Step by Step experience of what traveling to Europe from the US is like during a global pandemic
Ok, so leading up to this moment, I spent a lot of sleepless nights researching and reading the travel restrictions on the Italian national tourism site, one of the official sites of the European Union, communicating with both the airlines (Delta and Alitalia) and the Italian consulates in both Los Angeles and in NY. The websites were the best and the most helpful. The airlines were able to tell me about the documentation they needed but not what would happen at immigration, and the consulates had limited information since decisions were changing day by day - so not even the consulate employees had the most up to date information. The two months leading up to my departure date were a nail biter to say the least but the EU announced around June 15 that citizens of the EU were exempt from the EU travel restrictions as of July 1 (my arrival date), regardless of what country they were coming from, as long as they were citizens of the EU (Prior to this, only RESIDENTS of Italy were allowed to enter-regardless of citizenship). I would be subject to quarantine, given I was coming from the US (since the US did not make the list of acceptable countries allowed to enter the EU starting July 1), but it was at this moment that I felt the most secure that I would be able to make it to #Italy
My routing to Italy from LAX (Map courtesy of gcmap.com):
Tuesday, June 30, 2020: Depart LAX
I had been scheduled to leave LAX on #VirginAtlantic direct to #London and then to transfer to #Alitalia for my onward flight to #Rome. About a month prior to my departure, my flight was canceled, so #Delta put me on the following route: #LAX to #Atlanta, then to #Paris and then finally to Rome. All flights were on Delta except for my flight from Paris to Rome which was on Alitalia.
My flight for #ATL took off at 6:30 AM, so got to the airport bright and early and went to check in. Had both my #Italian and US #passports. I didn't know how this was going to go as law requires that I leave the US on my US passport and enter the #EU on my EU passport. Typically, airlines only care that you have the necessary documentation to enter the destination that you are going to as most countries, except for the US and the UK, have dedicated immigration upon EXITING a country. It is at these stations that you present your passport that allows you to be in the country you are currently in. So for example, if the US had dedicated immigration upon leaving the #US, I would present the immigration officer with my US passport so that he/she would know that I had the legal right to be in the US.
However, given that the US does not have dedicated immigration upon exiting the country, the airlines share your passport information with the US border control so the US knows you have left the country. But again, I knew I wouldn't be let on the plane if I presented my US passport to the airline. So, based on what I read, all recommendations advised that I present my Italian passport at check in and should they the agent say something since I had a round trip ticket, to present my US passport to him/her as well, so they knew I would be able to get back into the country. I checked in. Gave the agent my Italian passport. and in a few seconds, had my boarding passes for my flight to #ATL and my flight from ATL to #CDG. I was told I would have to get my boarding pass for my flight from Paris to Rome in Paris since it was on #Alitalia. However, my bag was checked all the way to Rome. A little stressful but I was happy I got cleared through to Paris. I was not asked any questions and did not have to show my US passport, so off I went.
Flight 1: LAX to ATL, Delta Airlines
With my mask on and my face shield in place (yes, I did and have no shame about it-see picture below), I boarded my flight to ATL. Nothing major. I had flown from #NYC to #PHX in early May, so I knew what the experience was going to be like. My flight to ATL was in in #DeltaComfort. All middle seats were empty, making the flight not only more comfortable but safer and less stressful. I have friends and family members that have traveled on other US carriers, during the pandemic, and they did not have social distancing practices in place, so I am very appreciative to #Delta for putting the safety of their passengers first. Now, Delta has also eliminated serving alcohol on domestic flights, during this time, while some other airlines have not. But personally, I'll take the social distancing over the alcohol. The flight attendants gave out disinfecting wipes upon boarding, but my entire carry on was filled with my own cleaning supplies. Cleaned my seat from top to bottom, sat down, got my little plastic bag with my #Biscoff cookie, a bottle of water and some #Cheeze-Its and I was ready to go.
Flight from LAX to ATL:
Flight 2: ATL to Paris CDG, Delta Airlines
So compared to my experience at JFK, when leaving back in early May, ATL was rather busy (but not nearly as busy as it is during normal times). After getting off the plane, I headed for the Plane Train as my flight for CDG was leaving from the International Terminal. As the train made its way to Terminal F, I quickly became the only person on the train-a telling sign of the current state of international travel.
Terminal F at ATL Airport:
Finally, the time came to board my flight to Paris. Delta used some sort of biometric tool that takes a picture of your face and then gives you the green light to board. Easy enough. I had to remove both my mask and my face shield but once that was done, on the plane I went.
Again, social distancing practices in place, but this time, since I was in #DeltaOne (business class) and on an international flight, alcohol was to be served, along with your typical two meals when traveling to Europe (dinner and breakfast). What has changed, during the pandemic, was that your meal was done domestic first style: So all your food was put on one tray and served at one time. In normal times, it is typically served in courses in Delta One. Honestly, this didn't bother me at all. I was tired and wanted to sleep and was happy for the quick service.
