Part II: Flying Home

The process of me getting to Vermont from the ship in Manila took approximately 38 hours. In those 38 hours after leaving the ship I had my temperature checked three times (after I’d already had it checked twice onboard), went through security four times, watched a lot of movies, and in a testament to both planning and frugality in all of that time I only spent $4.09 to get a seriously delicious breakfast sandwich at the airport in South Korea. Was it that good or was I just really hungry? The world may never know…

I’m going to go through my entire experience, but as it’s quite long, here are my big takeaways from my airport and travel experience flying from MNL>ICN>DTW>BTV June 20-21, during the pandemic:

  • Things will take longer but everyone was very patient. While traveling can sometimes bring out the worst in people and we had some very long lines to deal with I did not see one person outwardly upset or angry. Nor did I see anyone even remotely degrading to airline or airport employees or to each other.
  • Everyone took health precautions very seriously until I landed in the United States – with the exception of the TSA agents at security in Detroit.
    • I had my temperature checked twice in Manila and once in South Korea but not at all in the U.S.
    • Everyone had at least face masks on and often more on both flights prior to the U.S. and in both airports prior to the U.S.. Whereas in the US both gate agents and the flight attendant “forgot”? theirs.
    • People were walking around – both passengers and employees at the Detroit airport without face masks on, while talking to each other, and within relatively close proximity to others.
    • Exception: TSA agents at security re-check. They enforced social distancing, mask wearing, and made statements while we were getting our carry on items ready such as, “I will not be handling your belongings to reduce risk to both yourself and myself. Please ensure you physically push the bin onto the conveyer belt. Please do your part to keep us all healthy.”
  • You get a lot more legroom during a pandemic because of social distancing on the flight! No one sitting next to you. No getting stuck in the middle seat!
  • Bring food with you when you can or plan on eating just the basics because there are very limited food choices open at the airports.
  • Customs and Border Patrol in the US was really nice. My friends that had already gone home had told me that it all went smoothly, but considering how cruise ships were portrayed in the media I expected some negativity when they asked why I was traveling. Instead they were sympathetic and empathetic both to having been onboard for so long and for being separated from my husband.
  • Do your part to keep everyone safe:
    • Wear your mask at all times on the plane, unless you are eating or drinking. If you are doing those things, please see below for hand sanitizing reminders. Wearing your mask at all times includes when you’re sleeping. Note: Everyone that I saw did this! Good job!
    • Bring hand sanitizer. Use it before you eat, use it after you eat. Use it when you accidentally touch your eyes because you just woke up and your tired. Use it. Then use it some more.
    • Remember, it’s not all about you. Do your part to keep everyone safe. Everyone. The person sitting two seats away from you does not need to get your germs and potentially sick for the sake of your temporary comfort. To put it another way, if I was stuck on a ship for three months and you are the tool-bag that gets me sick I am going to be a whole new kind of angry. Grrrrr.

Journey To the Airport:

If you read my last post you know that before leaving the ship I had to be seen by the Filipino Bureau of Quarantine. They checked my temperature (second time onboard the ship that day), and asked me some basic questions about my health. They then gave me a form that would be required once I got to land.

Once myself and the five crew from other ships disembarked our tender we started a long process of “hurry up and wait”. I heard from crew that left when the Philippines was just opening their “green lane” that this process was very unorganized and messy. I’m happy to report that after a month of practice the process is more organized but very long.

I was first asked for my passport and my letter from the Bureau of Quarantine. This would be needed for the immigration official to stamp my passport that I was allowed to enter the Philippines. We didn’t actually meet with the immigration officer though and literally handed over our passports and paperwork to the guy that greeted our tender, who was nice but had no official government clothing or uniform on. He seemed to be the equivalent of our Port Officer for the day. We were then put in two vans. Five of us in one, and the one person that had an earlier flight in the other. We sat in these vans for about an hour before the Port Officer brought our newly stamped passports back to us. It was then that he informed us that you cannot enter the airport until three hours before your flight and our van would not be permitted to go to the airport until the immigration official gave us clearance to do so. My flight wasn’t until 11:50pm and it was only 3:15pm. This was going to be awhile.

I had chosen the back seat in the van which ended up working to my advantage as I could use my backpack as a pillow and lay out and have a little nap. I slept for a little bit and then woke up and read some of my book, then did a Sudoku, then played on my phone (good cell phone service, what a revelation!). Rinse and repeat this process again, and again. At 6:15pm we left the port and got to the airport at 6:40pm.

