Several folks have asked me, “Brent, with all the coronavirus stuff going on, why don’t you fly home?” I’ve scribbled out short answers a few times, but I figured I should probably post the full version for posterity here. I’m writing this on Monday, March 16th, and of course the situation is super-fluid, but I’m mostly interested in being able to go back and see what my thought process was later.
Here are our options:
Option 1: return home early, right now.
We could hop on an IcelandAir flight out of Reykjavik, which is still flying to 4 US cities including Seattle. We’d have to deal with hours-long lines in packed rooms to get screened for the virus, at which point we’d either have to self-quarantine at home for 14 days, or be quarantined by the government. Given the bad stuff that we can see (long lines with infected folks), it’s reasonable to assume that the stuff we can’t see (the quarantine) is bad as well. I’d be concerned that I’d trigger a false-positive in the hurried airport interviews, then be more likely to catch the infection in a hastily-erected government quarantine.
This option seems to have fairly high health risks, and no benefits: we’re not really in a rush to get back home and get into fistfights for toilet paper and beans. (Seriously, why are people stocking up on both beans and toilet paper? Do you not see the connection there? If you’re gonna be stuck at home eating the same thing, maybe not eat beans, and you won’t need so much TP. I’m just sayin’.)
Besides, we’re already practicing physical distancing in Iceland – you’ll notice that my photos don’t have a whole lot of people in ’em, hahaha. Winter isn’t Iceland’s peak tourism season to begin with, and we’re driving around a lot of less-populated parts of the country for sightseeing. Heaven forbid we actually get sick (which is probably just a matter of time for all of us, no matter how careful we are), Iceland’s got a great health care system.
You’ll notice that we are on the road, and we are eating at local restaurants whenever possible. I had a hotel & restaurant career before databases, and I have a very soft spot in my heart for hospitality workers, who are always underpaid and live paycheck to paycheck. If there’s a local restaurant open and willing to take our money, we’re gonna give it to ’em, full stop. I’ve had the chance to talk to a lot of chefs and waiters this trip, and I’ve heard a lot of heartbreaking stories. There are going to be a lot of bankrupt restaurants around the world within the next 2-4 weeks. Because they’re small, they won’t get the economic attention that airlines and hotel chains get, and they won’t get a bailout, and that’s a bummer. It’s going to hit some of our most vulnerable population hard.
Option 2: plan to return home as scheduled at the end of March.
Hopefully by then, the border controls will be more tuned, so we won’t face a system that almost seems designed to transmit the virus between travelers.
This option has a really attractive benefit: we’d get to keep our vacation, woohoo! Now granted, we’d still have to do self-quarantine (or be government quarantined) for 14 days at the end of our vacation, but we have to do that with no matter what option we pick. It’s just that we get the benefit of being able to pick when that is.
There are a lot of risks with this option though:
- International flights into the US might be completely suspended by then. Right now, US citizens can still fly home, they just face enhanced screening upon arrival. If international flights are stopped completely, this option may no longer be available to us when we want to take it.
- International flights may still be coming in, but domestic travel might be suspended. We might be able to fly into LAX or Seattle, but then not have any flights home. (I think this one’s inevitable, just a matter of time.) That might mean renting a car and driving home.
- Airlines might have gone bust or suspended service, especially with the EU cutting inbound travel too. Airlines are always dancing on the edge of profitability and bankruptcy.
- Quarantines might get worse. The US government could require a government-managed quarantine for everyone, at government facilities, possibly even longer than the current 14 days. We might be stuck in hospital rooms or tents, possibly even without WiFi or power outlets. I might miss my scheduled consulting work and deliveries of my upcoming online classes.
- The US outbreak might get a lot worse. Sure, this can happen anywhere – it’s tough to predict where the outbreaks are going to hit the worst, the health care infrastructure is the least capable, or the government reacts in the least appropriate way.
That’s…a big, ugly list.
Option 3: be flexible, and maybe stay abroad longer.
If we wait a while, and Option 2 turns out to be as bad as I suspect, we could actually stay out here in Iceland a while. We could rent a house or an apartment for a month or two, and I could continue to do my consulting & training work remotely, just like I always have. I wouldn’t have the luxury of my full home studio, but I can pick up enough gear to make it work, and, Iceland’s Internet speeds are quite good.
The benefit: we could see the change of seasons here as the ice melts and the birds come back home. Erika’s always wanted to see puffins here, but we’ve expected that to be a separate vacation later. If we stay here for a month or two, and treat our weekends as mini-vacations, that’d be amazing.
This one has drawbacks, of course:
- It’s a lot more expensive – we’d be paying for housing home & abroad – but we’ve got enough savings where we’re not worried, and the relative cost seems like a deal for such a wild life experience.
- It’d mean no onsite work in the US – but I only had 1 onsite gig scheduled in April & May, and the rest were remote (and Lord knows there aren’t any US conferences happening anytime soon.)
- We have a few logistical complications like prescription medication.
- It only works for 90 days, at which point we need to leave the country or get work visas (which doesn’t really make sense.)
- The Iceland outbreak might get a lot worse, just as the US one might.
So right now, we’re playing a waiting game between options 2 & 3. We try to stay on vacation and not read the news too much, but…for somebody who likes dystopian science fiction, the news is awfully mesmerizing these days.
In the meantime, enjoy some escapism.
Iceland probably wasn’t on your Epic Life Quest, but it should be. There’s nowhere else like it.
Coming home, or trying to.
A couple of things changed this morning. First, the US government advised all citizens not to travel, and to those abroad, come home now or be prepared to stay abroad indefinitely. While we’re easily prepared to stay in Iceland for another month or two, we’re worried about what happens with airlines after that. There aren’t a lot of international flights that go nonstop between the US and Iceland, and the more airports we’re in, the more likely we are to run into someone contagious, so…we decided to head home now while there are still IcelandAir nonstop flights to the US.
Second, California issued a stay-at-home order, which means I’m even less eager to get home. <sigh>
In the morning, when we learned this stuff, we were about a day’s drive from Reykjavik. We started driving back to Reykjavik, but the winter blizzards interfered, and the only roads back were blocked. We drove to Akureyri, the country’s second-biggest city, and booked a flight from Akureyri to Reykjavik, and…that was canceled due to weather, hahaha. So we shacked up in a local hotel.
Saturday (the 21st), we’ll try again to fly from Akureyri to Reykjavik in the morning, and then in the evening fly from Reykjavik to JFK, and then Sunday morning, fly from JFK to San Diego.
And then find out if we left enough toilet paper at home.
Made it out with some excitement.
We caught our morning flight from Akureyri to Reykjavik, took a cab between the domestic & international airports, and found the international airport totally deserted:
Our IcelandAir flight took off between bursts of weather, and then more excitement hit about an hour into the flight:
NYC air space just went into ground stop for all airports (HPN/TEB/LGA/EWR/JFK). OIS shows "OTHER/OTHER" which is what all the other #COVID19 closures have been. Gonna be interesting to see which center is affected and how quickly this recovers. #AvGeek #GrabASnickers— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) March 21, 2020
An FAA intern at the center air traffic control (ZNY) that controls NYC area airspace tested positive for COVID19. They briefly evacuated the area, disinfected it, and then thankfully, within an hour, went right back to business as usual. For a while there, we were thinking we’d be either diverted to Boston, or sent back to Iceland – either of which would be totally fine. We’re flexible on this vacation – after all, we weren’t planning on being home yet anyway.