Flying in the time of Covid-19–Part 2

Thanks to all who responded so helpfully to my last post. My three weeks in California were hectic and, unfortunately, I didn’t see some of the responses and I wish I had. With all the guidelines and country requirements for entrance being so fluid, it was difficult to know how to prepare and what to do for my return flight. The one thing I was sure of was that I needed a negative Covid test to board the plane back to France. That involved many of the same hoops to jump through as I’d had in preparation to coming to the USA. Again, I had to stop in Frankfurt, Germany. Germany and Ireland seem to be the strictest countries over here in terms of who can enter and how long before entering the country the Covid test must be done. Notice I said “entering” the country. At the time that I was scheduling my test, France required a 72-hour window before boarding a flight. Germany required a 48-hour window before entering the country. even the small print made it difficult to understand what would happen if one was just passing through Germany but entering another Schengen country.

On June 4, I did the best I could with the information I had and made a reservation to get a test from Kaiser Richmond on Sunday, June 20 at 3pm–70 hours before boarding the flight from SFO. I hoped to forget about it for awhile.

The next week, June 9, France opened up to American tourists. The USA was classified as an “Orange” country. What did that mean? In order to enter France (as opposed to boarding the plane, one needed proof of vaccination – two jabs – and a negative Covid test). Then exactly one week later, France upgraded USA to a “Green” country meaning, that to enter France, one only needed proof of vaccination. There was no rhyme or reason for the change. In many states, the numbers are rising again. One in every five cases is now the Delta variant. Biden has not reached his goal of 70% vaccination by July 4th although the media says the goal will probably be reached sometime in July. However, a large percentage of the southern states’ population is refusing any vaccination. From what I hear, this is all political. Any argument of the vaccine having been developed too soon without enough time to really test its efficacy has been erased. Most people know now these vaccines have been in developmental research stages for years. This is not the first Covid. Ergo the number 19. The trick a year ago was to target this exact virus and add the variable to the vaccines already under development.

By the this time, almost two weeks of my time in California had passed (more of that later), and it really was time to start paying attention. Every day, I checked both the UAL (United Airlines) website and the French government website. The real anxiety was going to be Kaiser. As of this writing, Kaiser will not guarantee a test result by boarding time. I hadn’t really thought of alternatives until I didn’t get the result 48 hours after I’d had the test, had already turned my rental car in, and thought I might actually have to turn around at SFO, come home, and fly out the next day. EXCEPT the result then would be past the 72 hour window. So I managed to find a mobile test center that would come to the house, give me the test, and guarantee the results within 6-8 hours for a mere $499. Ain’t the US health care system grand??? I didn’t think I had a choice so I made a reservation. And just like the old adage “if you want the bus to come, light a cigarette”, my Kaiser result arrived in my e-mail box one hour later.

Not ready to totally let go of anxiety (!), the printed out version of the test result looked so unofficial. You had to search to find the words Kaiser Permanente. So I spent an hour cutting and pasting to make it look really official.

At the airport seventeen hours later: While checking in, the lovely woman asked me if I had filled out the form required by the French government. I said No, that I was a resident. So she checked my residency card but then decided I needed it anyway (I didn’t). She took my phone and took a photo of the website, sent me to the domestic terminal to have the form printed then told me to fill it out. After a 20 minute walk to the domestic terminal, I learned there was no printer to be had and, that maybe, possibly, there was a printer at the travel agency next to the United counter at the International airport. I sat down, had a coffee, and told myself the check-in person was wrong. I had read the French website backwards and forwards many times and I was willing to take my chances. So I called two friends to say goodbye and sat peacefully until boarding time.

At the gate, and this was a gate of every possible definition, there were two people asking to see one’s passport and one’s boarding card. My boarding card did not have an OK with a circle around it. So one of the gatekeepers had to ask a superior who had to ask another superior if I could come into the boarding area. I suspected that I was supposed to return to the United Check-in with my printed out form, that I didn’t need, filled out and then she would ok me. But I kept my mouth shut. The third superior decided that the person had just forgotten to put the OK on and they let me in.

The circled red OK saying I’m allowed to enter the boarding area

Then we were all called to order by a power-hungry United staff member who was going to whip us into line if it cost him everything. People were going to board in the order he said and he didn’t care what Group your boarding pass said. AND no one was to stand in HIS boarding area if they weren’t boarding. Which no one paid attention to. I had gotten that far and I was not going to get more anxious, so I just giggled inside as he tried to “herd cats”!!! I made it onto the plane without further ado.

