Traveling During a Pandemic: Round 2

Let me put this out there: I appreciate that my need to travel during a pandemic is part of why airline/airport/car rental/TSA/customs and border/etc employees still have to go to work during this time. I value their health and safety and realize the risk they are undertaking by continuing to go to work, especially when working with the global population. I do not take their risk for granted or lightly.

For those people, like myself, that have a need to travel – whether that be for work, to be with family, or whatever their need is – it is appreciated that there are still at least some planes flying and some means of travel still available.

Alright, onto my story:

This is the story of me flying to Scotland in the beginning of August during The Coronavirus Pandemic. My husband is Scottish and works at sea for a cruise line. I was onboard with him when the shut down happened but part way through the cruise line decided I needed to go home. We had been separated for about 6 weeks when he was finally able to get off the ship. The easiest option for us to reunite during this situation was for me to fly to Scotland, so alas, that is what I did.

When I fly to Scotland I most often fly out of Boston. Truthfully whenever I fly internationally it is nearly always out of Boston. Let me rephrase: unless I am flying on a reward ticket (using airmiles or credit card points) I nearly always fly out of Boston. I absolutely love my little home airport in Burlington, Vermont; however, flying out of their is typically either incredibly more expensive or will result in significantly more layovers.

For this time flying to Scotland flying out of Burlington would have cost (and this factors in the cost of my rental car to get to Boston) $697 more and resulted in two stops versus the one that I had out of Boston. I also used this as an opportunity to see my friend that lives outside of Boston that I don’t get to see (especially during a pandemic) very often. So, to Boston I will go.

Now, in a non-pandemic setting I would take the bus to Boston. Typically there are three bus lines that I look to for the journey from VT to Boston: Megabus, Greyhound, and Dartmouth Coach. Now, the Dartmouth Coach technically goes from New Hampshire, but they run nearly every hour during the day and it only takes about an hour to get there (they are also apparently resuming service on August 16th). Greyhound and Megabus typically only have either one or two busses per day, but their pickup locations are much closer to home. I have travelled on all three at time ranging from 3 am to 11 pm and they have all been fine. Except, none of them are running right now.

My theory as to why they are not running has to do with the drivers and Vermont’s quarantine rules. Right now anyone can enter Vermont, but, if you come from a “red zone” on their map (which is done county by county for nearby states including Massachusetts) then you have to quarantine for 14 days. If you are from a green zone (less than 400 cases per million people) then you do not have to quarantine. Boston is in a red zone, so anytime their drivers would go into Boston they would put themselves back into the 14 day required quarantine period to go to Vermont. Seems to me with the added risks involved for operating right now the challenges would be too great for a limited profit margin. It does make me wonder what they are doing in regards to flight attendants/pilots coming in from other “red zone” areas across the country to Burlington and what their quarantine situation is like.

I suppose we can sum it up this way: I couldn’t take the bus. And, while my mom offered to drive me to Boston, it is three hours each way, and she had to work that morning. So, while she was totally willing to do it, I was not as interested in having my mom go to work in the morning and then spend 6 hours in a car until likely 10 o’clock at night or so. Instead, I opted for a rental car – I did get a discount on this of 20% using my AAA membership. My cousin gave me a ride to the local airport to get my rental car and then I was on my way to Boston. I dropped it off at the airport and my friend picked me up. Stayed the night at her house and then back to the airport the next day.

When entering the airport (both in Boston and in Burlington to pick up the car) I did not have my temperature taken, nor did I have it taken before boarding my flight from Boston to Dublin. This is in contrast to entering the airport in Manila, Philippines a couple of months ago (June 20) where I had my temperature taken to enter the airport and again before I was allowed to board the plane.

The airport process was largely the same as normal, aside from a couple things. I brought my checked bag to the check-in counter. The agent for Aer Lingus took my passport. She then asked if I was planning on coming back to the United States. I told her that yes, I was planning to return. She then gave me a document to sign that basically said (this is paraphrased): ‘As government regulations and travel restrictions are continuously changing due to the pandemic it is possible that Aer Lingus may not be able to get me back to the United States and that Aer Lingus will not be held financially responsible for any additional costs that I may incur related to changes in travel restrictions due to COVID-19.’ I was like, “yeah, alright, that seems reasonable” and signed away. What a world we’re living in.

Passport check, security was all pretty standard. There were few restaurants and shops open and they had every other chair blocked off to enforce social distancing. Mask wearing was required and was largely followed, though not always well (cover up your dang nose!).

