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My last flight

It’s been more than a year now since I stepped inside an airport, let alone an airplane. The last time I flew was on a trip back from San Francisco after finishing my onboarding at my new employer. There are things about that trip that in hindsight feel downright rash:

  • The very act of being inside an economy class seat surrounded by strangers without face masks

  • Waiting for hours in the immigration queue inside a tightly packed arrival hall at the SFO airport with people from at least three more flights from who knows what parts of the world. 1.5m distance between people wouldn’t have been possible had the hall been twice as big. And of course, without face masks. That’s just how we rolled back then.

  • Catching a cold but soldiering on under a regimen of DayQuil and NyQuil1.

Now of course, a little over a year ago, we wouldn’t think of any of this as rash. The world was sleepwalking into a pandemic. And yet, back then, unburdened by thoughts of things lying in wait for us just weeks down the road, the trip was wonderful.

Visited the Golden Gate Bridge:

Golden Gate BridgeGolden Gate Bridge

Admired the graffiti covered walls of Chinatown (which was surprisingly2 empty):

A graffiti in ChinatownA graffiti in Chinatown

Enjoyed walking through the city pausing at random bookshops and cafés for breaks.

Met some old friends, and couldn’t meet others as the trip was cut short by a week - not out of superabundance of caution for the unfolding pandemic but because of a recruitment event3 that required me to be back in Amsterdam.

On our last morning in San Francisco a light fog hung high in the air. It shrouded high-rises and gave the city a slightly surreal feel. While crossing a street, I saw a giant painted portrait of Greta Thunberg through this fog-filtered light. Little did I know then that shortly we’d be forced to give up flying collectively in numbers and for a duration perhaps beyond her wildest dreams.

Morning fog in SFMorning fog in SF

A portrait of Greta Thunberg in SFA portrait of Greta Thunberg in SF

One last act of rashness on that trip? Taking an Uber Pool (do they even offer that as an option these days?) to the airport. Rendered somewhat less rash by sheer luck - no one else happened to share the ride.


  1. All the good stuff they just let you self-medicate with in Murica.↩︎

  2. Perhaps not. Given the drumbeat of news about a deadly virus doing rounds in China, people had apparently started avoiding the neighbourhood.↩︎

  3. A meeting where we had > 100 people attend in a somewhat cozy venue.↩︎

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