COVID-19 and East Africa reprise

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11 months, almost to the day, after my last journey into COVID chaos, I'm off to work again, so let's compare and contrast with last time.

Booking.
It took a long time to get there, but things are much more organised than the crazy first day of compulsory quarantine. Home Affairs has guidelines published about approving exemption requests, which help you figure your chances. It's long past the crazy catch 22 of having to book and pay for a flight before finding out if you could take it. Exemptions can be sought before booking flights, using estimated dates.

Collected a letter of support from the prime contractor for the project, and another from the sponsoring (friendly) government, compiled the begging letter, submitted this, contract and all, online about 5pm on a Saturday afternoon, and wondered how long for a result.

I got an exemption the next day, 7.05am on a Sunday morning.

The 'max 3 months before' limit and the very few seats back in create a squeeze for return travel as economy seats back to Oz book out months in advance. A six week stay meant I would be booking my retssurn only 4 1/2 months before travel. The only real options were Emirates and Qatar, but Emirates by this stage (late November) were only selling First Class back, and only on about three days in March. We went for Qatar, a lucky choice as it turned out.
 
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pre-flight entertainment

The entry requirement was an RT-PCR covid test taken no more than 96 hours before arrival, meaning no earlier than Monday for a Tuesday night departure. Cost from Healius was $150, and walk up or drive in to any of about 10 test locations in Brisbane. Duly walked up about 9.30 Monday, took a number and all done by 10. Discomfort? Not really, just disconcerting. And quick turnaround, with results emailed back about 8 hours later.

Next entertainment was an email from a Qatar manager with a tract that looked like it came from Timatic and asking for confirmation I had an exemption and a trst result. No worries, all good there.
 

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Check in

So arrived at BNE international about 8.30. Very quiet but not quite bereft of life out the front.
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Expected to see ABF out the front as I'd heard only Passengers could enter. Not quite, it seems. Inside there is a long barrier running the length if the departures hall, Qatar was checking in at row 5, but you had to walk up to row 10 to go around the barrier and greet the ABF checkin crew. So non passengers can enter a sliver of the interior. A very courteous gentleman asked to see my exemption email and wandered off to a crew with a computer, and whatever the test was, I passed.

Next a wander back to row 5, to be greeted by a lady at a table who was collecting PCR test results. After that, yes! Separate checkin line for business, where I was told it was a relatively busy flight. The seat map indicated 85 passengers in the end, and the ABF guy downstairs indicated there were 25 crew boarding (it turns out some were deadheading). In the post-COVID universe, a busy flight.

Obligatory pics of an empty departure area, iverlooked by a forlorn Qantas lounge. There were passengers, but they were at the gate. The souvenir shop was open, the newsagent, and a subway.
 

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Whoops, something went awry with my inflight post and the pictures disappeared.
This is the boundary between 'farewell zone' and passengers only. Can't do farewell drinks, just farewell sani.
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Checkin for QR899. 85 pax, including transits from AKL, passes for a good load on a 773
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Obligatory pic of empty departure concourse airside at BNE. There were people, just all at gate 82, as there was nowhere much to visit.
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The forlorn triple-decker QP, closed for 9(?) months now
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QR 899 was quite pleasant, almost like stepping into the old travel world. Only the must-do masks and the FAs in plastic gowns gave the game away. First trip in Q-suites, QR being a post-COVID bonus in BNE. CSM assured me they were sure of getting one and possibly two permanent slots into BNE, although two slots sounded like big talk. Seatguru and its ilk give doubtful reviews to 1K and the possibly bothersome galley and lav, but I found it fine and dandy. Toilet was nowhere near, and no disturbance from the galley at all. Just shut your door.

Nice leather amenity kit, choice of champagnes and White Company jarmies. I went for the Taittinger Rosé, souvenired the amenities kit, and ignored the jarmies.

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Night view of BNE after takeoff, with the well lit Gabba lower left.
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My kind of flying, choice of champagnes. Ok, they're not Krug, but they're not Yellowtail either.
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This was the entree, prepackaged but a nice crayfish. Glad I waited for dinner :)
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Didn't bother with the so-so bun, and the main was a chicken biryani, not as nice as the entree.
 

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It has been love and kisses again for abit between Qatar and Saudi/UAE, and for a few days Qatar had been allowed into their airspace. This meant overflying Dubai rather than the previous slightly longer route over the Strait of Hormuz and up the Persian Gulf. Here's an early morning view over Dubai airport with Sharjah in the background.
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There is one big downside to QR, and that is DOH. Way too few airbridges, and I can't recall ever getting one. QR899 pulled into a remote stand, of course, just as it was getting light. Here's the business class bus pulling in to the terminal.
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DOH in the early morning was busy relative to Brisbane, although the crowd was still modest. I've only been to Doha a couple of timrs before and those were transits in 2014, when the airport was very new. The giant teddy bear was still there.
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The Al Mourjan lounge was one of a couple open. and it was reasonably busy as there were numerous flights leaving up to about 9.00. Dining felt almost life a first class lounge, with all drinks orders taken and drinks delivered by staff, and staff to dish out the buffet dishes. Not a huge selection, one counter with hot dishes, another with cold, and a third with sushi. Here's the crowd at about 7.00 am.
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After the morning flights the vast lounge became a ghost town, although it seemed to retain a full complement of staff, who were desperate to serve.

As with the flight over from Brisbane, staff were persistent in checking if I needed anything, to the point that it became disconcerting. I had an epic 14 hour layover and spent most of it working in the business centre. After the morning flights petered out they were very few
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I made the occasional visit to the toot, and noted each time that the towel I had used last time has been replaced on the pyramid. There are COVID safe signs, but this initiative obviously doesn"t extend to removal of towel pyramids.
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A flimsy selection of pics, possibly due to delirium. I like lounges, and this was a nice one, but 14 hours in one is a bit overwhelming!
 
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