I watched with mounting anxiety as my friend, Jen Veech, posted pictures of herself in Ireland on social media as the news was mounting that there would potentially be a travel ban on flights from Europe to the U.S. I couldn’t believe she actually followed through and went on her trip! She said if her flight had left two days later she wouldn’t have gone.
Jen, and her girlfriend Jenna, had planned a 10 day trip to Ireland, and wanted to be in Dublin to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. They left on March 10th, 2020 flying from JFK to Dublin and then traveling from Dublin to Cork. Just a day before, on March 9th, the WHO declared the spread of the coronavirus a pandemic, and the world around them was changing rapidly.
Ireland Travel and Gathering Restrictions
Even on their first day, Ireland had started enforcing some public restrictions on large gatherings of 100 or more people. Jen contacted the United States Embassy in Dublin so they would be sure to get any updates on more travel restrictions and especially flights back to the U.S.
Jen and Jenna were still able to see the Shandon Bells & Tower St Anne’s Church, (which she highly recommends!) A few other tourist attractions were still open to visitors and they enjoyed a pub in Cork.
Tourist Stops Close to Visitors
However, while they were in Cork things were changing rapidly and soon all tourist stops and most pubs closed to visitors. They were disappointed they would not be able to see the Cliffs of Moher, and when they got to the Guinness factory, back in Dublin, it too had closed to public tours. On March 12th Jen decided to try to get through on the recommended text line for Delta changes and cancellations but was not able to get through.
On March 14th, they were in Dublin when tensions really started rising and they could only find one pub open. This was also the day that president Trump added Ireland and the UK to the U.S. travel ban. They were scheduled to fly back by way of Amsterdam on the 20th of March, and she got a notification that flight was cancelled. Jen had been waiting for their 72-hour window that Delta had recommended waiting to call due to the high volume of people needing assistance.
Finding a Flight Home During the Travel Ban
She decided it was time to start looking for flights home NOW, and tried Delta text number yet again. She got through this time and was texting with an agent at Delta and seemed to be making progress when suddenly the texts stopped. She discovered she had been kicked back to the start of the automated system. It wasn’t until the next day that she got through on the phone line.
The Delta agent helping her said she would look for flights for she and Jenna to get back to the U.S. When she came back from a long hold the agent said they could get on a flight on the 20th and they would even save $3.60. Jen felt that something was off, so she said, “But that’s when we were originally supposed to fly home, I don’t understand.” There was a pause from the agent who then said, “This is for April 20th.” Immediately Jen was on edge, could they not find any flights back to the U.S. sooner than that? With only one pub still opened and everything around them closing quickly, plus new developments and flight bans each day she needed to find a flight home as soon as possible!
She let the agent know, and tried to remain calm. The agent apologized and said she would get her supervisor to try to see if they could get them home sooner. When she came back on the line she let Jen know that there was a flight leaving in the morning from Dublin to JFK and a connecting flight from JFK to Minneapolis with two seats for them. What a relief!
They were still worried about what it would be like to travel at a time like this, and if the U.S. travel ban would have any impact on them such as being screened or quarantined.
The women arrived at the airport in Dublin, checked in and went through customs. They were each given a form to fill out before they landed at JFK. On the form were questions about where they had traveled and how they were feeling.
“Tension was higher than normal but people were calm,” Jen said of the atmosphere in the airport. If someone coughed or sneezed they and everyone around them were definitely aware of it and moved away to keep a safe distance. Many people were wearing face masks. Global entry at the Dublin airport was shut down. She said other than the heightened awareness of anyone coughing or sneezing and the masks nothing else was different with her actual flight. The flight attendants were very courteous and the flight was good overall.
Special Deplaning Instructions from the CDC
When they landed at JFK the pilot came on and announced that they should remain seated for special deplaning instructions from the CDC. They were told that the CDC would be scanning them with a temperature gun for any fever, if they were scanned at a normal temperature they would be given a card that they needed to keep with them if they had a connecting flight. The card also had instructions on it in case they were to develop any of the coronavirus symptoms.
When entering JFK and finding their connecting flight gate they realized that all of the restaurants were closed, chairs taken away, except for take away food. This left people sitting crammed together at their gates to eat or await their next flight. With a four-hour layover the two women retreated to the Delta Sky Lounge to avoid being in such close contact with other passengers.
During the rest of their travel they had no other special forms or coronavirus scans. They went from JFK to Minneapolis, where they live, and have quarantined themselves for the next 14 days and are doing well.
For many people hearing that a travel ban has been issued can be very anxiety provoking. A lot of us wonder what it really means, and if people would be forced into a quarantine at a hospital or hotel. It turns out, that rarely happens, and only if you are showing symptoms. Especially for travelers trying to get to their home country. The vast majority of travelers are making it to their destinations without much more than a form to fill out, and a quick temperature scan.
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