Flying back to Europe in COVID times

Last weekend, we returned to Europe. We left a country where, at least in places, things really seem back to normal to arrive in one where COVID cases are surging and lockdowns are being imposed – in certain areas like Lisbon and the Algarve: no restaurants open after 3pm, curfews imposed at 11pm over the weekends – in order to, yet again, bend the curve. Portugal’s vaccination rate is accelerating and appointments have been opened up to ages 25+ now so it seems like the crest of the wave may be breaking, or should soon. Portugal is administering a lot of Astra Zeneca vaccine, which has a longer lag period between doses than Pfizer (which we got) or Moderna, so that lag may extend the duration of Delta variant surges here. Vamos ver.

Flying back was somewhat normal, despite mandatory masks and required negative COVID tests. Since we were on the road, vs. at home, right before departure we sought out pharmacies where we could get the aforementioned required test but none could guarantee turnaround within 72 hours for travel purposes (I suppose this will improve as international travel continues to open up?) so we opted for an expensive, but reliable test at the airport through XpressCheck. It ain’t cheap, but the cost was worth it for peace of mind. XpressCheck takes both walk-ins and appointments. We booked in advance to remove all fretting and worry in the preceding days. It was efficient and painless (and we were negative). Definitely be sure to check the requirements for any European country you are visiting (or any other, for that matter) as there were several people on our flight who were scrambling to get a test done as they were unaware of Portugal’s requirement and TAP (Air Portugal, on which we were flying) won’t let you on the plane without a negative test. A CDC proof of vaccination card alone won’t work, at least in Portugal and for now.

We also had to fill out a form post check-in (accessed from a link on the TAP website) with our seat info and local address for COVID tracking, I presume. It generated a QR code. The mobile version was challenging to navigate (further supported by two people checking in next to us who hadn’t completed it yet and were struggling mightily) so I opted to do it from the laptop because we were still at a place where that was convenient when I was checking us in. As such, I took a picture of the QR codes on my phone, which in hindsight was the right call in case we needed it to avoid roaming charges from accessing an email. Onboard, they asked if we’d done it and had a paper form alternative but we were never asked for it upon arrival so who knows…

Onboard, food was being served, despite a note on United’s website (through whom we booked) saying that no food or beverage would be provided. Honestly, the test requirement brought some peace of mind that everyone on board had been tested. And, of course, masks were required while not eating or drinking and everyone we saw was uncomplainingly compliant (unlike our flight across the USA a little over a week ago). The plane was definitely not full, probably in part driven by our departure date being so close (only a week) after Portugal opened up to Americans. Because we are residents, we booked as soon as we were both fully vaccinated a few months ago but most tourists from America probably would not have had enough time to book and depart on our plane. We also were flying on 4th of July, so the airport in Boston was pretty quiet comparatively as well.

Since our arrival, we’ve definitely noticed the lack of tourists and the presence of COVID. There was virtually no traffic on the road during what should be rush hour in Lisbon and the beaches in our town have more vacant chairs than full, but its good to be back by the sea and our trip was painless, worry free and easy.

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