Travelling Internationally Again

So with all the preparation of what I thought it would be like to travel in the time of Covid, I don’t think I was quite as prepared for what I encountered on my trip to Egypt.  I learned a few things as I travelled for the first time as countries start to open up.  

1. Give yourself plenty of time 

2. Really understand what’s required for your trip 

3. Be prepared for the ultimate disappointment or some panic 

4. Ultimately, confusion is the norm 

Give yourself plenty of time 

As I was departing from San Diego, I really didn’t think it would be all to busy or crowded.  I assumed there would many San Diegans excited with the return of travel but I was also travelling in June and this was still early in the reopening process so I assumed it would still be fairly quiet.  I was wrong.   

Since I was travelling internationally, I wasn’t able to check in online and had to go to the check in desk.  I didn’t mind as I had given myself 3 hours before departure just in case there was a line and just in case I ran into problems with anything that might be needed for my trip that I had missed.  I’m so glad I did.   

Know what’s required for your trip 

Check in was a mess.  It seemed like there was an unusually greater number of people who were forced to check in at the desks vs. the self service kiosks and that was causing a delay of checking passengers in as well as some panicked people who were cutting it a little close to their departure time.  As I was checking in, I thought I had everything I would need. I had read the requirements from the Egyptian Embassy as well as news sources so I thought I had checked and double checked all the documents.

As I was called, I was asked for my passport…check. 

Then my Covid 19 PCR test…check.  

Then my visa to Egypt…check.   

Then I was asked for my declaration form…wait what?  I thought I had checked and double checked everything but obviously I hadn’t.  The woman helping me was looking through her system and the American Airlines system was showing what was required from passengers for the flight.  The form was asking for all the basic info that was already asked when I applied for my E Visa as well as info for the needed health insurance so I’m not sure if the AA system was outdated, if it was new updated info, or if I just missed it.  She asked if I had access to the lounge to print it and let me pass but warned me to have it before I got on my international leg or I wouldn’t be allowed to fly.

Unfortunately, the printer in the lounge in San Diego was out of order so I had to scamper during my hour layover (because the incoming flight was delayed over an hour) at DFW to get it printed. By the time I got to the gate at DFW, I was covered in sweat and the plane was beginning to board.  

I can honestly say I was very lucky that I had the resources to address this but if I didn’t, I don’t know what I would have done.  

Be prepared for ultimate disappointment or panic 

So by the time I finally made it to the gate at DFW, I was tired, sweaty, and mentally done.  I was already concerned about making the flight because of the delay, I had scrambled to get my paperwork since the lounges were at capacity and there was an extensive waitlist, and I still hadn’t had a chance to eat anything all day.  I was pretty ready to get on board and veg out for a while.   

As I was walking toward the gate, I heard my name called over the PA for a “document check”.  I wasn’t quite sure what was needed this time since AA had checked all my documents before I was allowed to check in for my flight from San Diego.  I thought I was in the clear.  As I made it to the front, the lady asked for my PCR Covid test.  I handed it over and thought that would be it.   

She then disappeared into the back and came back to tell me that my test wasn’t valid since it didn’t have either a stamp or a QR code.  I tried to explain that the test I took was a PCR test and that the results were emailed to me and that there was no waiting around for any sort of official stamp.  I even showed her the email that I received from the testing site to show exactly what I received.  All she could tell me was that there was a testing site about 10 mins away (this is in Dallas) and that they could get the results back in about an hour so that I could hopefully make it back for the 2nd flight that night.  After that, she kept referring to her boss and that whatever questions I had, I should ask him since he was the ultimate authority.  

I walked over to his counter, with what I can only assume was the most confused look on my face, and he said the same thing.  Again, I showed him the email with the results and told him that I didn’t understand what he meant by my results needing a stamp since the results are emailed.  He then went to ask someone else (not sure what this person’s role is) and came back and said that he would accept it.   

I don’t need to tell you that I was sweating bullets.  To be honest, if I had been forced to get another test in Dallas, I think I would have just abandoned the entire trip and either just gone somewhere else or just gone home.  I felt totally defeated since I thought I had done everything correctly and yet I was running into roadblocks.   

**Upon reflection, my only thought would be is to print out the test results in COLOR (which is what I did upon arrival in Doha).  That way you COULD say that the test results were not a copy and that the stamp (which my result DID have but might be considered generic) would be valid.  I’m not entirely sure how else you would get your test results unless you were standing around waiting for the lab to give you the results on the spot.  If the reason for the denial is because you printed out the result, then I’m not sure how anyone would be eligible to enter.** 

It’s a different time for sure.

Confusion Reigns Supreme 

So you know that “declaration form” that I was asked about in San Diego and required for my flight before entry?  Well that’s true but that form was also provided by the airline on my flight from Doha to Cairo.  When I asked another American (later in the trip) about the form and if she had any problems she said that she had no issues and that it was provided to her on the flight into Cairo as well (and she flew a different carrier than I did).  

Oh, and that Covid test at DFW that was “invalid”?  The official in Cairo took a look at it, made sure it was the correct type of test (PCR) and quickly let me through.  The official in Cairo spent seconds to look at the test result while the gate attendants at DFW spent a good 15 minutes.   

This isn’t to blame anyone.  This is to say that as the world starts to open up, countries are changing restrictions and requirements on a daily basis.  I understand that it is impossible for any person to know the latest rules and regulations for entry into every country at any time.  The employees are doing what they can, with the tools they have, and the experience they’ve gained.  It’s understandable that there will inevitably be confusion and to be honest, the employees could be doing everything by the book where the officials were being lenient.   

Airline agents are basically tasked with doing the impossible. They’re being asked to monitor every passenger with the correct paperwork before every flight. There’s no way anyone knows the entry requirements for every country especially when things change all the time. As I flew out of Cairo to Athens, it was the same story. Agents were getting flustered as passengers checking in were going anywhere from Athens to Lagos to Douala. It’s an impossible job for anyone currently.

Bottom Line 

10 hours into my trip, I realize that this is no ordinary trip.  You’ll need patience and understanding to get through any international travel.  I was following the rules and guidelines from the Egyptian embassy but the airlines were following the company guidelines.  That’s completely fair.  But it does lead to confusion and tension when travel is “new” again for all of us.   

This isn’t like travel pre Covid.  I’m lucky that I’ve been able to get this far, but I realize that the outcome could have been drastically different had I dealt with people who weren’t in the mood to help or just having a bad day themselves.  I was fortunate that I met people willing to help but this is a lesson in that travel during Covid is nothing like it was before.  

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