The only thing that was slightly different than normal, was that we were all handed a piece of paper to fill out prior to landing in #Paris. Typical information: Name, residency, address, telephone number and also asked what seat you were sitting in. I don't know what the form was for except that it was required by the EU and I got the sense it had to do with contact tracing. So, if someone on the flight tested positive for Covid-19, you would be contacted.
Photos of the experience below.
The Airbus A330 Delta One Cabin:
Dinner was delicious:
Breakfast was nicely presented, but the quiche was bland, but I do enjoy a Delta croissant:
Wednesday, July 1: Arrival into Paris CDG/Immigration into the European Union
Upon arrival into Paris #CDG, Immigration was rather easy and painless. Went through the typical process of transferring to an onward flight. Found where my gate was, followed the signs to the right terminal, went through a security check and immediately upon exiting security, I was in line for passport control. I approached to the immigration officer, handed her my Italian passport. She scanned it. No questions were asked, stamped it, handed it back and off I went. On the other side there were police officers that were questioning two people who were on my flight. I know one of them had an American accent and he seemed to be telling the police officer where he was traveling to and why. I do not know why they were stopped, if they were randomly stopped, etc. I just continued walking. No one stopped me and I was officially in the #EuropeanUnion.
So once that was done, I needed to get my boarding pass for my flight to Rome. I did not see any Alitalia ticketing desks, just Air France. Given #AirFrance and Alitalia are part of the #Skyteam alliance, I approached the Air France desk and told them my situation. This is where I started to sweat a little. It probably took the agent 30 minutes to issue me a boarding pass for Alitalia. He typed a few things on his computer, then he spoke to another agent sitting next to him. I couldn't understand anything since I don't speak French. He then made a couple of phone calls. After those were done, he went to the back office (I am assuming to speak to speak to a supervisor)-ended up coming back and finally handed me my boarding pass. Done!
Went to my gate and waited for my flight to board. CDG was fairly busy. Everyone with masks on and every other seat in the terminal blocked for social distancing purposes.
Finally, the last leg of the journey was happening. Alitalia called for boarding and in typical style, everyone rushed to the gate, even though Alitalia was boarding row by row from the back of the plane. Upon getting to the actual boarding gate, Alitalia was asking for a piece of paper. Didn't have one, so asked the gate agent for one. It was a declaration where the passenger had to state that he/she had no signs of COVID-19, hadn't been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 14 days and it also asked you to check a box if you had been in the EU for the past 14 days (which I left blank). I filled it out, signed my name and handed it to the gate agent. So many people were throwing papers at her and it seemed that all she did was look to see if my signature was on the page. Boarded my flight. I was in business class on my flight to Rome and as many of you probably know, European business class is different than in the US. It is economy seating but the middle seats are all left empty. I had read that the European airlines had done away with social distancing, so I was grateful to be in business class as no one would be next to me. Oddly, Alitalia wasn't not allowing anyone to put their bags in the overhead compartments for safety reasons, so I had to put both of my bags under the seat. Thankfully, I had the entire row to myself so this was not a problem.
The meal in #AlitaliaEuropeanBusiness class was surprisingly tasty:
My flight to Rome from Paris:
Wednesday, July 1: Arrival into Rome
Arrival into Rome FCO airport (when arriving from within the #EU) is similar to taking a domestic flight in the U.S. You get off your flight, head to baggage claim, grab your bags and leave. There are no controls or checks. There was a sign that stated if you had not been in the European Union for 14 days prior to your arrival in Rome, you had to see a police officer. There was a police officer in the baggage claim. I knew I had to do quarantine and had filled out the quarantine declaration form prior to my arrival. I handed him the form, he looked at it to make sure I had signed it. Looked at my Italian passport, handed my passport back to me and off I went.
If you are required to do quarantine upon arrival into Italy, public transportation is not allowed prior to completion of your quarantine (Italy requires that you do not leave the place of your quarantine for any reason at all for 14 days), so I had a car service pick me up-which is great because the cost between Rome FCO airport and central Rome is regulated for all taxis and car services at 48 Euros each way. Taxis are comfortable in Rome as well (most of them are Mercedes) but, if you are going to do a car, my recommendation is to get a car service. It costs the same as a taxi and the driver will meet you in the arrivals hall with a sign with your name on it and help you with your bags, etc.
The drive to central Rome, near the #SpanishSteps, where my apartment was located, takes about 45 minutes. There is a train from #FCO to #RomaTermini (Rome's main train station) that costs 14.00 Euros each way and takes about 32 minutes (it's known as the #LeonardoExpress). From Roma Termini you can take the subway or a taxi/uber to your final destination (make sure to double check the Rome subway map (known as the Metropolitana) against your final location as the Rome Subway system is not as extensive as it is in other cities). To the Spanish Steps it's about a 13 Euro #Uber ride or a quick 10 minute subway ride that costs 1.50 euros.
Stay tuned for my next post to see what it's like living in the Spanish Steps (also known as Piazza Spagna).