independently in France for the past two years of my life, and at the age of 25, I was sitting outside in the rain waiting for my dad to come and pick me up. A few days later, the reality of Covid-19 had finally sunk in. I was in my childhood bedroom under a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine attempting to finish my final semester of college. And while I had lost some money and a little bit of dignity telling this story I was grateful to be another year older.