Our Journey Home During a Global Pandemic

As some already know, we’ve officially moved back to the States now. We decided months ago that with all the uncertainty in the world, it was the best thing for us. 

You can obviously imagine that returning home required some travel during a global pandemic, which was quite the experience. There were some aspects that I expected and others that were a big surprise. I thought it would be interesting to share what we went through and what things are being done that may become part of the new normal for traveling

To begin with, we headed to the Madrid Barajas airport on Wednesday morning. We took an Uber as to make our trip with eight total bags a bit easier. After having a lovely Spanglish conversation with our driver, who was from Peru, we arrived.

Ghost town vibes

The first thing that was very striking to me was just how empty the airport was. I was expecting to see less people, of course, but there were literally only two employees working at the British Airways desk. 

There was one line of people who all ended up being on our flight, and no one else in sight. Almost all of the stores and restaurants in the airport were closed up. This place that’s usually bustling with people coming and going all over the world was like a ghost town. I kept mentioning to Jacob that it felt like we were in a movie, being in a big airport with barely any people who all had masks on. It was a weird feeling!

We boarded our first flight that would take us to London. As we walked onto the plane, we were handed a small packet containing a sanitization wipe, hand gel and a plastic bag to discard those items after use. We were instructed to use them at our seat, even though the plane was already cleaned and sanitized before we boarded.  

We noticed that only about 70% of the plane was full. I can’t say I was disappointed about that. 

New rules

As usual, the crew handed out snacks during the flight. However, instead of giving a choice of drink or snack, they gave everyone pre-packaged kits that had chips, cookies and a bottle of water in a thin plastic bag. 

While we understand the need to keep everything as sanitized as possible, Jacob made a good point that all of these efforts were increasing the use of plastic. An unfortunate, but necessary part of travel right now, but hopefully some alternatives can be found moving forward

We had a layover in London for about an hour and a half. The situation at the airport in there was pretty similar to Madrid. Most things were closed and there were a fraction of the usual number of people you’d expect to see. 

Of course masks were worn for the entirety of both flights and while in the airport. We noticed quite a range of people when it came to this rule. We saw the woman wearing a mask and gloves, cleaning all the seats at the gate and yelling at her kids if they touched anything. Then we also saw the people who refused to wear their masks correctly or at all on the plane and had to be told several times by flight staff to fix them. 

We noticed a few minor differences on our flight from London to New York. For starters, Rather than serving a hot meal with a choice of at least two different dishes, there were cold, prepackaged meals and the only option was vegetarian or non-vegetarian. We asked the flight attendant what each option consisted of and he told us he had no idea, that they just received the packages and were told that it was vegetarian or non-vegetarian. 

We both chose the non-vegetarian and received a small chicken salad sandwich on a bun, chickpea salad and brownie pudding. I had no complaints about the food and thought it was pretty comparable to other airplane meals, which seem to be always improving, in my opinion.

The flight attendants walked through the aisles much less often and they required everyone to stay in their seats unless using the bathroom. In addition, people weren’t allowed to form a line for the bathroom either, another rule I had no problem with. 

Health screening

We were given another small meal that was prepackaged and came with a bottle of water. After eating again and finishing up my third movie of the trip, a member of the flight crew made an announcement that we would be landing in about an hour and according to the United States Department of Health, we all needed to fill out a form that included our names, final destination in the States and whether or not we had any symptoms. 

We were informed that these documents were to be taken very seriously and must be filled out correctly before we disembarked the plane. They said we would have our temperature taken immediately to be recorded on the form and if any part of the form was filled out incorrectly, we would not be allowed to get off the airplane. 

Of course, we did as we were told and answered everything as accurately and thoroughly as possible. After we landed and waited about a half an hour for everything to be set up for us to leave the plane, we grabbed our bags and headed into the airport. 

As soon as we stepped off the plane, there was a man waiting to collect our forms. We handed them to him and he motioned for us to continue walking down the hall. At the very end, standing in the doorway to the airport, were two men taking everyone’s temperatures. They took our’s and told us to go inside. 

This was the entire screening process. 

Our temperatures were not recorded on our forms, we were not asked any questions or to confirm any information. The individuals performing the screenings barely said 5 words to us and it lasted about one minute. 

I’m not sure if I was glad it was done so quickly or concerned that the process seemed a bit unorganized and poorly executed. Either way, we went through customs, grabbed our bags and found my mom waiting outside with a “welcome home” sign for us. 

Overall, the whole experience felt slightly different than what you’d normally see, but not as different as I thought. This makes me hopeful for the future that things will go back to mostly normal. I expect the cleaning and sanitization procedures will continue as people will probably be naturally more concerned about these things, but hopefully in the future the rules will loosen back up.

Being back home is already proving to require some adjusting. The transition is not as seamless as I thought it would be, even though I’ve lived the first 24 years of my life here. In some ways, things are similar here to Spain and in others, they couldn’t be more different. In time I will feel at home again, but for now it’s great to be back around my family (although, not too close until the 14 day self-quarantine period is over).

Have you had to travel somewhere during COVID-19? What was your experience like?

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I am a 25 year old American girl trying to see the entire world with my travel partner/boyfriend, Jacob. We find beauty in the biggest and smallest places and the journey it takes to get there.

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