We boarded the plane pretty normal. Aside from business class and families with small children we went back to front. The plane was empty enough that nearly everyone in economy had their own row to lie down in. Unlike most flights I’ve had on Aer Lingus from Boston to Dublin this was only a 3 seat by 3 seat economy section. It was definitely a smaller plane due to the decrease in passengers. I am aware that having less passengers onboard increases the carbon footprint for that flight for each of us. I also realize that less passengers meant less chance of me contracting the virus. Life is a balance I suppose.

The flight was pretty standard. Food served part way through. Watch a little TV. Try to sleep. Wake up each time the fasten seat belt sign comes on and they make their announcement. Curse that I forgot ear plugs and that we still haven’t bought another set of noise cancelling headphones. Go back to sleep. Wake up. It was only a 6 and a bit hour flight, so really not very long. Plus, bonus, the sunrise flying into Dublin was beautiful!

Note: They did not hand out wipes to each passenger when boarding. So, if you are planning to travel I would recommend bringing your own wipes and of course, hand sanitizer.

I kind of hate to video people without their permission but I wish I had videoed everyone leaving the plane and then gone through and blurred their faces. It was a thing of beauty. The flight attendants very clearly said “please stay in your seat until the row in front of you has started leaving the plane. Maintain social distance of 2 meters or just over 6 feet.” and everyone did it. It was beautiful. There was none of the angry pushing to be the first off the plane, there was no one literally climbing over you to get off sooner (happened to me once on a flight from Italy to Spain). It was just patience and understanding of the situation we were in.

When we got off the plane we were directed through to immigration. Everyone social distanced. Everyone had their masks on. Everyone was patient. It was like waking up in a dystopian world where you’re living in a pandemic but then you get to see the way that humanity could be where people are kind and seem to care about each other’s well-being. Coming from a place where I got yelled at for asking someone to wear a mask into a restaurant (and that was in the State that has the virus the most under control in the US) this behavior was confusing but also encouraging. One point for humanity.

If there is one thing that I can say about travel during a pandemic: people are patient.

I don’t know if the jerks just aren’t flying anymore or if they’ve been humbled into patience but it’s really nice to wait in a line and not having some jerk try to cut you or constantly whining about how terrible everything is.

I went through customs in Dublin. I’m not sure if he was really curious about my life or if he thought that I was up to no good, but he asked me a lot of questions. None in a mean or bad way, just very curious. Q: “When was the last time you saw your husband” A: “June 20th in the Philippines”. Q: “Wait, why were you in the Philippines, I thought you said he flew back to Scotland from Cyprus?” On second thought I can see how that might sound kind of sketchy…

Dublin airport was very empty. There were a couple shops open and a little coffee shop, but mostly it felt a bit like a ghost town. They also had seats blocked off to enforce social distancing. Every once in awhile there would be two seats together with a sign that said “family seating” acknowledging that people from the same household may be traveling together and thus wouldn’t have to distance from each other. I found a spot to take a little nap with all the facemask’s on.

My flight from Dublin to Glasgow actually left early. As it is only an hour long flight they have discontinued any drink service, though I’m sure if you needed some water some would be available for you. Everyone had the row to themselves. Everyone wore a mask. Everyone was patient.

When I landed in Glasgow I didn’t have to go through immigration (having come from Dublin – apparently still considered a domestic flight), so off I went. Prior to landing in the UK I did have to provide the details of my journey as well as where I would be staying once in the UK for my quarantine period and contact details so they can check up on me. They haven’t called yet but I won’t be surprised if they do. They emailed me that if they try to call a few times and I don’t answer or respond that they’ll have the police come check on me. This is in stark contrast to my quarantine in the US which involved a sign at the airport saying I had to quarantine and… that was it.

All in all the journey was fine. The biggest frustration was having to rent a car to get to Boston instead of taking the bus. When that is the biggest frustration when traveling across an ocean to another continent that seems pretty darn good.

Unless you have a need to travel, please stay home. If you do need to travel know that it’s not scary, that people seem to be more patient than ever, that nearly everyone has figured out how to wear a mask and actually does. Bring hand sanitizer and bring wipes for your seat.

Oh, and for those wondering: Stuart picked me up at the airport with two bouquets of flowers (one from him and one from my in-laws). I am, in fact, spoiled. 🙂

Some related COVID restrictions and travel posts:

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