Waiting to board at SFO, the arm of our “little dictator” trying to herd cats

We landed in Frankfurt eleven hours later. After the two hour connection stop-over wait, I got in-line to board my flight to CDG Paris. First we had to show our boarding ticket, our passport, and our negative test result. Mine caused another flap but by this time, I was just too tired to get overly anxious. She asked me where I had come from four or five times, what time and day I’d had my test which I answered four or five times, and seemed on the verge of not letting me on the plane. I finally said that I had my vaccine certificates with me, would she like to see them? Well, yes she would. I showed them to her and that did the trick. She smiled and showed me another line to stand in and soon I was ushered towards the aiport shuttle bus that traveled the entire length of the Frankfurt airport (I swear it went around a couple of times. It took almost ten minutes to get to our plane) and dropped us off. It was raining. There were two entrances, front and back, to get on the plane. The majority of people ran towards the front and stood in the rain to board. So, even though I was in the first eight rows, I ran to the back, didn’t get too wet and, like a salmon swimming upstream, pushed my way to my seat.

A little over one hour later, we landed in Paris. And just as always, CDG is a breeze to get through. My passport was stamped, I waited all of five minutes for my luggage, walked through customs without a question, and was in line for the taxi twenty minutes after leaving the plane. My Cambodian taxi driver thought I was the nicest, sweetest person because I chatted with him all the way to my apartment. I was willing to give him cash instead of my Carte Bancaire and I was his best friend for life. He was willing to give me a receipt so he was ok in my book.

I opened my apartment door, called for Bijou, and waited. She came trotting up lazily and if she could have smiled, I think she did. I was home.

Bijou on her new bed

A bientôt,

Sara

La Compagnie

On Friday, Jan. 12, I flew to New Jersey to attend a Care Conference for my Uncle.  I flew a new airline.  Over the past couple of years, I read about this airline that has only business class seats at slightly more than economy price seats.  Since, I mostly fly Paris–San Francisco and back again, it wasn’t an option for me.  La Compagnie only flies Paris–Newark and back.

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Because a friend raved about it last June, I decided this was a fine time to find out for myself. So I booked a round trip ticket that cost about 1500 euros total. Sometimes I feel held hostage by United.  I have many miles, enjoy using miles to upgrade to a very luxurious Business/First seat and love all the perks that come with having Premier status.  I wanted to free myself.  Maybe I won’t have Premier Class anymore.  Tant pis!

My friend was thrilled that I was going to give La Compagnie a try.  She warned me to get to CDG early as LC check-in was tucked away.  So the night before I left, I went on-line to see if I could find where LC check-in was. Terminal 1 but after that I had to wait.  Some blogs popped up in my search.  They turned out to be “horror” stories. They were written in 2014, I held my fears in check.  Whatever wasn’t working in 2014 certainly has been ironed out now.  From the time I left my apartment to the time I landed in Newark, everything went smoothly.

When I arrived at Terminal 1, the digital board told me that my flight was on time and that check-in was in Hall 3.  I walked slowly looking left and right and there it was right next to United.  Since there are only 84 seats, the line to check in went quickly.  One can have two bags at 70 pounds/32 kilograms each. I left with a fast access through security card and could wait in the iCare Lounge.  Unlike other airlines, the check-in doesn’t open until two and half hours ahead of take off.  This again is because there are only 84 seats.

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Checking in

The Lounge was one floor down from the United Lounge, plenty large and set up for a continental breakfast.

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I still had to go through security so it was suggested to leave the lounge forty-five minutes to an hour ahead of departure.  Boarding the plane takes only fifteen minutes again because of so few seats.

The immediate impression upon boarding is of lots of space and very airy.  There are two seats on each side of the aisle.  Three attendants took care of us.  There are no frills and whistles.  No one asked to hang my coat.  I folded it up and put it in the overhead along with everything else.  Nothing is allowed on the floor during take-off.  As you can see, there is no barrier between the two seats as with other Airline’s Business Class seats.  I didn’t find that a problem.  If privacy is high on your priority list, this isn’t the airline for you.

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My “horror” story blog described the flight bags as made of tire like material with no toothbrush.  He was appalled.  The flight bag was perfect and there was a toothbrush.  The hand creme and lip conditioner were from the French company Caudalie.

