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

Flying on a jet plane—in the time of Covid-19

Last Wednesday, June 2nd, I flew from Paris to San Francisco. From the time I got both my vaccination shots, I counted out the three weeks it would take for the vaccine to be effective and started thinking about flying overseas. Just the thought of it made me tired. It had been seventeen months since I visited Oakland where I lived before moving to Paris. I have traveled by train within France but that is as much as common sense said it was wise to do.

The first thing to do was book the flight and try to figure out all the ins and outs once I had committed to traveling. Anyone who collects airline miles knows that once you have a significant number of miles, you are held hostage by that company. Mine is United. If I can, I like to upgrade for these flights of eleven hours or longer. Sometime in Spring of 2020, United stopped direct flights San Francisco to Paris and return. So I had to book a trip that took me first to Frankfurt (flying East) in order to fly to SFO (flying West). In theory, it didn’t seem too bad. In reality, it is a lot of trouble.

The next thing was to try and get the information about what the airlines were requiring as far as certificates for vaccines and negative Covid tests. It became clear quite quickly that no one was sure and information was hard to come by. The one thing everyone agreed on was that a Negative Covid test was required within 72 hours of leaving CDG airport. I worried about how I would show I was vaccinated. As it turned out, I wasn’t asked once about being vaccinated. I was the only who cared. I had to show my negative test when I checked in and again in Frankfurt even though I never left the no-man’s land part of the airport. France is very efficient about the test. I had it done first thing Monday morning, May 31, and had the results in an e-mail Monday late afternoon. Here in California, I have made an appointment to get the test and they cannot promise that I will get the results in time. The best they say is 1-3 days. I’m so tired of worrying and having anxiety about travel that I am just saying that I will get the result in time or I won’t. Maybe I’ll have to fly out the following day.

Two days before I was about to leave, I received an e-mail from Lufthansa telling me they had changed my seat and they hoped it wasn’t causing me too much inconvenience. In reading the e-mail, I noticed that the flight was leaving from Terminal 2B. United is in Terminal 1. It is a long distance one to the other. In the US, one checks in with the airline that the reservation was made with. But I had a niggling memory that it is not the same in France. In trying to find out which Terminal to go to to check in, I learned how incredibly under staffed United and probably most airlines are. The France number for United was no longer working. Lufthansa kept me on hold for 4o minutes then hung up on me before giving me the info. I called a friend and together we decided that I should go to Terminal 2B because it was not just a flight operated by Lufthansa but also a Lufthansa plane.

So to be safe, I went as early as I could tolerate. Terminal 2B is a brand new terminal. June 2, the day I flew, was the first day it was open. There was more “help” available than there were passengers in the Terminal. It was so smooth and easy, it was dreamlike. I found an area that had comfortable armchairs and couches to wile away the time. Everyone was masked and was friendly. Much was closed and will probably open up June 9th when international travelers will be welcomed into France.

I was tired by the time I arrived in Frankfurt, too tired to get upset about much. So it seemed seamless making the trip from A13 where the first flight came in and Z25 where the United flight was to leave. I boarded and, for the first time in memory, I slept the entire way.

My last hurdle was Customs at SFO. When asked it I had any food with me, I honestly said that I had my dinner with me. I think my flight was the only flight that arrived at that time because the airport was empty. But I was escorted to Customs A whereas everyone else went through Customs B meaning they had nothing to declare. There were no cute little beagles running around sniffing luggage. Yet I was treated quite nastily about having my dinner. They threw everything out and wanted to throw out my fancy container. I begged and they made a big show of sanitizing it about six times before giving it back to me.

Then I got to leave the airport. I had arrived in California.

They only thing left to say is that it seems no one is prepared for travel to be picking up this fast. Uber has doubled in price because there aren’t enough drivers. Rental car agencies sold off much of their fleet in the past year to keep afloat and don’t have enough cars. So they, too, have upped their prices by about 40% and, what used to be a quick “pick up your car and get going”, now takes over an hour.

