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A DJ was trapped at an airport for 17 days due to coronavirus travel restrictions, this is his story

In late April, travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic left Almad, a DJ from Athens who founded the PlayHouse party series — which has hosted nights in London, Stockholm, and Ibiza — and the PlayHouse Time Records label, stranded at Frankfurt airport. This is his account of living almost a month of lockdown in a shuttered international departure lounge

Life is full of challenges. Often, they’re not one you expected, nor hoped for. But rising to these challenges, in most cases, makes you stronger and more resilient. It could be anything from illness, theft, injury, loss, a broken heart, or simply a bad haircut. Or maybe, just maybe, your cosmic test will come in the form of getting trapped in Frankfurt airport — for 17 days.

That’s what happened to Alex Mantidakis, perhaps better known under his DJ name, Almad. After spending time in Canada through April, he set off to Finland to visit his mum. His connecting flight was from Frankfurt, and he expected to be there for no longer than a couple of hours. Two and a half weeks later, Alex was still in the departure lounge.

His plane landed at the German airport on Wednesday 22nd April, and no sooner had his feet hit the grey lino than he was told by staff that he could no longer continue onto Finland. Due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions, he wasn’t able to travel to a country that he wasn’t a resident of. The immigration officers suggested he go back to Canada, but that plan fell through when they realised he wasn’t a Canadian citizen either, and that he’d faced the same restrictions if he went back. Germany’s busiest airport was swiftly emptying around him, and Alex was running out of options. The next available flight to his motherland, Greece, was on the 18th May, some 26 days away.

“I was eating nuts, drinking water, and thinking, ‘What am I going to do now?’”

“It was very stressful in the beginning because I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Alex explains over a Zoom call. “I contacted the Greek embassy and they told me there were flights to Brussels, and then to Athens, but I had to pay for my own, which wasn’t an option for me. They only paid for certain flights.”

Alex didn’t have a lot of money with him, so he found a row of chairs in the departure lounge and set up a temporary base for himself. “I was eating nuts, drinking water, and thinking, ‘What am I going to do now?’”

He slept that night on the chairs and woke up the next morning for his first full day in his strange new limbo. The airport, which usually handles 70 million passengers a year, had been reduced to a temporary holding pen for a handful of confused commuters. “I met some girls from the Philippines, they were also going to Greece,” Alex continues. “We found another guy that had been there for a month! He told us that if you’re going to stay more than a day here, the airport is providing us with breakfast, dinner, a shower, and portable beds.”

Alex investigated further and bagged himself some shower and food vouchers, and a portable bed from the staff. However, after a restless second night on the foldable bed, he decided the chairs were marginally more comfortable. It was on them that he’d sleep for the next fortnight.

“Breakfast was usually a sandwich, and dinner was something a bit like aeroplane food — pasta, rice, maybe eggs,” he explains. “I’m vegetarian [so] I couldn’t eat a lot of the food. The airport had a church inside, so I went there and I asked if it was possible to have some vegetables and fruit, and they brought me some fresh food from the supermarkets.”

His days were made up of jogging round the airport (which in-total sprawls across 5,683 acres), talking to his friends on the phone, updating his Instagram page — which he kept a regular video diary of his experience on — playing games with the other trapped travellers, meditating and practicing the ancient Chinese exercise, Qigong. “I was always interested in spirituality,” Alex explains. “Even though I am Greek and most Greeks are Christians, I was never involved so much with that religion. I’m mainly attracted to practices like meditation and universal laws.”

It was a mindful approach that saved Alex from despair during his time stuck at the airport. “There are moments when you feel positive and then there are moments you feel negative,” Alex explains. “Meditation really helps when you get to a negative state, to clear your mind and go back towards positivity. Of course, it’s not possible to always be positive. During the day, negative thoughts and emotions came.”

Prior to his trip to Canada, Alex spent time soul searching in a monastery in Porto Rafti in Athens. Trying to revisit the peaceful headspace he’d found there was difficult in his new temporary abode. “Inside the airport there is a lot of radiation,” Alex explains. “The controls, the Wi-Fi, the lights, the sounds. All of these things, on, 24 hours a day. It makes you a little bit crazy.”

This wasn’t the first time that Alex had had to use such methods to rise above a shitty situation. Just six months ago, life served him with another unexpected gut-punch. In December while staying at a hostel in London, his laptop, headphones, and travel money got stolen from his bag as he slept.

“Since December, I don’t have any equipment to make music, only my phone,” he explains. “I couldn’t make any music in the airport, but I really wanted to because this was an inspiration for me. When I’m travelling, wherever I’m staying, I make music and it always sounds different. I was curious about what it would sound like in the airport.”

When the days became weeks, Alex decided he wanted to give something back to the airport staff. Without much money, or resources, he looked to his talents as a DJ. “Inside the terminal they have a really nice round widescreen. I had so much time and I thought: what can I offer in this situation? I had the idea to do a live DJ set inside the airport and make it a charity event.”

He’d heard that many of the staff were now working 10% of their original hours and were suffering a big pay cut. “The airport usually has 250,000 people going there every day. Now all the shops were closed. I thought we could collect money to help people that weren’t working right now. It was really exciting for me to try and make that happen.”

It was around this time that the situation attracted the attention of German television, and journalists were heading down there to speak to Alex and the other people stranded at the airport.  “In the beginning I talked with the airport about my [charity gig] idea and they weren’t interested, but when I told my idea to the media when they interviewed me, people started reaching out. Then the airport wanted to support the idea more and more.”

But, sadly, it wasn’t to be. After 14 days, Alex was the last remaining member of the misplaced passengers. Everybody had managed to get flights to their countries of residence, and he was now alone in the lounge with a smattering of staff. Shortly before his live stream was set to happen, a divine intervention came in the form of a wealthy, kind-hearted Greek woman. She’d seen him on a TV interview and felt compelled to help.

“She told me, don’t worry, I can pay for your flight, just get your stuff,” he smiles. “In some magical way she managed to take me out of the airport so quickly.” Before he knew it, he was on the next plane to Brussels where he spent less than an hour, before getting his final flight Athens.

After Alex landed in the capital he was required to spend a week quarantined in a hotel, and a further week quarantined at a friend’s house until he was finally released on Friday 22nd May — exactly a month to the day since his ordeal began. But Alex makes it clear that he doesn’t want to dwell on his misfortune.

“Usually during the summertime I go to Ibiza, but I don’t know what’s happening now. Before my laptop got stolen I was planning on releasing music from my label.” Alex shared a mix of the unreleased music that was lost with the stolen laptop this week (27th May).

Alex is staying in Athens for the time being, and says he is enjoying some of the freedoms he’s been missing out on over the last four weeks. When asked for his final thoughts on his 17-day ordeal at Frankfurt airport, Alex paused for a moment before replying, “Sometimes you don’t understand why things are happening, they just are. Everything [happens] for a reason. The universe is wiser than us, so sometimes you just have to accept the situation.”