Last month, after a very long time, we got lucky. We travelled to Switzerland to see our grandson who was born last year in July. My son is doing research at a university there. But because the Swiss were not issuing any visas we were unable to go. Then suddenly in January this year they decided that if a child had been born, grandparents and siblings could visit. It was a special purpose visa, valid for six months. We applied when all the detailed documentation was complete. It included the baby’s birth certificate and other proofs. The visa came in a week. And we finally took the Emirates flight from Delhi to Geneva in early March. Earlier we used to take Swiss Air but it’s not flying to and from Delhi these days.
The Emirates routing was via Dubai naturally and so here’s the first warning. Although the flight was superb — despite the masks and face shields throughout the flight— in Dubai the airport experience was the opposite. The separation of west-bound flights from others is such that you have to walk for between 35–50 minutes to get to the gate of your connecting flight. It took us 43 minutes and 3,978 steps on the way out. The same thing happened on the way back. Fortunately, on both occasions, we had a lot of time — two hours outbound and four inbound. But you know what? If you are travelling economy there’s no place to sit while you wait, except in the holding areas at the gate. Those open only an hour before the flight. The restaurants are the only option but how do you spend four hours there? So if you are travelling west via Dubai, be warned. For older people the experience is unpleasant. I believe Frankfurt airport also makes you walk a long distance.
In Dubai we were told we needed four and not two copies of the self-declaration form on Air Suvidha. Two extra copies cost us 60 dirhams – ₹1,200!
But Geneva was the opposite, at least where walking is concerned. It’s a small airport, only a little bigger than Kolkata or Chennai. But unlike on previous occasions when we landed, there was no aerobridge this time. It was very cold as well. We were loaded on to buses and with no regard for distancing. Later we found that very few people wore masks except when inside an enclosed space like a shop or train. Our flight landed after dark and we took an Uber taxi to Lausanne where my son lives. It’s about 80km from Geneva. It came as a small shock to see that the Swiss highways, unlike in other west European countries, are not lit. It was pitch dark all the way. We quarantined voluntarily for three days in an Airbnb flat. That was not much fun because we were so anxious to see our grandson.
But after such a long flight we didn’t want to take any chances. Before we moved to my son’s flat we took a corona test. It is quite expensive but nothing compared to the cost of the RTPCR test we had to take 72 hours before returning — a shocking ₹12,000 per person. In the UK, I was told, they charge 250 pounds per person! It being Easter weekend, all testing centres in Lausanne were booked. So we had to travel 30km by train to a nearby village. That added another ₹6,000 to the cost which came to half the price of one ticket to Geneva and back. On our way back, before boarding for Delhi in Dubai we, along with several other passengers, were told we needed four and not two copies of the self-declaration form on Air Suvidha. Two extra copies cost us 60 dirhams at ₹21/dirham or a little over ₹1,200! Clearly, everyone is scalping travellers.
But you know what? Our grandson made it all worth it. Who cares about a little money?