And that’s the story from California where the sun is shining, everything is green and beautiful, and the fires have not yet started. I had three days of jet lag and can write today keeping a focus and even have a baseball game on in the background (The A’s are losing to the Rockies in the bottom of the 5th. While proofreading, Murphy, the catcher, hit a homerun, so it is now 2-1. The A’s may yet pull it off!).

A bientôt,

Sara

Happy New Year—-from Oakland, Ca.

In France, one has the entire month of January to send out New Year’s greetings.  Sending cards for the new year is popular, sending Christmas cards is not.

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So I’m wishing every one of you a wonderful 2017.  What I wish for us all is an ability to navigate our world, our politics (or their politics as the case may be) and to be the best citizen of this world that we can possibly muster without bringing in more anger, more hatred and bitterness than already exists.  It’s not a new concept but imagine if we did one good, kind deed a day and it spread like “The hundredth Monkey Phenomenon”.  Well, I’d like to imagine it!!!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundredth_monkey_effect

Yesterday, I got on a United flight to San Francisco to return to my California home for 4 months.  I was taken by surprise in mid-December when I was told that I needed hip replacement surgery.  Actually, I was given a choice.  It seems that doctors today cannot actually say “you must have…..” without fear of litigation.  One of my choices was surgery.  I went to all my friends who have had hip or knee replacement surgery and asked them one question: “In retrospect, if you had had the surgery done when you were first told that you might need it, would you have done it?”  Without exception, they all said yes.  When I was talking to the orthopedist and he was telling me the pros and cons of cortisone shots, I asked him straight out “is there any reason to delay it?”

The answer, not so surprisingly, was “No”

So I’m scheduled for surgery in mid-February.  The curious fact about me is that I have never been in a hospital since I was born.  My father used to joke “Sara, you were born in Garfield Hospital in Washington, D.C and they immediately tore it down”.  Yes, of course, I’ve been in many doctor’s offices and had two one-hour procedures (that I can remember) but to have a serious surgery and spend the night, that has been my sister’s realm.  And to say I’m a bit anxious would be an understatement.

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View from my bedroom window

Now, the window I get to look out of is my westward-looking windows here in Oakland.  I can see the San Francisco Bay, the Bay Bridge that spans from Oakland to downtown San Francisco (4 miles) and the Golden Gate bridge.  Many evenings, there is a sunset that cannot be rivaled.

California has been suffering a terrible drought for going on six years.  There has been rain, quite a bit of rain, in the last couple of weeks.  As my Uber drove me up my street from the San Francisco airport, the landscape looked strange.  It hit me that everything was Green.  Really Green!  And because it rained on and off yesterday evening, the green was sparkling like itty bitty diamonds jumping around on leaves, on new grass. Now sixteen hours later, it is pouring cats and dogs, as we like to say in English, or I’d go outside and inspect the gardens and see all the changes.

My cat, Bijou, stayed in Paris.  She is living with a friend who has a larger apartment than I did and also has children who love cats.  When I said good bye to her on Thursday evening, everyone had a bit of a hesitant smile.  Bijou was moving around carefully, looking around each corner before she let herself into a room.  W and E looked excited but not sure how to react to her.  I taught them to clap their hands very loudly when Bijou jumps up on a counter or somewhere she shouldn’t be. As if by direction, she immediately jumped up on a kitchen counter.  I clapped very loudly, she jumped down and scampered back to the laundry room which is her temporary quarters.  Then I left and felt my heart thudding with sadness.  It didn’t seem right to make her fly two long plane flights just because I have to have surgery.

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Bijou (photo by Fatiha Antar)

Banya, on the other hand, who grew up in Oakland and moved to Paris with me is in kitty heaven.  She was an indoor/outdoor cat, became an indoor cat in Paris and never seemed to adjust.  Now she is home after a long plane ride.  She must have known she was coming home because she stayed calm and hasn’t stopped purring.

 

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I wish I had a smart closing line like Garrison Keeler and could say “and that’s the news from Oakland where all …..”  If anyone can dream up a really punchy line for me to close with, there is a small Thank You coming your way.  Until then,

A bientôt,

Sara