I have only one more thing to tell you about my trip to Helsinki, that is about the flight back.
During my pandemic travels, I learned that I need to plan whether I am going to eat on each of the flights. My flight from Helsinki departed at 7-20 AM, which means we left the house at 5 AM, and I didn’t have breakfast. When I was checking in, they told me that the flight is “almost full” (and for that reason, they checked my luggage, even though I had the “light” fair). That meant that I didn’t want to take my mask off on the plane, so I bought my breakfast at the airport and ate it in the far corner of the cafe.
It turned out that it was the right call to go back to the medical center and ask to fix the typos in my name: the certificate was checked at least four times! And each time, whoever checked it, verified my name on the certificate against my passport.
Lufthansa rules. They are making sure people do not sit together if they are not related. And this is way more important than having three different choices of meals (Lufthansa still has pasta with carrots:)). They allow only surgical masks on the flight and during onboarding/disembarkment. I am happy that this time, I checked that it is LH, not United!
Remembering my last time experience, I decided to prepay for the seats (the ticket price was insane already, in any case). When I was choosing the seats, I felt a little bit nervous when I saw that almost all the seats are open, but it turned out that they are closing the seats adjoined to the selected seats. And they changed my preselected seat on the second flight to make sure people are set sparsely, even in the smaller plain. Good for them!!!
For the long flight, I chose the aisle seat in the middle section. I was taking notes during my previous flights, and I observed that there are higher chances that the will be no more people in the row if I sit in the middle section. It worked perfectly. There was one more lady in the same section (s seat apart from me), but she switched to the other empty section, so I had three seats for myself. In combination with the fact that there was no good internet connectivity, this extra space allowed me to have several hours of sleep.
All the procedures changed again. It feels like each time I am flying I have to present my marriage certificate one more time. This time, it was four times: at the Lufthansa check-in in O’Hare, when crossing the border in Frankfurt, when boarding the plane in Frankfurt to Helsinki and in Helsinki. There is an additional makeshift border control point at terminal 2, right when you get off the bus. Also, they do not do a free COVID test in the airport; instead, they require you to have the negative test with you when you arrive, and then they ask you to take the test three days after arrival.
There is no way to take it for free, as I found out, so I will only take the test to be allowed to board my flight back.
First, we were planning for a very small Thanksgiving, even probably in shifts. Even back in September, Boris and I were talking about him finally coming our way. By that time, I felt sort of in control of the situation and was sure that I know how to navigate the current situation, how to be safe, and what we can and can’t do.
The last time Boris saw anybody except myself was last November, and he never saw Kira. So we drafted a plan, how to connect “in shifts,” and then cases started to rise, and then I think we all just got scared and were afraid that “it can become worse.” We all talked to each other for hours, and I am not sure who finally convinced me, but the result is that I am now in Helsinki.
I got the ticket just five days before departure, and I booked it at the Lufthansa website directly, thereby not paying attention to who operates the flight. And even when I received my reservation confirmation, I didn’t look into details – there was a Lufthansa logo on the reservation email.
On Sunday evening, when I realized that the check-in email didn’t arrive, I went to the Lufthansa website, and to my horror, saw the message: redirecting to the United website! Only then I realized that the flight number starts from UA!
I am speechless … Yesterday, only after I passed the border control at ORD and was waiting for my luggage, I realized that I was not sent through the health check, and I didn’t fill in the form with my phone and email address. The CDC does not trace returning international passengers anymore. While I was standing at the carousel, a lady in the airport service uniform handed me a card, which advised me to exercise normal caution. There was no public announcement about these changes, so I went to the us.gov website to check. It turned out – yes, the quarantine is not required “unless you participated in high-risk activities.”
Then I want to check what else has changed.
And guess what I found! All the Schengen countries are still on the list, meaning you can’t enter the US unless you have family or other compelling reasons to be here. The list includes (and mind you, the list was updated in September!) China, UK, and Ireland, all Schengen zone and Brazil. Period. Russia is still not on the list, but Finland is. Argentina and Columbia are not,
Oh, and funny thing. Last time, nobody asked me what I am bringing; the only important thing was temperature control. This time, both border control and customs asked me in detail, what I was doing in Finland, why I was in Finland, what I am bringing back, whether I have any food except for chocolate, and the total value of the clothes I brought back. When I told Anna, she asked whether they believed me :).
That time around, everything was different than back in July. First, Lufthansa allowed me to get a boarding pass online. Second, there was virtually no line to the LH counter in the airport. Third, the Terminal ! was packed with people!
also, now they do not allow masks with filters on board. I knew that it might be a case, so I bought a pack of KN95, and used four of them on the flights.
The documentation is still required, but this time, they didn’t consult the supervisor, but just marked me in. It’s so funny: we married for the only reason to make sure Boris can visit us here, no matter what. And the only time I really needed to use this document was for my entrance to Finland 🙂
Another new thing: even thought my passport was stamped in Frankfurt, they sent me to the border control again in Helsinki. So I had to show papers for the third time, and then they gave me instructions to quarantine, and I also went to take a COVID test (total extra time – about 40 minutes, free of charge).
There are way fewer international flights than normal these days, and the ones who are operating are pretty crowded. At least, the European ones.
My flight to Frankfurt was at 6-30 AM. Usually, I am trying to avoid that flight, because it is way too early, but this time it was the only option. In normal times, Boris would insist that there is no reason to arrive at the airport before 5-30, even if I want to shop duty-free, and even if I need to drop off the luggage. Oh, and about the luggage. I had a “light” airfare, which means – carry-on only, and as I’ve mentioned, I came to Helsinki with an almost empty suitcase. I thought that even if I buy some clothes, it will still fit. But then, I ended up buying more for my girls. It was a gradual process. First, I was not even sure whether I will do any shopping, then I did some, and then I thought that god-only-knows when I would be able to come again, and then I thought that I could buy en extra luggage :).
Boris favored that idea, and we ended up buying a very nice duffle bag, which could be converted to the backpack. I used it to pack the clothes, and also some yogurts. I started to smuggle dairy products from Finland in my luggage some time ago, which worked great.
I tried to check-in online, and as expected, got the message that the boarding pass could be issued only at the airport. We agreed that we will plan to be there at about 5-10. That meant getting up at 3-45 and taking a cab, but that would be unavoidable in any case.
When we entered the terminal, we saw a huge line. People were trying to maintain the distance, so the line became very long and spiraling.
In case you are wondering how it is to travel in these crazy times, here is how it went. The First Terminal of ORD was pretty empty. After the check-in line (which was long but very socially distant and everything), I went to the TSA, and there was nobody before or after me. They have glass shields in front of each officer, and they asked me to take the mask off for just a couple of seconds, and then I went to have my luggage scanned, and I was also scanned, all as usual, just very fast since there is no wait.
There were very few people in the Terminal, some cafes open, others closed. I didn’t get any food because I was still feeling nervous and could barely eat since morning.
The notoriously long Lufthansa boarding line was also shorted, although the aircraft was far from being empty. They left the middle seats unoccupied, and also there was almost nobody in the first and business class. But more of the other seats were filled.
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.