***

Boris flew in on Friday, and it took him almost two hours to get through the immigration. He said there were just two agents for several hundred people. Then, we made a mistake. Or rather, I let this mistake happen.

Since we moved to the city, Boris said that now we do not need to take Uber to the airport because we can take L. I told him it would be a very long trip because you need to get into the city and get out again. Last time, I called Uber because we were fixing things until the last minute.

Now he mentioned it again, and I said – let’s.

Because the inner airport train is still not operating, it took us 30 minutes to get Terminal 5 to Terminal 2. And then – another two hours with all the waits! I told him – at least, it was on the way from the airport, not the other way 🙂

I hope that one experiment was enough 🙂

Traveling In The Opposite Direction

Because I was so absorbed with my move, I didn’t even tell anybody about Boris’s visit – the first time after November 2019.

He technically could come through all that time as a spouse of a US citizen. But first, there were no flights. Then, it was really bad here, and I didn’t want him to come and sit inside for a week. Later, it became possible for me to travel, and you know the rest. Boris said he didn’t want to get sick outside Finland, which I could understand.

Long story short, he felt comfortable traveling after his first dose (In Finland, due to the vaccine shortage, they have a twelve weeks interval between two doses).
Like when I traveled to Finland, he has to present the papers twice more than the number of borders he crossed. But unlike with me, one situation became very serious.

He checked -in for both flights on the way to Chicago, but just when he was about to board the plane in Frankfurt, they didn’t let him on. An official told him that B1 travelers from the Schengen zone are not allowed, and “if he were traveling from Russia, it would be fine.” Boris pleaded with him that in his case, he could travel, and in the end, they reissued him a boarding pass, and he boarded – the last passenger on the flight.

He had no problems passing the border control here, and the officer, as it often happens, was amused with our family arrangements :).

He also had to take the test on the way back, and it turned out that the only way he could do this was to come to the airport yet another hour earlier. It all worked fine, and there were no more issues. However, Boris is still bitter that the Biden administration didn’t do anything with this ridiculous situation when people can’t travel from the Schengen countries but can travel from Russia. And I agree 🙂

A Flight Back

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.

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Flying Again, And New Rules Again

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. 

But the good news are that I am here :).

How I Ended Up Being Away For Home For Thanksgiving

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! 

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Getting Back To The US

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 :).

Flying During Pandemic: Iteration Two.

This time was different from July, mostly because there were no crowds anywhere. I had my boarding passes issued online for all flights in both directions. There were no lines on the check-in.

On the way back, I had a connection in Munich, a very short one, once again, no problems, no delays.

The flights both ways had lots of unoccupied seats, so I could take three seat in a row to sleep (I didn’t sleep much, but still :)).

My only resentment is that they only serve vegetarian these days, since they can’s afford having multiple options, so it’s always pasta. With carrots 🙂

Departure

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).

This will be a very quarantined stay:)

Flying Back

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. 

Continue reading “Flying Back”