When we got to the airport we were informed that even though immigration had let us come to the airport we still weren’t allowed in and did need to wait until three hours before our flight to enter. This was not specific for cruise ship crew but was for everyone which meant that outside of the airport it was packed. Everyone was still (aside from in their own travel groups) trying to social distance which meant that there were not nearly enough seats for everyone. I walked away from the entrance doors a bit to a spot that was more empty, flipped my hard shell carry on onto it’s side and sat down to wait. I would get up to stretch occasionally, and then a little after 7:00pm my stomach started grumbling and I knew I needed to eat. I have a history of migraines – my three triggers are not enough sleep, food, or water (pretty standard). This particular day I was at risk of all three. Luckily, and I want to give credit to the ship for this, they sent me ashore with a nicely packed lunch and bottle of water. My friend Alex from the Lido made my lunch and she even asked me what I would like in it. I had a bacon, lettuce, and cheese sandwich, three blocks of cheddar cheese, pineapple, and a roll. Sitting there on my suitcase I had my first meal on land in months. I am incredibly grateful for that meal as I am sure it was the difference between having to navigate the rest of my trip with a migraine or not.

I purposely didn’t finish the whole meal and put the cheese inside the roll, wrapped them both in a napkin and stuffed them in my purse. I also had some Cheerio’s that I’d brought from the ship with me just incase there wasn’t any food available at the airports.

Airport 1: MNL: Manila, Philippines

At about 8:15pm I decided to join the line to get into the airport. Prior to entering the airport building you had to get your temperature checked, verify that you were on a flight, and go through security. This line took about 45 minutes to get through. I was impressed that everyone had at least one face mask on, some had two on, and some had a face mask and a shield. While not everyone was fully socially distanced (the 2 meter concept) people weren’t crowding each other, either. And, even more shocking, everyone was patient, and no one was upset that there were extra precautions.

Once I was in the airport it was time to join yet another line! This time the line was to get my tickets and drop my bag. This one took about an hour. I had been nervous my bag was overweight but the gentleman behind the desk seemed more concerned that I had to wait an hour than what my bag weighed. Horray? I’ll take it. At least I didn’t have to repack my suitcase in the airport.

I make my way to my gate. I refilled my water bottle to make sure I’d have water for the flight. The refill station had a hot water option though which I think should be added to airports everywhere. The gate area had every other seat blocked off so you had to socially distance yourself from others.

At about 11:20 my group was being called to board the flight. Prior to boarding we once again had to get our temperature checked. People mostly socially distanced while they waited in line to board. It all went pretty smoothly.

Flight 1: MNL>ICN

Once on the flight I had a seat between me and the person next to me. One thing about flying during a pandemic is that you seem to have a lot more space.

This first flight was on Korean Air from Manila, Philippines, to Incheon (Seoul), South Korea. The flight attendants were wearing mask, goggles, gloves, and a gown. These flight attendants won’t be the ones spreading the disease or getting it. They were not messing around. It was a little over a four hour flight leaving just before midnight and quite shockingly we were still served a meal. I’ve flown from Honolulu to Chicago – a seven hour flight at mid-day and they said, “oh, but it’s a domestic flight.” Needless to say I was impressed by Korean Air.

I woke up for the meal and then slept the rest of the flight. The person next to me had their mask on when they should. There were some people sitting side by side but I assumed that they were traveling together. I would say the flight was a little over half full.

Airport 2: Incheon, South Korea

Arriving in South Korea was uneventful. They checked everyone’s temperature before we could proceed into the rest of the airport and everyone had to go through security again. After this I made my way to my gate area. This is a large airport. There are a whole row of luxury stores – Chanel, Gucci, etc. – and all of them were closed. The food court was closed. The water fountains were shut off to reduce touch points.

It is a beautiful airport though. They seem to have put a pretty heavy emphasis on bringing nature inside and there were orchids and plants and really nice garden type places in several locations in the airport. However, the best part of the airport was when I got to my gate and saw that the seats were not separated out for social distancing and most importantly they didn’t have arm rests. With a 5 hour layover ahead of me this was the best thing I could have seen because that turned into my bed for the next few hours.

About 8:00am or so I went down to the Starbucks to get a little food. They also had a station where you could get little paper cups of water so I used that to refill my water bottle.

Prior to boarding one of the gate agents came around to ask everyone some basic questions about their health and well-being; however, their was no additional temperature check at this time. Overall, the boarding procedure was pretty good for the flight. They called us up no more than ten people at a time (for our plane that meant two rows) to ensure we had space to social distance while we boarded. It was boarded back to front so that you wouldn’t have to walk past or have people walk past you more than necessary. Everyone had a mask on. The people working at the gate, the passengers, the flight attendants.

