I wanted to share my experience of traveling during the pandemic from California to Germany this past August. I’m married to a German citizen and therefore was exempt from the travel ban. With that being said, I still had to prepare paperwork to show proof that I was married, where I would be staying, had taken COVID-19 tests, and would quarantine upon entering the country.
When the states went into lockdown and countries started to ban us, I had trouble finding flights, cheap flights for that matter. I was a bit anxious about traveling and unsure of how safe sitting on a plane for so many hours would be.
After my family trip to Lake Tahoe and a few family gatherings (10 or less people) I did start to gain a bit more confidence being around others. Also, it had been months since I had seen my husband so I was ready to fly over.
I had found a cheap roundtrip ticket from San Francisco to Frankfurt with a layover in Istanbul. Turkish Airlines has a good reputation so I felt save traveling with them. Here are a few of the practices that I read about, witnessed, and was mentioned multiple times by the crew on board:
1. Thorough cleaning of cabin
2. Air quality renewed every three minutes via HEPA filters
3. All passengers were given a hygiene kit
4. Hand sanitizers placed all over the aircraft
5. Pre-bagged meals and bottled waters for passengers (not sure about non economy passengers)
6. Mandatory mask usage for all passengers
7. No contact boarding
8. Fever check prior to boarding
9. All passengers were separated by an empty seat
10. Blankets were only provided on flights longer than 4 hours
I arrived at SFO three hours before boarding to give myself extra time. The airport was relatively empty and everything was no contact check in. Upon presenting my passport while checking in, I was asked to show proof of why I was traveling. The ticket agent then went on to take photos of my documents, sent them to her supervisor, who would then decided if I could board. Once I was given the green light I walked over to security.
Security moved swiftly, it was the same experience I’ve always had when flying. Once I passed through and went to my gate, I ate my lunch that I had brought, sent last minute e-mails, and made some goodbye calls. After two hours, we were ready to board. Boarding took a long time, more than an hour I’d say. The crew made sure everyone followed the 6 feet rule. All passengers had their temperatures checked and had to take a photo.
Upon walking into the aircraft I was handed a hygiene kit. There was a blanket placed on my seat and in my row there was one other passenger a seat away. Everything seemed relatively the same excerpt for having to wear a mask the whole flight, being reminded by the crew and pilot that the air was being renewed every few minutes, and that there was hand sanitizers all around us.
Entertainment was good, I had the window seat, and was still full from my lunch, everything was going well. I think 3 hours into flying we were given dinner, I was expecting hot food but instead we were given pre-bagged meals. The food was easy to unwrap and eat, no hassle.
Hours later I arrived in Istanbul and was expecting some direction, but it was kind of a free for all. I had a 12 hour layover so was offered a hotel stay 40 minutes away from the airport. In order for me to enter the country I did have to purchase a Turkish visa, which you could purchase at the airport. I was wandering all over trying to figure out where I should go to confirm my hotel reservation. I was given the run around for about an hour but eventually got to the correct window. I along with 15 others waited for the free shuttle to take us for about 45 minutes and then we were on our way.
We were each given a nice room at the Clarion. By the time I had settled in and ate my free meal it was almost 10pm and I had to be ready to get back at the airport by 4am, so I went straight to bed.
I woke up and was on a shuttle back to the airport at dawn. Checking in was easy, all I did was go through security and to my gate, no questions asked until I was ready to board the plane to Frankfurt. I was asked to step aside by the ticket agent. He asked to see all my documents, took a photo and sent them to his supervisor. I waited for 10 minutes and was then given the green light. I felt like I held my breathe for those minutes.
This flight was quite different from the first. It was shorter for one, only two hours, and it was crowded, every seat taken. I was a bit uneasy on this ride. I shifted my body towards the window, didn’t use the restroom, and just shut my eyes. We were given a snack but I didn’t eat it until the rest of my row finished so that we all wouldn’t have are masks down while eating.
So the true test had come, I had landed, I was going to border control, and that would determine my fate, all those hours flown to see if I would indeed be reunited with my husband. There weren’t any other flights going through border patrol so getting to the officer was quick. I showed him everything and was asked a couple of questions, and alas, I was let in. I kept a still face but inside I was jumping for joy!
Now, this part I found strange. I had read that it was mandatory to take a COVID-19 test, but once I was let in the country, there was absolute no guidance as where to get tested and no one was monitoring me. I could have easily gotten on the train or a bus, anywhere really, but obviously I wasn’t going to do that. After asking a couple of airport staff where to go I found the testing area. First they make you register online, once you do so, you then stand in line to get tested. Registering took longer than the actual test.
I was given a swab test, they got a sample from my throat, standing in line and the test took about three minutes. I was worried that I would potentially be late to board my train, but nope, I had an hour to spare. I was told right after the test that I would get my results within 24 hours, I got it that same night, it came out negative.
Now one problem I had with the test taking is that there would be no way for them to determine if I had COVID-19 from this flight. It’s suggested that you wait 10 days before testing if you believe you were exposed because there are higher chances of receiving a false negative it taken earlier. I could have gotten infected and 10 to 12 days into quarantine started to notice symptoms, which is why it’s important to self isolate. To add to that, every single person that had just gotten off the plane is potentially using public transportation, like I did, so the potential of getting others infected is high.
I envisioned my experience to be rigid but really it was a bit loose. Also, in order to make it strict, tons of staff would have to by hired to monitor, and again, that’s putting essential workers at risk. So really, it’s super tricky all around. The best thing is to not travel for vacation abroad, if you have to reunite with family, I think that’s fine, but to travel just to relax and explore, to me, isn’t that fair to others.
I will end it there to not get into any back and forth because really the world will be like this for some time. I’m glad I’m in Germany with my husband. I feel safe here, I feel it’s more progressive than the states, and I’m terrified of what’s to come November 3rd. That’s all for now. Stay safe, wear a mask, get some fresh air, tell your loved ones you love them, and please vote.