Planes and Pandemics: Moving Internationally During Covid-19

The plan was this: Finish our Southeast Asia adventure on March 25, spend two weeks visiting friends in Seattle and Vancouver, arrive in Philadelphia on April 6, and fly to Ireland on May 8. Obviously, that didn’t happen. But we cut our trip short, headed straight to my parents’ in Philly, and spent three months hanging out, going for walks in the park, and catching up on Netflix, Steve’s 90-day visa-free allowance in the States was up so he headed back to Ireland.

I was meant to stay an extra month, see my sister, and then join him, but rumours began to fly that the EU would implement a ban on travellers from high-risk countries. Although I would qualify for an exemption that should have allowed me entry, I didn’t want to chance it and end up stuck for the foreseeable future, so on the 24th of June I booked my flight from JFK to Dublin for just a few days later, and on the 28th I was off. This is what it was like to fly internationally during the pandemic.

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At the airport, I was greeted at the door by a sign saying that only those flying were allowed inside, and that everyone had to wear masks. There were also social distancing stickers on the floor to guide you six feet away from the person closest to you. I’ve never seen any airport so empty, let alone one that’s usually as big and bustling as JFK. Although I saw a few folks wearing their masks as chin-straps, most people were taking it seriously and staying apart, using hand sanitizer, etc.

At check-in I had to sign a form saying that I understood flight schedules could change without warning and Aer Lingus had no responsibility if my return flight was cancelled and there were no flights available for me to get back to the USA. This was not an issue for me as I didn’t have a return flight, but it was definitely a sign that the sudden changes to schedules and rulings aren’t finished. The only other thing I was asked at check in was my final destination. The EU was not and is currently not accepting US citizens or citizens of almost all other countries, bar a few that have actually handled the pandemic admirably.

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Ireland is an exception due to their lack of border with the UK, but you are supposed to quarantine for 14 days on arrival. Unfortunately, although filling out the form providing contact details and the address you’re staying is mandatory, actually doing the quarantine is not. In the two weeks of my quarantine, I was only checked up on once, by phone, so it would’ve been easy to lie and say I was staying in. But I urge you, if for some reason you absolutely must travel during this time, please respect countries’ requests to self-isolate/quarantine. Don’t be a jerk.

The flight was relaxed—it was about a third full (~100 people) which is more than when Steve flew back two weeks before (26 people) but still few enough that there was nobody sat in my section of the row. Masks were required except when you’re eating/drinking, but food service was mostly as usual.

As an aside, watched an Irish film that Steve worked on called A Date for Mad Mary. It was good, very charming, one to look out for on Aer Lingus’ in-flight entertainment!

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When the plane arrived (about half an hour ahead of schedule, at 4.15am), a lot of people headed for the transfer gate while a few non-EU folks and the Irish went to immigration. I gave the officer my quarantine form and said I was intending to apply for a stamp 4 for residence. He asked me if I had the documents I needed to register—he said that he didn’t need to see them but just to make sure I brought them when I went to register. Then he reminded me I have three months to register, stamped my passport, and sent me through.

Steve picked me up from the airport, and we headed straight (with a brief stop at Barack Obama Plaza so he could grab me a coffee) back across the country to Killarney, where I spent two weeks inside, avoiding contact with anyone around me. Overall, I was impressed by the safety measures that JFK airport and Aer Lingus took, but less impressed by the measures taken once I arrived in Ireland.

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Although I understand checking up on people takes resources and that the quarantine is technically only “recommended,” I feel if there is a concern about people from hotspot countries arriving (and judging by the furor on social media, you’d think the entire population of Texas had come over and were all coughing on each other, although I have yet to see another American here in Killarney, a huge tourist destination, so I think that’s pretty seriously overblown) they should do more to ensure people are quarantining.

It’s also strange to see very few people wearing masks. Where I was in Pennsylvania, it was a requirement indoors and anywhere you can’t socially distance, and I rarely saw anyone without them (obviously I know this isn’t the case in many parts of the US). However, when I go out here, I am one of the few wearing one—I believe this is changing next week and masks will be required in shops, but it still feels strange now.

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Of course, Ireland is doing really well overall, but I think it’s important not to stop taking measures that will keep each other safe. Wear your masks!

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