Flight 2: ICN>DTW

This was my long flight coming in at just over 13 hours. If anyone is wondering how many movies you can watch on a 13 hour flight the answer is: I don’t actually know because at some point I lost track. I fell asleep during one, woke up half way through another. Watched an episode of this or that. I was tired enough that the 13 hours of flying kind of felt like a dream where you weren’t quite sure you were in reality or not.

Delta even in economy gave us a pretty good care pack. We got a sanitizing wipe when we boarded the plane so we could wipe down our seats. They gave us a pillow, blanket, travel set with ear plugs and eye mask, slippers, as well as headphones for our TV’s.

The guy sitting in the aisle seat of my row was great. He sanitized his seat before he sat down. He wore his mask the whole time. He sanitized his hands before eating and after eating. He got up to use the bathroom a few times so I didn’t have to do the thing where you hope that they wake up so you can ask them. I don’t know his name but for a complete stranger on a long flight in this circumstance he was everything I could have asked for. Plus, when I curled up on my seat and my feet went over to the middle seat a bit he didn’t say anything. What a champion.

I had requested peanut free meals. Delta has a fantastic feature when you do online check-in that you can select peanut free meals! It is amazing. Ironically for this flight they could only offer it with either vegetarian or gluten free. I opted for the vegetarian option. We had a dinner, a snack, and then a basic breakfast. At each meal service they had beverage service as well including beer and wine. I didn’t partake as I was already feeling a bit dehydrated and I didn’t want to give a migraine a chance to sneak up on me.

All in all, for how long of flight it was, it was really fine. They did a nice job with the whole process.

Airport 3: Detroit

Here is where my disappointment in mask wearing starts. I get off the plane. We wait in line for immigration. That was fine. Everyone has their masks on and social distancing. I go to grab my bag to re-check it. Still, everything is fine.

When I go through the security re-check I am impressed by the TSA agents working there. They enforced social distancing and mask wearing. They made sure everyone knew it was for the benefit of keeping everyone healthy. They did a really nice job.

Then, I was out and about in the rest of the airport. There was no temperature check at any point that I was in the airport. There were airport employees walking around with no mask on. When I walked by Chili’s, the one restaurant open in my terminal of the airport, no one had masks on. I thought, okay, they’re eating, but on closer inspection I couldn’t see their masks anywhere. Not around their necks or hanging from an ear. They just weren’t there. Needless to say I didn’t go to eat at Chili’s.

When I got to my gate the gate agents didn’t have masks on. Two people sitting right there next to each other with no mask. Delta’s official policy is that all passengers have to have masks on for their flight but yet their employees were sitting there without masks. It was disappointing.

The boarding process was the same as in Incheon. From the back of the plane to the front, just a few people at a time. This didn’t take long though as there weren’t many people going to Burlington. All the passengers had their masks on though. Good job VT passengers!

Flight 3: DTW>BTV

While I was disappointed with the gate agents not wearing masks and the passengers around the airport, I was most disappointed when I got on my flight. The flight attendant and the co-pilot were standing there at the front of the plane discussing something not wearing masks while all of us passengers are boarding. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The flight attendant made the “welcome aboard” announcements and thanked everyone for complying with their policy to wear face masks while she still didn’t have a face mask on.

We then had a little hick-up. Maintenance found an issue with the toilet on our flight and thus we couldn’t take that plane. There was another plane just a few gates down, so we all hop off that plane, and head down to wait for the next plane to be ready.

This mask situation is really bugging me, so when she walks down the aisle to check seat belts I offer her one of my extra masks. She very, very quickly goes to the front of the plane to get her mask. Maybe she just forgot?

After that the flight was quite uneventful. I did my best to get a little bit of sleep. I woke up before flying in though and got a video of the approach to my beautiful state of Vermont.

Airport 4: Burlington, Vermont

Burlington is pretty much my favorite airport in the world. It’s small. It’s easy to use. There is hardly ever a line at security and it’s convenient to get in and out of for the people dropping you off and picking you up.

When we landed there was no temperature check. Everyone kept their masks on though and people here overall seemed much better about wearing their masks.

I went to wait at baggage claim. There were big signs saying that we needed to quarantine at home for 14 days, but there was no temperature check upon landing or leaving the airport. Got my luggage, and went outside to find my brother waiting for me. I’ve been home for four days now and no one has checked to make sure I’m following quarantine. That’s probably good? They figure I’m an adult and will do the right thing? It definitely makes me wonder how many people actually follow it though.

All in all it was fine. I was impressed by how seriously people were taking it, as well as how patient everyone was with the additional protocols and precautions. And, while it stinks that Stuart and I are apart right now (and just before our anniversary, come on), I’m happy to be home in beautiful Vermont enjoying some wonderful summer weather.

2 thoughts on “Part II: Flying Home

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