Okay before you go off – I am in full agreement that you should STAY HOME. Now is not the time to travel! With that said, I developed that mindset towards the end of my trip in Finland. If the state of the world currently was it as is at the start of my trip, we would have likely cancelled it. The start of our trip was before the Coronavirus concerns, travel bans and social distancing exploded in the U.S. Mind you, our travel experience may not be what all travel during Coronavirus looks like, but it’s a good indicator.
Travel from US during Coronavirus
J and I were no stranger to airports and made sure we were diligent of our hygiene throughout the trip. Often sanitizing our hands, phones, even our coat zippers and bag handles. We immediately wiped down our seats upon boarding the plane and definitely did our best to keep our hands away from our mouths. With that said, when you’re on high alert, you quickly realize how disgusting other humans are. Open mouth coughing, not covering their mouths when sneezing, kids licking surfaces. While the airports themselves were sanitizing more often you could still see the opportunities for the virus to spread. I can’t stop thinking about the thrones of people at the airport lounges, all hovering at the buffet station.
Masks & Gloves
We saw countless people wearing masks, only to sabotage the purpose of the mask by removing it to talk to people, eat, or scratch their mouth, and then PUT IT BACK ON. This is why we’re asked not to wear masks unless we are sick. They do not prevent you from getting the disease, especially if you’re not using the correctly. The people that need them most, the ones on the frontline (Doctors/Nurses etc) are struggling to get masks. Yet we continue to hoard the masks and then use them improperly? LISTEN TO THE CDC PEOPLE!
Travel Into Europe during Coronavirus
Upon arriving in Amsterdam, it was procedures as normal. We got off our plane, and went directly to the “Transit Area” to board our flight to Helsinki. At the Passport Control we were simply asked, “Where are you going and why?”. Nothing related to COVID-19 whatsoever.
Upon landing we went directly to baggage claim since were already within the Schengen Area.
Life in Finland
While we were in Finland, ‘social-distancing’ was not being thrown around the internet yet. While countries like Italy and South Korea, and China were clearly being ravaged by the virus, it was normal procedures in others.
Everyone in Helsinki seemed to be unbothered, just as James and I were, heading out to dinner, drinking coffee, going to the bars.
We made our way to Northern Finland, in Oulu, and noticed the same behavior. Nothing about the way people were acting would incline you to believe the Coronavirus was prevalent. When we met up with our wedding photographer and videographer, they mentioned that there was a small number of cases in Finland, but generally the Finnish were continuing as planned.
We ventured even further North, to Lapland, and stayed at the Artic Snow Hotel & Glass Igloos. Upon chatting with the staff, they mentioned a slower season for them as far as guests and occupancy. Regardless there was still at least 30 or so other people visiting the property along with James and I.
Travel to US from Europe during Coronavirus
On March 11th James and I were woken up at 3 a.m. to tons of phone calls and messages from my mom saying that Trump had announced a Europe travel ban effective on midnight Friday.
Of course we were flying back Saturday – cue the hours of lost sleep, panic, and confusion, only to find out that US citizens were exempt. Fortunately we had to wait 4+ hours to get ahold of Delta, and were unable to change our flight. That long wait was a blessing in disguise. With that in mind we decided to continue our trip as planned and enjoy what little of it we had left. I’d be lying if I said our paranoia didn’t skyrocket after the ban though.
Flying within Europe
Flying from Oulu, to Helsinki and Helsinki to Amsterdam was uneventful. There weren’t any lines, and the airport wasn’t crowded. Granted we were flying the day after the “Europe Ban” deadline. I will say however, James and I were one of three people of a first class cabin that sat 18 for our flight from Helsinki to Amsterdam.
Flying to US
Upon arrival in Amsterdam we made our way to the KLM Lounge, where one of the agents told me that passengers flying to JFK as their final destination were getting denied. She said passengers using it as a “transfer-point” were fine though. I wasn’t entirely sure what she meant, but we figured we would find out in due time.
At the gate, KLM agents were checking all passports well before boarding to ensure all passengers were in fact US Citizens, or held a green-card / work-visa. They asked us if we had traveled to Iran, Italy, South Korea, or China and then checked our passport to confirm. All “cleared passengers” received a sticker on their passport.
We did notice one passenger who did not meet the US Citizen/Permanent Resident criteria, and the gate agent had to deny her boarding. She was understandably upset, but, as the gate-agent said – she should have never made it as far as the gate. It was an error on the employees at the check-in desk.
There was another passenger who the entire time was sequestered to his own area, wearing a face mask, that looked visibly ill. After we boarded the plane the pilot did make an announcement that this passenger agreed to seek medical testing, and skip his flight.
Arrival into JFK – Additional Screening
Upon landing in JFK, CDC officials embarked onto the plane and provided us with questionnaire forms. The pilot mentioned this was a new procedure, and that yesterday (the day of the deadline) passengers did this at Immigrations and Customs.
The forms essentially asked for our contact information, if we had been to South Korea, Italy, Iran or China. It also separately asked if we had been to any of the European Countries within the Schengen Zone.
It also asked if we had experienced a fever, coughing, or fatigue. Looking back on it, the idea of people self-reporting is crazy. Once we gave our forms back, they tested our temperatures and allowed us to head on over to Immigrations and Customs.
I realize now based on the reports released, our additional screening was the exception, not the norm. James and I have concluded it was due to the passenger in Amsterdam, who had symptoms and chose to get medical attention.
Immigration & Customs
When we made it to Immigration and Customs, James breezed right through Global Entry, and Mobile Passport took me roughly 20 minutes. We definitely did not face the long lines many other passengers saw.
All in all, James and I got very lucky with our travels abroad during Coronavirus outbreaks. World decisions were changing daily, and it was extremely difficult to make a sound decision. Upon our return we took the CDC’s recommendation of self-quarantine seriously, and are nearing the end of our 14 Day Lockdown. After all this, it’s safe to say we are fully taking social distancing, staying at home, and limited contact VERY seriously. We have no plans to travel anytime soon, unless mandated by our jobs (which I certainly hope doesn’t happen soon). Not only for the safety reasons, but selfishly I really want this to be done with so we can have our Wedding in Italy! Have you traveled recently and had similar (or different) experiences? Would love to hear them!