In these difficult times so many of us are experiencing during the COVID19 pandemic it is often the kindness of strangers that gives an insight into our human connections. The pressures of responding to the unknown reveals our true values and strength of our relationships.
This is a story of how our social collective, our human generosity and care got my daughter home from London amid the chaos of an emerging pandemic.
At the beginning of 2020, Ruby was planning to return home from London, where she had worked for the last 2 years. She planned more 3 months in Europe for before returning home to Adelaide, Australia. As late as February, we were still discussing that I would meet her in May to sight-see in Italy, starting, ironically, in Milan. At that time COVID19 was a new phenomenon in China that no-one seemed to understand.
By early March, we’d just finalised our travel plans, when news broke about the north of Italy going into lockdown because of a COVID19 outbreak. I was going nowhere. Ruby thought it seemed possible to consider travelling elsewhere, avoiding Italy as a limited ‘hotspot’ for this new virus.
But by mid-March, the word ‘pandemic’ became part of our everyday vocabulary, and soon so had ‘lockdown’. I was scared and worried, as many were with family members overseas, to see the rapid rise in global infections. Suddenly, shockingly, we were talking about escape plans, not travel, as international airports closed, one by one.
Ruby booked a one-way flight London-Adelaide for late March. Within days the global situation worsened dramatically, travel restrictions and border closures were being announced overnight. The UK government ordered a three-week lockdown. Flights were becoming scarce, prices were escalating wildly, and information was unclear and changing rapidly. On the day of her flight, Ruby woke up to an email that her flight had been cancelled as Dubai airport was closing. When she called to let me know of the cancellation, I put my first Facebook crisis call post on my page and in a women’s business group:
“Crisis call. Can anyone help me find flight information to get my daughter Ruby home from London? Her Emirates flight today cancelled. Really worried. Please if you can help.”
As the world was closing down in one way, it was opening up another. There were so many responses from friends, acquaintances, strangers, and women in online business communities reaching out. One person posted: “One more piece of advice from someone: As a travel agent, I honestly don’t think she’ll get home. It’s too late too many borders are closed even for transits…” Lisa, a travel agent, DMed me and we tried to plan a route that would work amid the chaos. Ruby and I both spent hours on the internet and phone to different airlines. Ruby managed to book a last-minute flight home via Abu Dhabi, for March 23. Ruby arrived to a chaotic and congested Heathrow airport and learnt that this flight had also been cancelled. Flight desks for other airlines were crowded. After 3 cancellations in a matter of days, Ruby was exhausted. I woke up to a call at 6.00AM from Ruby. Neither of us really knew what to do. This really was our crisis moment. Within minutes I put another crisis call out on my Facebook page:
“Crisis travel call 2
My daughter Ruby went to the Gatwick London airport to catch a flight home and it has been cancelled. There is chaos at London’s Airports with long queues. We currently don’t know how to get her home. Please can anyone help who knows a travel agent who could help me help her come home.”
Immediately Amber responded and linked me to Melissa, a travel agent. I don’t know Amber personally, we share some business friends and I’m forever indebted to her quick response, because Melissa flew into action, and through direct messages and email we sorted through the chaos and Melissa was able to book the last seat on the last direct London–Perth Qantas flight for Friday 27th. She was even able to get her a seat on a flight a day earlier, arranging connecting flights to Adelaide as well. What was truly wonderful was that Melissa stayed with us through the whole journey for Ruby. She rang Ruby at Heathrow airport to check she was boarding without problems and messaged me that she was able to leave safely. When Ruby flight was delayed leaving London, Melissa rebooked her flight from Perth to Adelaide and let us know. She also checked the review arrived safely back in Adelaide. It was like someone holding your hand, and at a very safe social distance.
I posted with joy.
“My wonderful adventurous daughter is coming home tomorrow. Fingers crossed! 1,000,000 thanks to Melissa and Amber who made this happen. We have a whole world out there – every human is at risk, some more than others. Some countries experiencing sanctions about crucial medical needs. Some with health systems that will collapse.
Thank you everyone for care and best wishes! Proof of our generosity & the value of social media in a time of crisis. So many people connecting and caring. Let’s keep expanding our concern, care and connections across the globe for others who are vulnerable”.
I learnt also that empathy underpins our social connections. As Melissa and I chatted briefly through emails, even in our distance, we can connect from the heart. She shared that she had recently experienced her own personal loss and grief, that in some way linked part of her story with my anxiety for my daughter. I experienced a shared compassion, now flowing from me to her. As it does every time I think of her, because she shared this vulnerability with me.
Through Facebook crisis callouts, and the compassion of people I don’t know personally here was proof of our humanity, generosity and compassion in a time of crisis. Let’s keep expanding our concern, care and connections across the globe for others who are vulnerable in these difficult times.