TRAVELING TO ITALY DURING COVID-19
Last August, Jaime and I booked our first trip back to California to visit our families after a year living in Italy. We flew out right as the northern area of Italy went into lockdown and three days before we were scheduled to fly back to Italy the entire country went into lockdown. Our flights were canceled and the U.S. Navy released instruction that we were to stay put until the middle of May. Jaime eventually received permission from his chain of command to fly back and after over a month of looking at flights, we were finally able to book flights back home. YAY!
Our original flight was supposed to be Los Angeles to Heathrow to Rome all on British Airways, but due to COVID-19, we had to book a flight from Heathrow to Rome separately with Alitalia. It’s important to note, we were only able to travel to Italy because we have residency in the country. The Alitalia website didn’t ask for residency confirmation when we booked the flights, but before we were allowed to check-in at the Alitalia counter at Heathrow we had to fill out paperwork stating our reason for traveling and provide proof of residency. I don’t know all the rules and regulations regarding traveling to other countries, but I have seen others mention that even those with Italian citizenship cannot return to Italy without residency at this time.
From picking up the rental car to arriving at the airport, every part of our travel was affected by COVID-19. Airports were empty, there was no traffic on California’s infamous 405 freeway, almost everyone was wearing a mask, and most businesses were operating with plastic separators between workers and customers. I dreaded every second of this travel anxious that our risk of becoming infected was much higher. We’re currently on day 4 of the required self-quarantine and feeling good. My eczema is finally taking a break after the most hand washing and hand sanitizer using 24 hours.
Courtesy of COVID-19, we had a private bus from the rental lot to the airport. LAX was a ghost town. Not only we were the only ones checking in at the British Airways counter, but we were the only people going through security. ONLY TWO PEOPLE GOING THROUGH SECURITY IN ALL OF LAX. How wild is that?! The only shops open in the Tom Bradley International Terminal, which usually has hundreds of flights a day, were Starbucks, Panda Express, and a convenience store. While every passenger and worker we saw in the terminal were wearing masks, we were very surprised when the British Airways flight crew showed up and not one of them was wearing a mask.
Because there were so few people on the plane, we were able to spread out and keep a 6-foot distance from one another. Everyone wore their mask the entire duration of the flight. I want to give a shout out to the essential workers who wear a mask their entire shift day in and day out. We wore our masks for 15+ hours. It wasn’t the end of the world and I am happy to do my part in lowering the risk of spreading COVID-19, but it sucked. I never want to do that again.
We were still given a warm meal service, but it was a very sad burrito given to us within the first 2 hours of the flight. We were also given bottled water, some chocolates, as many sour cream and onion pretzel snacks as we wanted (YUM!), our choice of beverage (the entire can — WOO HOO!), and water, orange juice, and apple juice were offered multiple times throughout the flight. Jaime said breakfast was also offered, but I was asleep.
We should’ve realized the British Airways flight crew not wearing masks was a foreshadow of what was to come. We stepped into Heathrow and NO ONE was wearing a mask. Not the security, not the gate agents, not the counter staff. No one. The United Kingdom has one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the world. Heathrow Airport was also a lot busier than LAX.
If you’re traveling from or within the United States, you’re now allowed to carry up to 12 oz. of hand sanitizer in your carry on. Because we had to book our flights separately last minute, we had to collect our bags at Heathrow, go through immigration, check our bags back in, and go through security again. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that our 12 oz. hand sanitizer was still in our carry on bags or that they wouldn’t be passed through Heathrow’s security. Both of our 8 oz. hand sanitizers were confiscated. UGH. Thankfully, I came ultra prepared and had one travel size and two spray hand sanitizers. I’m still upset about the two 8 oz. PURELL hand sanitizers they took. Why’d it have to be the good stuff?!
As mentioned earlier, before we were allowed to check-in at the Alitalia counter we had to fill out paperwork and provide proof of residency in Italy. The paperwork was checked again at the gate before we boarded our flight at Heathrow and at immigration in Rome. Alitalia also took everyone’s temperature and wouldn’t allow anyone with a fever to board the flight. Without our proof of residency, we would’ve been stuck in Heathrow with an expensive ticket back to the US.
We were relieved to see the Alitalia flight crew taking COVID-19 seriously. Not too surprising considering how badly Italy has been affected by COVID-19, but it did make me seriously question British Airways being so relaxed during a pandemic. Upon booking our flights and selecting our seats with Alitalia, only one seat was available per row. This was not the case when booking with British Airways, but thankfully we were able to spread out due to the emptiness of the flight. With the COVID-19 restrictions, Alitalia didn’t give out any drinks or snacks during the 3.5-hour flight from Heathrow to Rome.
Getting through the airport at Rome was mostly uneventful. Jaime actually works at the airport we flew into and has a work badge. He doesn’t have a visa or sojourner’s permit because his U.S. Navy orders suffice since they state he his stationed in Rome and for how long. The immigration officer he spoke with didn’t believe his orders or his badge and asked the immigration officer helping me if Jaime’s airport work badge was fake. HAHA. After a few minutes of convincing from my immigration officer, we were both set free to collect our bags.
We’ve since returned to our apartment safely, had groceries delivered, the dogs returned home, did a deep clean, and have been drinking lots of wine. OH, and we had gelato delivered. DUH! After spending 50+ days quarantined separately, it’s nice to be together back in our home with the pups. All around Italy you’ll find posters painted with rainbows and the words “andrà tutto bene”, which means “everything will be fine”. This poster is right across from our apartment building.
If traveling is necessary for you during COVID-19, don’t rely on the airline agents to give you all the information. Rules and regulations are changing daily as COVID-19 continues to develop. Make sure to check all the airport websites for operation changes (like changes in terminals or if your precious hand sanitizer will be confiscated) and double-check any restrictions for the country you’re flying into.
Stay safe and healthy, friends!