(In Pic above, Mumbai Airport, 31st August 2020 after midnight)
Hey hey, I reached home all safe and sound just yesterday :) Sharing my experience for those of you who are just as apprehensive as I was (or more) about how everything is going to turn out whilst embarking on an international (intercontinental) flight during COVID.
A short Background of my Travel:
I was on a 5 week vacation to India, to visit my folks. But then came the pandemic with a massive nationwide-lockdown. My return flight was cancelled and further flights were not confirmed as I was living in Maharashtra (the state with the maximum number of infections in India). After some more city-specific lockdowns and a six month extended stay in India, I booked my return flight.
The Specifics of my Travel:
My original return flight was through Lufthansa. They enabled a free re-booking till 31st August, which was carried out over their hotline.
I am a German Citizen
which complied with Germany's current entry requirement. (When I came, tourists were not allowed to enter. Only people with long term Visa's were. The rules also keep changing every few weeks). So please check up the official site of the country for further information:
Preparing for my Flight:
- Only an 8 kilo allowance for the cabin bag, inclusive of the personal belongings (and weight of the bag itself) is the new rule.
- A printed copy of the travel ticket was required (as usual) for entering Mumbai Airport.
- I only had to do an online check-in 23 hours prior. There was no need to pull out my mobile phone after entering the airport. As a boarding card was handed to me after I showed my passport at the check-in desk.
- No PCR Test prior to the flight was required by Lufthansa, unlike Air-France. But I needed to register for a test on arrival at the airport. A link for which was sent to me a day before my flight by Lufthansa.
Two weeks prior to my flight, I wrote to the 'Gesundheitsamt' (Health Department) of my city. They are the go-to people when you are not sure about what are the current rules and expectations on arrival in Germany. States in Germany differ in their regulations regarding Corona, that is why it is best to directly contact the health department of your final destination.
They informed me, that on reaching my home in Germany, it was compulsory to let the regional health department or that of the city know over telephone or email that I had arrived. Also, as I returned from a high risk zone, it was obligatory for me to submit my test results over E-mail immediately after receiving them.
For future travel, I can give you an example of how to find the correct health department contact for you: For example, I live in the city of Braunschweig. So I typed 'Gesundheitsamt Braunschweig' in the search, checked their 'contact' information and simply wrote an email to them saying I was to arrive and requested them to let me know what I needed to follow. Or type in the name of the state your destination belongs to. Braunschweig is in 'Lower Saxony' (Niedersachsen is the German name), so you can type 'Gesundheitsamt Niedersachen' in your search, to derive the relevant contact information.
-If you are travelling on the other route, namely Germany to India, I would recommend the experiences of a school friend of mine (in link below). She traveled shortly before I did and I found her blogpost utmost helpful to prepare for my own flight: https://travelduringpandemic.blogspot.com/2020/08/traveling-in-time-of-corona-august2020.html
My Checklist for Flight-Travel with Lufthansa during Pandemic
1. Take a tiny sanitizer bottle with you (was recommended by a friend). Came in handy multiple times.
2. Keep a pen on you, as before arrival on your destination, you probably need to fill out a form or two.
3. If you are only taking one flight (I can only speak for Lufthansa right now) like I did, carrying 2 face-masks is enough (If you manage to eat and drink without getting your mask dirty). As just before boarding, the airline will supply you with an entire travel-safety kit, including two masks for the flight (for more details read below in flight experience)
4. I recommend keeping a small plastic bag to put away/ store used masks.
My Experience at Mumbai Airport
-Before entering the airport, passport and printed ticket were checked via a plexi glass screen. Also Body Temperature was controlled.
-They ensured social distancing everywhere, from lines to seating for the gates. Also sanitizers were available at every second turn.
-Mask at all times is compulsory.
-Keep your boarding card handy. After the Immigration counter, no one will ask for your passport. Only the boarding card :)
Two points bothered me: As I have extensively worked in lab research (before pursuing a career the film industry), I am well versed in sterilization and sanitation.
1. The personnel, who was at the check-in counter were wearing gloves. They were not using a sanitizer after handling the passports of each passenger, which I find improper. Because, the gloves will protect the person wearing them, but will themselves act as a carrier for the virus. I really wish people wearing gloves at work are informed about this important detail.
2. When the trays were passed for security check- the officers present did not touch the trays, instead used a plank to push them forward, which is correct for their safety. But the trays were not sanitized after use for the next person. According to me, it would be important to spray the trays with disinfectant after each use, as we have to remove our laptops, hard-drives and cosmetics to keep in the trays.
Safety measures for the flight and flying
(At the Gate in Mumbai)
(Just before Boarding)
Each of us was handed a flight package with a face shield, two masks, a white coat and a bottle of sanitizer. I felt super protected, the moment I wore the face shield :)
On the flight social distancing was not carried out in economy class, specially for window seats. The people seated in the middle row were luckier. As one person sat on each end and the seats in between them were free. I was lucky after take off, as the person seated next to me went to grab the only free seat in the middle row. Lucky me :)
All food items were given wrapped in plastic. Just after take off they distributed cake/ sandwiches and drinks. Two hours before landing we received a heavy asian meal with Idli-Sambar, yogurt, fruits and buns.
I kept sanitizing my hands often. Explicitly before all meals and absolutely no touching the hands to the face or hair.
On landing, they called out row-wise, so that people would not rush to get out. So, social distancing was maintained.
The flight attendants were exceptionally calm and friendly in this tough situation. I really respect their efforts.
Arrival in Germany and Covid Test
- Those of us getting off in Germany were to fill in an 'Aussteiger Karte' (Public Health Passenger Locator Form), which were provided by the cabin crew. You can find the form on link below: https://www.rki.de/DE/Content/Infekt/IGV/Aussteigekarte_Fluggast_EN.pdf?__blob=publicationFile
The forms were collected just before landing by the air-hostess.
- On landing, the Passport control was electronic (to know if your passport is bio-metric, check the tiny camera symbol on its cover)
-We were to discard the masks and face shields before leaving the terminal in Bio-Hazard bins.
- The test was available at the airport itself. It was a smooth procedure and I was out within 20 minutes. (do not forget to register at least a day prior)
- After which I was to head directly home and abide by quarantine awaiting the test results. So I took the train and then the bus.
(out of my train Window :))
The test results came some 8 hours later over email. I am negative and according to information provided by the health department of my city, quarantine is no more needed :)
Just to be sure that the flight journey was secure as well, I have talked to a friend of mine, who is a doctor in Germany and decided to not to mingle with people till the coming weekend. But I did go for a walk today! My loving friends and neighbors have prepared a generous Quarantine Package for me, so I am enjoying being back home :)
I must admit, I was very scared a few days before I took the flight, but the the smooth flow of procedures at the airport, the confidence and calmness of flight staff and the precautions taken throughout made me feel quite safe. I would not really recommend taking a flight during the pandemic, as social distancing is not maintained on board. But if you must, be assured that the air-travel industry is giving their best to make it the safest possible venture for you.