Traveling overseas during Covid

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Traveling overseas during Covid

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My wife and I decided to travel to Greece immediately after the initial lockdown and when the travel restrictions were lifted. It was a difficult decision to take such a long trip during the pandemic, and especially since we had to travel through Germany in order to get to our final destination. Restrictions varied among countries, and the fear of another lockdown before returning to the United States made our trip quite stressful. Despite the circumstances, we decided to follow through with our plans because my wife needed to get a medical procedure done, and the doctor of her choice operates in Greece. After checking and double-checking all the required travel documents, we found out that we needed to provide negative Covid tests at the airport in Chicago in order to board the plane. It was unclear whether we would need to take another Covid test in Germany and upon arriving to Greece, but we both got our tests and headed to O’Hare international airport.
When we entered the airport, we couldn’t believe the long lines ahead of us. We made sure to get there 3 hours before our scheduled flight, and we waited in line so we could show proof of our test results. After a 40-minute wait, it was finally our turn. We handed in our tests and waited patiently while the lady at the desk was looking at them with a perplexed look on her face. “You can’t get on this flight”, she said. “Your tests expired 30 minutes ago. You need to get new tests”, she added. We were stunned since we had both gotten out tests the day before, and the rules stated that the tests would be valid for 24 hours. The airline employee was telling us that we had missed the 24-hour deadline by half an hour.
When we realized that the rule was very strict and there was no way we could get on the plane without taking new tests, we found out that we could get tested at the airport and get the results within 20-30 minutes. We both rushed to get new tests, but we were surprised to find out that the cost was $200 for each test. That was an added expense of $400 that we hadn’t planned for, the trip was very expensive, and we also had to pay for my wife’s medical bills in Greece. It was Wednesday evening, we would arrive in Greece on Thursday evening, and my wife’s appointment at the hospital was Friday morning. If we didn’t make that flight, we wouldn’t arrive in Greece on time for my wife’s scheduled operation. We had no choice but to get tested.
While all of that was happening, time was going by and there was a risk we wouldn’t make it to our flight on time. My wife got so overwhelmed and stressed out that at some point she sat on her suitcase and started crying in the middle of the airport. I gathered all my strength and patience and helped her get up and pull it together so we could run for the tests, get the results, and run back to check in. At that point I realized that we weren’t the only ones going through that situation. There was chaos around us, people arguing with employees, getting upset and shouting, other people crying, people who didn’t speak English and were trying to figure out what to do, families with kids running around frantically, and everyone was complaining that the rules hadn’t been clear. It was a huge mess, and we were in the midst of all that trying to get everything done.
We were able to get on a different flight that night, and we made it to Greece safely and on time for my wife’s hospital appointment. When I reflect back, I realize that there was indeed a lack of clear rules, and the whole situation could have been avoided if the airlines had provided more accurate guidelines. I have traveled internationally hundreds of times in my life, but I had never experienced anything like that before. I understand that the situation was new for everyone involved, and when I think back, I don’t get upset about it anymore, but that was definitely one of the most stressful travels I have ever had.

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This item was submitted on July 16, 2023 by Petros Dragoumis using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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