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The attendant only offered champagne before take-off.  But fairly soon after, a drinks trolly came rolling by.  Everything was on offer.  This was followed by lunch (take off was at 10:30am).  I always bring my own food but my neighbour let me take a photo of his tray.  This is before the hot entree was brought.

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My only complaint is that the seat does not turn into a flat bed like most business class seats nowadays.  It would have been ok except the foot part didn’t rise and I found that hard.  Going to Newark was not a problem.  I wasn’t sleepy and watched two movies, read my book and did some writing.  My flight back to Paris left at 7:30pm and I was exhausted.  I slept on and off the whole way but the discomfort of my feet kept me from sleeping completely.  As the other blogger said, for the price I paid and having so much room, I thought everything was good.

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Every seat has an iPad.  They are turned on about fifteen minutes into the flight.  One has a choice of about 20 movies, 3 audio books and 4 special videos.  The map with the flight progress is on four screens overhead.

Everything went smoothly.  Even the bumpy parts of the flight were fine.  We landed early and taxied to the gate right on time, to the minute.

My return flight was very similar except that I have very little idea what happened after I closed my eyes.  Did they serve a dinner?  Don’t know.  Don’t even remember a drinks trolly.  The check-in was just as smooth except it was in English and there were four people doing the check as opposed to two in Paris.  The Lounge was before security and very elegant.  It had the feel of old world glamour.  The food was better than anything I’ve ever seen.  An entire dinner was laid out so I suspect that dinner was not served on board.

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When you go on-line to book a flight, after picking your dates, four different prices come up.  Each price has conditions.  The cheapest is called promotion which is what I got.  Since turning 65, I always get flight insurance now.  As they say in many countries, Shit happens.

If my opinion counts for anything, I recommend this airline for the price, the space and the ease of travel.  You do need to be going to Newark or Paris or be willing to land there before the next lap of your flight.  Happy Flying!!!

A bientôt,

Sara

 

The Bad and the Good

Somewhere I heard a saying “Make plans, God laughs” or something to that effect.  After having written my post on Monday and looking forward to my flight to San Francisco on Tuesday, everything changed.  I woke up at 4:15 and treated myself to a taxi since it was a bank holiday in France and I wasn’t sure of the trains.  I arrived a little before 6am to learn that my flight was ‘delayed’ 11 hours.  Would I like to reschedule?  After hearing my options, I told the woman at the check-in desk that I’d rather wait for a direct flight at 7pm.  I’d just go back into Paris.   Weeeelllll, she really did draw that word out, it might be safer if I rescheduled another flight.  She clearly already knew what she couldn’t tell me–that the flight would be cancelled 20 minutes later.

It seemed my only option was to wait at Charles de Gaulle for 5 hours then fly to Washington D.C.  I would go through passport control and customs in Washington then go to a domestic terminal after checking my luggage back in.  I’d get a flight to SFO about 2 hours later.  And even though I had upgraded to Business Class with miles, “we are so sorry, Madame, there are no business class seats left, so you’ll fly economy”

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First, I’m not good with change.  It throws me.  I’m not very good at waiting.  However I managed to sit in the United Lounge for my requisite hours, e-mailing people that I wouldn’t be where I was supposed to be and boarded the plane to Washington.  I’ve been very lucky, as it turns out.  Both Paris and San Francisco are very lenient with flights coming from both cities about getting through customs.  Not so in Washington D.C.  I was walking down the walkway when a cute looking beagle walked right up to my suitcase smiling away.  The beagles handler asked me if I had fruit etc in the suitcase and I said yes, and waved my Drs letter.  She gave me an orange sticker and pointed me in the direction of  a new conveyor belt.  Between fatigue, disappointment over all the changes and some basic unfounded fear, I had myself a temper tantrum.  The little woman in charge of investigating criminals bringing one apple into the US was tearing open all my presents I had bought in tax-free while waiting at CDG.  She found my apple and gleefully raised it with an ah ha, gotcha you.  I tried some 10 year old manipulation tactics that never worked when I was 10 years old so not sure why I thought they’d work now.  Yes, I made a scene and in so doing, turned what was already an uncomfortable day into a bit of a nightmare for myself.

 

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Sans apple, I rechecked my luggage and made my way to the second leg of my flight. I got to my home in Oakland, California about 9 hours after I was rescheduled to arrive.  I didn’t have to stay awake until this time zone’s night time, I went right to bed and got a good night’s sleep.  But it took me another day to stop blaming customs in Washington DC for my “nightmare” trip and own up to the fact that I brought quite a bit of it on myself.

