After more than a year of having not been back to the United States, I'd like to say that our return last week sent us over the moon.
But that wasn't quite the case. . . we did go near it though, or so it seemed, from our window as we flew over the North Pole.
|Our plane over Iran|
Fysika'!, (Of course!), as we say in Greece. . .our first trip after being grounded for more than year by a pandemic would involve passing 'by' the moon and over the North Pole! And just to keep me -- the family's 'white knuckler' -- on my toes, we were flying Boeing 777's - you know, the model plane (thankfully with different engines) that has been in the news in recent weeks for the engine problem. . .
Travel planning - a new dimension
|Athens Airport - rather empty|
This trip has literally been seven months in the planning. We'd even twice purchased tickets, only to cancel and go back to the drawing board. We waffled 'betwixt' and 'between' in deciding whether our reasons for returning balanced the risk of traveling in a time of Covid.
Long overdue 'annual' medical appointments and the quest to get Covid vaccinations finally tipped the scales in favor of heading to the US. (Greece is currently vaccinating its citizens. It is working on a way to get expats registered.)
|Dubai's airport, like the city, is sprawling|
Covid has sent travel planning into a whole new dimension. In the 'old world' we simply went with best price, comfort level and shortest route. Now planning involves knowing the entry requirements of the countries we are traveling to and returning to, as well as those we transit (there are no direct flights between Athens and Seattle). We also monitored the constantly fluctuating Covid 'counts', lockdowns and quarantine rules for all of those countries as well.
Then there was the matter of finding an airline still flying from our part of the world to Seattle, then reviewing its Covid safety protocols and cleanliness.
After taking all that into consideration, we ended up with a rather circuitous route back.
|Sands of Iran from the plane|
The first leg of our journey was a four-hour flight from Athens to Dubai, last Friday evening. We overnighted at an airport hotel and then a Saturday morning flight of 13.5 hours brought us to Seattle from Dubai. The plane sliced right up the middle of sand-covered Iran, the immense Russian landscape, over frozen tundra, and the North Pole and the snow-covered Canadian Rocky Mountain range.
|Snow capped Canadian Rockies|
That flight, the second longest we have ever been on, seemed so much longer than those 13.5 hours that ticked so slowly past. We are obviously out of practice when it comes to travel! Because it wasn't for lack of pampering as we had cashed in air miles to fly Business Class on Emirates Airline. We did so knowing the flights would be long and to hopefully gain more 'distancing' on board. As it turned out, spacing was not a problem as the load factor was so light. It was a nice way to travel, though!
I know many of you are pondering similar trips and have asked about how safe we felt, related to Covid. I can sing the praises of Emirates as they seemed to have gone the extra mile for safety. They announced that the plane's air filtration was at hospital level 98.97% and that it circulated every two minutes. Flight attendants wore masks, face shields, gloves and a protective covering over their uniforms. They went so far as to have a staff member on board specifically assigned to clean toilets every 45 minutes.
Passengers were required to wear masks at all times when not eating or drinking. New masks were distributed regularly and a kit with gloves, masks and sanitizer was distributed at the start of the journey.
|Our welcome gift on board|
Dishes served in Business came with plastic covers that we could remove, glassware was wrapped. Wine was poured so that we could see it coming directly out of the bottle and into the glasses.
|Business Class Emirates|
As mentioned above we flew a 777- 200, which can accommodate hundreds of passengers. There are 38 Business class seats on this aircraft. We had 8 passengers in Business from Athens and 11 from Dubai. There were maybe 100 people on the entire flight to Seattle, fewer on the flight to Dubai.
|Compartments were large and private|
The Business Class configuration is such that the two of us sitting side-by-side couldn't see each other or talk with each other without making an effort to do so. No problem with distancing.
Before Boarding the Plane. . .
|Covid test in our Greek village|
The Covid Test: Within three calendar days of boarding a flight to the United States, passengers must be tested and found negative for Covid. Luckily, we have a state-of-the-art modern blood lab in our villages so the test was done in the parking lot - the staff came to the car window -- at noon last Wednesday. By 7 p.m. we had our 'negative' results in email form.
The authorities require the report to be printed on paper - those documents were ready the following morning. That piece of paper became as valuable as our passport - we had to show it in Athens and four times in Dubai. No one checked it upon our arrival in Seattle.
|US government required attestation form|
The Attestation Form: U.S. government also requires that a passenger Covid attestation form be completed by the passenger, swearing that they either tested negative or if they had previously had Covid that a doctor had determined they were clear to travel. Those forms are collected by the airline - no attestation, no boarding.
The Greek Passenger Locator Form (PLF): another new Covid step is completing a form required for all travelers both arriving and departing Greece. These must be completed within 24 hours of the departing flight. This is done on-line and a QR code is sent back to the applicant by midnight prior to the flight. Our code came back immediately - however no one at the Athens Airport asked to see it.
What Greek officials did want to see was our biometric residency permit card. . .right after they checked our U.S. passport and saw that we entered the country more than a year ago. Greece, is a Schengen country which allows a 90-day stay unless you have proof of residency. Finally, those cards we worked so hard to get, came in handy!
Was it worth it?
First jab - Monday
Yes! A resounding YES because a major reason for this trip was the hope/plan to get our Covid vaccine at some point during our stay and we have already accomplished that. For weeks, while going through the trip planning, we were also monitoring vaccination sites and schedules and putting our names on waitlists. Then an unexpected fluke in scheduling got us appointments at a mass vaccination center in a city near our home here. We stopped and got our first (Pfizer) shot before we got home! The next day we were notified we had cleared another waitlist and could have gotten an appointment in the Seattle area.
We also threaded the needle in leaving Greece when we did. Yesterday the country recorded its highest number of Covid cases, several hospitals in Athens are at 90% ICU bed capacity with Covid patients and the country went into its most severe lockdown since last spring. The lockdown limits movement to within the village, and limited movement in the village. This lockdown is set to end March 16th. We are set to return the end of the month. . .we may have a whole new travel adventure back.
Again, we thank you for the time you spent with us today and hope to see you back for the next installment of this journey to Washington. . .