Dr. Graham Pluck
Minds, Brains, & Internationalism

Travel, Internationalism, and Academia Blog


Academic travel, pandemic class

Back in those last few months of late 2019, before Coronavirus, I travelled frequently between South and North America, Europe and Asia, knocking up over 45,000 miles: the equivalent of flying between London and New York 13 times. I was giving seminars in Quito, Ecuador and Nur-sultan, Kazakhstan, with an apartment in each country, I was presenting at conferences in the USA, visiting family in the UK, and even spending a weekend break in Poland. With the arrival of SARS-CoV-2 my jet-set lifestyle skidded off the runway, and to an abrupt halt. When the lockdowns happened in early 2020, I was left stranded in Kazakhstan, without a proper job.

Now it’s 2021 and I thankfully have new job to go to, in Thailand. But the world’s still more or less locked-down. So, getting to Bangkok for this new opportunity is an adventure in itself. In the times of Covid-19, one does not simply walk into Thailand. Flying to Bangkok, like most places in the world is not so easy either. 

A negative covid test, issued within 3 days of arrival at your destination is generally required to fly. That itself is tricky- the clinics give you the results when they are ready. And then the flight times can be much longer than they used to be because of so many suspended routes. From Nur-sultan, I had to fly 2,000 miles west to Istanbul in order to get on a flight that took me back 4,000 miles east to Bangkok. I’ve had to get multiple covid tests within a few days of each other, in order to ensure I’d have one that was still valid at different points in the journey. This photo was from Istanbul airport, which unlike most, was fully operational.

Istanbul airport.jpg

This was actually my second major flight during the Covid-19 pandemic. In mid-2020 I had to fly from Nur-sultan to London, via Minsk, to apply for a Kazakhstan work visa. Needless to say, flying’s not what it was, you spend a lot of time masked up, the steward and meal services are much reduced, and the airports are providing minimal service, with most of the shops and cafes closed. International travel is not the mindless consumerist binge it once was (why does international travel induce compulsive purchasing of jewelry, perfume, and most strangely of all, hematite?). This photo is me waiting for a connection in Minsk Airport, Belarus.

The flights themselves are pretty varied, depending a lot on the policies of the airlines. Air Astana don’t seem to have heard about the pandemic, and are packing their aircraft as normal, with non-mask wearing tolerated. Turkish Air, who brought me to Bangkok, are taking it much more seriously, putting empty seats between passengers. In fact, that last flight was pretty sweet, most passengers had a whole row of 5 seats to lie down in and sleep through the journey. 

Some flights are better in the pandemic.
Minsk to Nursultan.jpg
Some flights are crowded covid traps.
On air astana.jpg

Eventually touching down at Bangkok, the scene was more like a surgical hospital than an airport. The passengers were outnumbered by a corps of doctors, nurses and security staff, all in full PPE. They met us from the aircraft and began processing us. From this point on I was moved between check points with military precision. I was given a coded badge to wear so that the staff knew which processing route to put me through. After multiple health status and document checks I could do the normal stuff – passport control and baggage collection. This photo is shortly after leaving the aircraft at Bangkok airport, all the passengers spaced out and waiting to be checked.

Processed in bangkok.jpg

But you are still in the processing system. After collecting your bags, the PPE people escort you to the next stage based on your badge code. For me that was to a car waiting outside the terminal. My bags were sprayed with disinfectant and placed in the trunk. I was placed in the back seats. The PPE guy photographed me sitting in the car, and photographed my passport. There was a Perspex screen separating me and the driver. I didn’t need to speak to anybody. The driver knew were to take me. Next stop was ‘alternative state quarantine’. I’ll blog about that next time.

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