On July 10, the new EU regulations regarding border control were announced. It was already expected that the US would be banned from entering Europe. When we talked with Boris about it the next day, about the fact that for many countries, the doors are now open, I asked him whether he checked for details at the Finnish Border Control site and whether I should check, and he said – no, it will be just one more reason for me to be sad.
So I didn’t, but on Tuesday, July 14, I decided to check it, and to my surprise and amazement, I found out that some restrictions were relaxed. The website said that now not only families of EU citizens can visit, but also families of Finnish permanent residents can visit. I emailed Boris immediately, and Wednesday morning, we talked, and he asked whether I am coming next week.
Now, it would not be my first attempt to go. For the first time, some limitations were relaxed in May, and I booked a ticket. But since the regulations sounded very confusing – these days, the EU reinstated the concepts of internal and external borders – I sent an email to ask for clarification of what it means in my particular case. It takes a while for any officials to reply, and the response came five days later. It was long and cumbersome, but the final answer was – not from the US. I tried to rebook my ticket twice. Lufthansa was keeping canceling flights, and each time I would move it further in hopes that next month, the restrictions will be relaxed. Last time, I didn’t rebook for a new date, but canceled, because I didn’t have high expectations about allowing the US nationals in the near future.
I wanted to be sure that this time around, I understood everything correctly, so I asked my friend from Helsinki to call the Border Control on my behalf. They told her that it’s not up to them, and since I will be entering the EU in Germany, the German border control will decide, and I need to check with Germans on what kind of documentation they need.
The German regulations were stricter. First, I thought that I would be considered a transfer, and in that case, they do not care. But then I realized that they would be letting me into the EU. They allowed the family members of the permanent residents as well, but in contrast to Finland, not just “any relatives,” but strictly immediate family. That didn’t matter to me, but I noted that Finns were OK even with “romantic relationships,” while Germans were not. Their website also stated that they would allow it “only for an important reason,” not “just visiting.”
On Thursday, I rebooked my canceled flight for July 22, the first one available after Monday. I still had lots of doubts about whether I will be able to go, but Boris said we are not changing plans. Meanwhile, the Finnish border control published additional comments on the regulations, reiterating that the US is a high-risk zone, and any travel can be allowed only as an exception.
That being said, I only told my children and mom, and we made plans for how the kids will take care of mom when I am away if I will actually go. The other two people were my neighbor and my CTO, and I didn’t even put the PTO requests in advance.
Tuesday night, I tried to check-in online, and it all went well except for the final step, at which I go an error message “transfer not allowed.” Frantically, I called Lufthansa, they checked my reservation and said that all is good except for I need to show the proof of my eligibility to fly before they can issue me a boarding pass. That’s when I realized that Boris was right, and the actual border control was happening here.
The airport terminal was empty except for the line to LH check-in. While in the line, I saw one lady receiving a boarding pass and another lady to whom they were saying: No, no, sorry, no. Other people were showing their papers, and some were sent away. When my turn came, I gave the LH attendant my papers, he looked at them, grabbed them along with my passport, and said: I need to check with his supervisor. I waited. He came back, said OK, scanned my passport, looked at the screen, grabbed all my papers again, and walked away. And only after he returned the second time, he asked: do you have any luggage to check-in? I had none. I had my pilot case and my computer backpack, but except for computers, I had just three t-shirts, three pairs of socks, and three underwear pieces. All because I was so unsure whether I will fly. And now it was happening!