Getting out wasn’t easy. And yet, finally, somehow, here I am in this strange new world of deserted terminals, abandoned shops and next-level social distancing. Delta had been canceling various legs of my extended trip to Europe and the United Kingdom for months, only for me to rebook the flights just in time for them to be canceled again.
So, naturally, I’m more than a little nervous as I hand my passport to the agent. For the first time in a long time, I’m required to check in at the counter for my flight to London via Paris. Only a few hours before, France announced a new requirement for any traveler, French national or otherwise, traveling to or through the country: A negative COVID test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival to be presented to border control.
Great. With only a few hours’ notice, rapid testing wasn’t an option for me. After a few hurried phone calls, I was able to determine that, as long as I checked my bags all the way through to Heathrow, I could be exempted. However, the UK was now requiring that a three-page declaration be completed no more than 48 hours before entry. At the time of this writing, the declaration was only available online. After submitting the completed form online, a copy must be printed out and handed to border control upon arrival.
And boarding my flight wasn’t nearly as straightforward as it had been pre-pandemic. After handing over my passport, the agent also needs to see my completed form to make sure that I meet all requirements for entry into the country. Next, she makes a few additional phone calls to ensure that no further documentation is required by me. Twenty minutes later, she hands back my passport, along with boarding passes, and wishes me a safe journey.
After breezing through security (if you don’t already have TSA pre-check, I strongly recommend you get it, along with Global Entry), I make my way to the gate for the first of three flights. (This is my regional flight from Panama City Beach to Atlanta.)
Which brings me to the first of several times I ask myself, “Am I in the right place?”
A handful of masked passengers are scattered around, waiting for boarding to begin. No one says a word. You can literally hear a pin drop. There is none of the usual excitement and anticipation. Surreal. A short, few minutes later, the gate agent announces boarding will begin a couple of rows at a time and reminds us (as if we needed it) to maintain social distancing.
First Class boarding begins. There are three of us! No one is directly next to me or across from me. Shortly after sitting down, the flight attendant greets me by name, thanks me for my loyalty and apologizes that the usual pre-takeoff drink service isn’t being offered. Once in the air, she hands me a large-ish baggie containing a bottled water, a biscotti, Cheez-It crackers and hand sanitizer. I settle in for the quiet, 40-minute flight.
While deplaning in Atlanta, I glance back at coach. Empty. This is a trend that will continue. Gate after gate, empty seats. Masked travelers quietly making their way through the airport. Fortunately, what remains of Delta’s operations looks somewhat normal. Having plenty of time before making my connection, I walk from Terminal A to F, the international terminal. Deserted.
Walking into the SkyMiles lounge is like walking into my doctor’s office: Quiet and cold. Hot buffets are gone for now, too. Food is packaged to go. Neat. Orderly. Sterile. Thankfully, the bartender’s back, though.
It’s time to board my long-haul to Paris. Boarding is calm. And the Delta One Suites are awesome! The lay-flat beds are comfy, the entertainment system is great and Delta’s service is superb. Settling in, I glance around. I count seven of us. Thankfully, our flight is smooth and comfortable. Thank you, Kim, for taking such wonderful care of me!