Saying goodbye was not what we expected, but it was definitely an unforgettable event…
We first dropped you off at the airport on Tuesday with your corresponding negative COVID-19 test result in hand. You carried a folder with copies of every possible document you may need to travel to Portugal but were we in for a surprise. We walked up to the AA counter 2 hours early ready to check in your bag, walk through security and board that flight to Madrid with ample time. We were welcomed with a bit inexperienced AA agent who was unsure what was required to be allowed to enter that country.
To be fair, we are living unprecedented times, where rules and restrictions are changing daily. After consulting with multiple colleagues, a supervisor, and an hour and a half later, she denied you check-in. It wasn’t the end of the world, right? We could always try again the next day or wait for the travel ban to be lifted. How long was that going to take? 2 weeks? 2 months? We wanted to help you start the pre-season on-time. FC Porto was very supportive and willing to issue us another ticket as needed; however, we felt that waiting was not an option especially with the uncertainty and number of COVID cases rising in the US.
We left Terminal D calling the Portuguese Consulate offices in Houston and Washington DC and leaving voice mails. Where could we get the documentation needed to let you board that plane? What else could we do? We knew other players in your situation had recently traveled back to Europe. That made us think about another option: find a different airline. Delta had a couple of options with two layovers the next day and so we turned around and drove back to the airport to get to Terminal E.
The terminal was very quiet, no travelers in sight. We approached the Delta counter where we found two very helpful and friendly customer service agents. We explained your situation and they immediately checked the US Embassy in Portugal website with specific requirements/restrictions to travel during this COVID-19 pandemic. According to such website, the only requirement was to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test conducted within the last 72 hours. You had such document along with an employment contract, so we decided to move forward and purchase the ticket for the next day. We wanted to make sure everything was approved and cleared in their system so you would not encounter any issues the following day. The agents, one of them a Portugal native, confirmed you had the correct documentation, so we purchased the ticket, called the back office for approval and gave you 2 boarding passes (DFW to ATL and ATL to CDG).
We drove back home hopeful, but doubtful at the same time. The flight was not direct to Europe, you had 2 layovers before reaching your final destination. Would you get “stuck” in one of them? Would you be sent back home? At the end of the day, we were happy to have you with us one more night. We stopped to get some food (Chik-Fil-A) and got ready for movie night (as usual). You didn’t’ even unpack as we had to be at the airport at 9 AM the following morning so you got one more chance to put Chuy to sleep that night and I got one more chance to see you wake up in the morning.
We arrived at Terminal E at 9 AM, boarding passes in hand and several additional documents (translated to English) just in case. Since you already had your boarding passes, you really only needed to check-in your bag one-hour prior to departure and head directly to the gate. With our experience the previous day, we decided to arrive early and I am glad we did because we were in for another surprise.
The lady at the counter proceeded to call the back office as we explained what transpired the previous day. Once again, they requested an official document from the consulate or an official governmental office giving you permission to enter Portugal. The call ends without the approval needed, but the customer service rep continues consulting others and talking to us. The agent who helped us the day before who was fluent in Portuguese was not working at this time. They see the ticket was purchased the previous day and a call was made for approval, but no notes were put into the system with the details of such conversations.
so we try again, we show the documents from the embassy stating that “professionals with employment contracts are allowed to travel”. We also found the ID number of the immigration application for residency submitted to the SEF (border control government agency). That along with the documents FC Porto provided us ultimately convinced them we had what we needed so they called the back office one last time. It is now 10 AM, 60 minutes before the flight to Atlanta departs.
Finally, after a lot of paper shuffling and pacing back and forth, approval to board was granted. It was 10:24 AM and the flight left was leaving at 11:05 AM, they checked in your bag, gave you a boarding pass and wished you luck. I was standing with you at the counter, dad was with Joana just behind us with your other bag. You quickly grabbed your back and rushed to security walking along side dad as he gave you some final instructions and things you might need. Joana and I are behind you, I am looking at you walking away with your folder, documents and passport in one hand your water bottle and bag in the other and I’m just praying you don’t drop or lose anything.
It all happened so fast, there was no time for any pictures this time, we just waved goodbye. I remember you looked back at us and said, “Thanks for everything, I love you guys very much” and as you’re zig-zagging through the ropes towards the TSA agent, I just wanted to run and hug you, but you made me promise not to cry so I let you go. You had enough things to worry about in the next 24 hours. Besides, I was grateful to have had you another night, or really to have had you for three full months. It was time for you to return and you were more than ready.
This was definitely a learning experience for all of us. One that dad thought he should share with other families. It would have been more convenient for us to wait for the EU borders to open and have you stay home a bit longer but that was risky. As a parent, that would have been the easy choice, but at this point, we are experts at making difficult decisions that we know will ultimately benefit your long term goals. Lesson for up and coming football parents.
It’s hard to believe you have been in Portugal for a year now. You left right before your 18th birthday and today you have yet another birthday away from home. May this last teenage year get you one step closer to your dreams. Happy 19th birthday son!!! (Feliz cumpleaños mi niño)
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