We had 72 hours to get from Washington State to the arrival gate at Athens last week.
The return trip back from our 'other world' turned out to be both a matter of test and time.
|Heading back to Greece|
The time clock against which we were racing started the minute the swabs went up our noses for the PCR-Covid test and would stop when those results were presented to some official at the Athens Airport.
We'd returned to the U.S. Pacific Northwest as expats who had finally needed to address some deferred home-owning obligations and routine medical matters. We'd not been back in over a year - the longest we've ever been out of the country.
We'd also given up waiting for vaccinations in Greece and had headed back to the States with getting vaccinated as the top priority on our list. (Turns out that was a good thing as fellow expats haven't yet been allowed into the jab scheduling system in Greece.)
Last week, our 'to do' list was completed - it was time to return to our world in Greece. And it didn't take long for this White Knuckler to have far more things to fret about than keeping the plane in the air!
|72 hours to make it with time zones and overnight layers|
As I mentioned in our last post, testing for Covid has become a major requirement of travel in this 'new normal' world. Unfortunately for the traveler, there is no uniform requirement for test report formats or timelines for obtaining the tests. Our trip illustrated that point well as there are very distinct rules for each of our country's, even though they seem very much alike at first glance!
Greece's mandated negative test within 72 hours prior to arrival is much more daunting a timeline to meet when flying from the U.S. west coast than a test three calendar days before departure was when traveling to the U.S.
|PCR test in our Greek village|
What that meant was: we could take the test at a lab in our Greek village on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday and depart for the U.S. from Athens Friday afternoon. Because of time zones changes we arrived in Seattle the next day, Saturday, which was the same day we flew out of Dubai, (our connecting city). Three days were no problem.
Entering Greece with test results obtained within 72 hours was a much higher hurdle: We lost a day, thanks to those time zones and Greece is 10 hours ahead of the U.S. West Coast. That meant if we had the test on Tuesday at 8 a.m.in the U.S, we had to be back in Greece by 6 p.m. Friday (adjusted for time change). Our flight was scheduled to arrive at 3 p.m. which gave us a three-hour window for any potential delays.
|From Greece's PLF - required for entry|
Greece also has two seemingly simple sounding requirements for those test results, but both became major concerns in the preflight dash: 1) the test results be printed on paper from an accredited lab or medical facility (that meant letterhead paper) and 2) our passport numbers were to be included on those reports.
Playing Beat the clock
|Heading out over the Polar Route to Greece|
In all fairness to Washington, a number of drive-through, do-it-yourself test sites were available. But those provided quick tests and Greece required the PCR, the one that involves a bit more scrutiny under the microscope. And the places we contacted that did those PCR's were limiting testing to those who thought they had Covid. They weren't conducting tests for travelers.
SeaTac International airport does have an on-site testing operation that claims to be for international travelers. But when we finally reached them by phone (that in itself a stressful matter) we were told that printing test results on paper wasn't 'normal', and that they were unsure the passport number could be added, but to check with those administering the test. We couldn't take that chance - we needed, what we needed and an assurance at the time of making the appointment that we could get it.
|A long day's night got longer while awaiting test results|
There was also the matter of defining 'next day results' - when pressed on when the results would be available we learned their definition of 'next day' meant the results could come in by email by 11:30 p.m.-- potentially too late for our 5 p.m. departure.
(Here I must note that journalists on both sides of the Atlantic have been writing tales of travelers all over the world in much the same boat as we found ourselves: lab results being promised 'next day' but not soon enough for the traveler to make a flight. But because of limits like 72 hours, tests often can't be done earlier because of travel times. Somehow we felt better knowing we weren't alone in being stressed.)
Rural Hospital to the Rescue
We were the first car through the test site, on that day before our flight, however our stress level went up a notch or two when the lab technician preparing the nose swabs told us that test results could be 24- to 48- hours away because of testing volumes.
The Devil is in the Details
|Up in the Air over Test Result Format|
The hospital came through for us and our results were emailed 2.5 hours after we took the test. We had paper copies of the results in our hand 4.5 hours after the test. We remained moderately stressed though as there was no way to include our passport numbers on those results. Especially knowing that Greece often wants identification going back to our father's and mother's names and birthdates, so we weren't at all sure our tests would be accepted by officials. . .even though on the bright side - they were negative!
Take Off and Landing
|An overnight in Dubai was part of the return itinerary|
The PCR test results, our Greek residency permit and the Greek-required Passenger Locator Form were all checked closely in SeaTac prior to boarding our flight to Dubai. Because our connecting flight was the next morning and we entered Dubai by leaving the airport there our Covid test results were scrutinized twice upon landing and again the next morning when we returned to the airport prior to boarding the flight to Athens.
Thankfully, no one along the way questioned the lack of passport number.
As we disembarked in Athens (on time so within the 72 hour limit) I had test results in hand to show the first official who asked for them.
Nobody asked to see them!
Instead, we all were paraded through a temporary medical testing station and random Covid tests were administered. The Scout was one of many selected for testing. Then we were sequestered in a holding area until test results were known. Luckily, no one tested positive, we were free to collect our bags and leave.
However other travelers report having to show test results upon arrival. And we'd have never gotten on the plane without them. So test results whether reviewed here or not are key to entering Greece
|Back Home in the Mani - Greek Peloponnese|
I suspect if you made it this far, you might be wondering why I even told this story. We'd made the decision to travel in a time of Covid and we knew their would be hurdles. However, we didn't anticipate how stressful getting over those testing and timeline hurdles would be and we wanted our experiences to help you to be prepared for such requirements when you start traveling again.
We were gobsmacked by how difficult it was to find testing sites and the cost of them in our corner of the United States. Our test in Greece was 60 euros per person or $71US. The tests offered at SeaTac were $179 (next day) and $350 (one hour results) per person. The test we had cost $218 per person. Had we been delayed for any reason and had the test again in Dubai it would have been another couple hundred dollars per person.
|European Union considering Vaccination Passport|
And I tell our testing tale because right now Greece and other members of the European Union are considering Green Vaccination Passports, a uniform piece of identification issued by each country in the union with a 'Q' code that verifies the holder has been vaccinated and can travel without further testing or quarantine requirements.
President Biden has repeatedly said the U.S. government is not interested in issuing such passports. So we travelers vaccinated in the U.S. will be limited to the CDC testing cards we had stamped at time of the jabs and any state records that might show vaccinations we've had.
If Greece and other EU countries don't accept those documents, then there will be continued requirements for having had a negative test to enter the country: the test and the race against time will continue.
|Our Greek Village Agios Nikolaos|
That's our story for this week. We are happy to be back at our Stone House on the Hill. We are now in the fifth month of Greece's second lockdown. It is not surprising that 'Lockdown Fatigue' is being mentioned more and more in the headlines here. How is life going in your part of the world? Leave us a comment or send us an email, we'd love to hear from you!
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