I am back home. My trip has gone (I must admit, somewhat to my surprise as I have expected more questions and setbacks) very much according to the plan. Short of requirement for face coverings in large public spaces (supermarkets, shopping malls, museums, public transportation) Europe is very much as it has been the last I was here in early March. Except it is much more quiet.
Here are details of my July 13 return flight from Frankfurt, via DFW, to Tulsa on American Airlines:
- Frankfurt Airport: prior to pandemic, this has been the busiest airport in Europe. In the past, I gave myself 2.5 hours from arriving at the airport to getting to my gate. Today, I was able to get checked in, go through security and boarder control in less than 25 minutes. This airport seems to be slightly more busy than London or Berlin airports when I arrived a few weeks ago.
- Terminal before the flight: since I have extra time, I walked the terminal to discover that EVERYONE is wearing a mask or face covering and that social distancing is practiced. Many small stores are open, major designer shops are closed. Duty free is open 🙂
- Small food stands are open but large restaurants with sit down menu are closed.
- There are signs requesting social distancing and reminder that face coverings are mandatory inside the terminal (except when eating or drinking). PA system makes periodic reminders of those regulations in German and in English.
- American Airlines Check-In: no questions. A typical check-in. I am told that while the airline allows 2 items per person, the airport has new, temporary, regulation limiting person to 1 item. The clerk advises me to go through security with 2 items and only come back if I am not allowed to proceed. I got my boarding passes in less than 10 minutes. Line was very short. I later found out that our flight had only 63 passengers – LOTS of social distancing at no extra cost.
- Airport Security: I carried 2 items with me (the airport now allows only 1 bag or carry-on). As I approached security, I noticed that the rule was not enforced as many people had 2 items (carry-on and a personal item like a purse or even small backpack). Security took 5 minutes (usually takes 25-40 minutes).
- American Airlines Flight: Our flight was diverted via Chicago due to one of flight attendants on the inbound flight sustaining a serious hip injury. During normal times, there would be another flight attendant to take the place of the injured one. In this case, we were delayed by 1 hour as we waited for another flight attendant to arrive from London!
- Boarding: Announcements are made about social distancing and face coverings. People generally respect distancing during boarding – majority of passengers are Americans.
- Service: Like on all other flights, all food is pre-wrapped and served at the same time. Drinks are in cans or containers. One service per entire flight. Plenty of time to rest, with 5 seats all to myself!
- NOTE: Prior to landing in Dallas, we are asked to fill out Traveler Health Declaration form that asks to self report if we have had the following symptoms: fever, persistent cough, and difficulty with breathing.
- Arrival in Dallas:
- As we were pulling to the gate, flight attendant reminds everyone to have the form ready, and that we will be deplaning in groups of 10-15 at time, to meet with the screeners.
- Screeners review the forms and ask the same three questions as self-reported on the form. Screeners then sign the form and instruct us to give it to the immigration official. No temperature checks are performed. Only verbal responses. The whole process took less than 1 minute.
- Immigration and customs are now combined into 1 step. The border official looked at the declaration form, at my passport, and asked only two questions: where did I travel to + what was I bringing into the country. The same two questions as any other time that I have returned to the US. No health questions. No quarantine recommendations or demands. I was done in less than 4 minutes.
- Terminal: wow! What a different 2 weeks make. Unlike Chicago airport 2 weeks ago, signs and PA announcements about masks and social distancing are everywhere. Just like any European airport. One major difference: the terminal was full of people (not quite crowded, but busy!). My flight from Dallas to Tulsa had MORE passengers (78 in Airbus 321) than my flight from Frankfurt to Dallas in Boeing 787!
- We stay in private, small, and very clean places (room cleanliness is the factor in selecting our accommodation, followed by a great breakfast! First factor is for my wife; 2nd factor is for me.)
- We travel by private cars or in small vans (we want to give at least 1 extra free space per person)
- Our groups are never larger than 15 people (our average tour size is 10.5)
- We schedule sightseeing events before or after large groups (we avoid crowds and large tour groups)
- We schedule meals in places where often we are the only customers being served
- We provide ample free time for personal exploration
- We give you control over your travel experience
In other words, short of face coverings, we have been traveling as if the pandemic was here. So, if you do not like crowds and noise, this IS a great time to travel. Really! Europe is very safe and mostly tourists-free. As an introvert, I love it!
PS. I plan to keep blogging about my upcoming trips and travel lessons. Will send another blog soon about GREAT castles, fortresses, and palaces that I have discovered this past week in Germany!
Yours in travels,DDJ