My willingness to be a little more generous may have had a lot to do with the fact that I got to see my first baseball game Wednesday evening since last April.  For a baseball fan, that is quite a drought.  And what a game!  Game 7 between two evenly matched teams that were both in search of an illusive World Series Championship.  For the Chicago Cubs, it had been 108 years.  I was rooting for them just because of that history.

And what a nail biter of a game.  Trying to explain baseball to a french person is somewhat like trying to teach Chinese in a day.  The french are Futbol fans.  Futbol is fast and lively.  People who don’t understand baseball say it is like watching paint dry!  So I go without baseball in Paris.

 

IMG_5283.JPGThe game was so unpredictable, so closely matched and, in my opinion, so overly managed by Joe Maddon, that the Chicago Cubs won in spite of him.  Not that this is news to anyone.  Everyone in the world must know that “Wait till next year” came this year.  The Chicago Cubs are 2016 World Champions–although the word world is a bit euphemistic.  It was thrilling, it was worse than a horror film.  At one point, I changed the channel, I thought my stomach would never survive the back and forth of scores between the two teams.  But the Cubs had God on their side Wednesday.  There was a seventeen minute rain delay and in that time, the Cubs held a team meeting without any of the coaches and boosted themselves back on board as winners.

 

360-worldseries-largeHorizontal375.jpgExcitement and joy are contagious.  I’ve been to Wrigley Field once in my life.  But I had no trouble jumping on the bandwagon of exhilaration and felt so grateful that these moments allowed me to forget my trip and appreciate that I got to watch the game.  And what a game!!!!!

http://m.cubs.mlb.com/news/article/208017164/cubs-to-have-world-series-parade-on-friday/

Going on a Trip

I am leaving Paris for two weeks.  I’m going to California where I lived for most of my adult life.  It is a beautiful day today.  The sky is blue, the Seine is peaceful, sparkling and the Bateaux Mouches have begun their daily trips up and down the river showing tourists the sights along the banks.

 

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I have been grumbling about the weather most of the Fall.  It seemed that we went from summer to winter without passing Autumn.  In fact, we have had a couple of beautiful Indian Summer days and this seems to be turning into one of them.  I’ve turned the heat off in the apartment and I’m looking forward to a walk.  My iPhone says that the next week will be sunny and much much warmer than it has been.

 

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However, I’m leaving for Charles de Gaulle airport before the sun comes up tomorrow morning.  And like most of my “last days before the trip” Paris seems lovelier.  I seem to see it all much more clearly.  I look around my apartment as if I will never see it again.  I held Bijou, the cat, so close trying to make a physical memory of her furriness, her sweetness, the way she will suddenly look up at me with loving eyes that completely melt my heart.  I don’t feel this way about going anywhere else in Europe.  But California and another life seems worlds away from Paris and this life.

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Last January, when I took my trip to California, terrorists had just bombed the Brussels airport.  We had heard, though it hadn’t been confirmed, that the Brussels airport was second choice to Paris.  I had no idea what to expect.  I felt very matter of fact about it.  I called my lawyer and asked if I wrote out a makeshift will in pencil about all my belongings in Paris, would it be considered legal.  He said yes then added to please not worry, nothing was going to happen to me.  He couldn’t possibly know. The truth is, a place where terrorists have just hit is probably one of the safest places in the world.

I’m not worrying about terrorists.  I look forward to these long flights to California (but not to the jet lag). Once I get to the airport, get my bags checked, get through border control, I’m in No Man’s Land.  Soon my phone won’t ring at all, I won’t be able to receive any texts.  No one can bother me or demand anything of me.  I can watch five movies in a row and not feel guilty or lazy. I can daydream or read a book or write.

But that’s tomorrow.  Today, I’m walking around looking at everything as if it’s the first time and the last time.  I don’t feel anxious.  I don’t have a word for it.  It’s a feeling I’m sure everyone gets at some time or another.  Of wanting to imprint something in my memory that is stronger than just a memory.  I want to be able to touch it, feel it, take it with me.  When I’m sitting in my living room in Oakland, I don’t want Paris to feel so incredibly far away.  The memory I always default to is sitting in my armchair that I have facing the window.  The window that looks out on Quai des Grands Augustins, the Pont Neuf and the river Seine.  It’s an amazing view of one of the most beautiful parts of Paris that I look at every day.

 

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A bientôt,

Sara