Travel Log: First business trip since the pandemic began
On March 13th, 2020, the world was shutting down and I (along with several other colleagues) was about to be stuck in Europe. We snuck out just in time and went immediately into quarantine “for a few weeks”. International travel was subsequently not happening for the next 15 months, for anybody at AdvantageCS, until recently.
As the first ACS-er to travel abroad for work since this all happened, I’ve been asked to keep a captain’s log of my journey. What follows is a description of my movements and observations, with minor embellishments where required to maintain readership.
Before the trip
The new rules for France (my destination of choice) as of June 9th require proof of vaccination and a negative Covid test (namely, A PCR test within 72 hours or an antigen test within 48 hours). Having been vaccinated over two months ago I had my card, which was of course smudged within an hour of getting it (I have 4 children).
For the test, I went to my friendly neighborhood urgent care the day before leaving. Within 20 minutes I had the results and the all-clear.
Check-in by app wasn’t allowed (presumably because they needed to verify my documents). When I got to the airport, the line to check in was pretty long but as a dad I have a natural instinct for arriving way-too-early at the airport, so I was in good shape. They took my temperature and checked my documents - the only thing I was worried about was whether they would give me grief about the test results, which were printed off a webpage and didn’t look particularly official.
She ultimately gave me the green light (in the form of this easily-forgeable sticker on my passport, which didn’t exactly inspire much confidence in the process):
I asked her if they had been turning a lot of people away due to missing paperwork--she said they have been, but they hadn’t had any rejects for the current flight.
After going through security, my next step is always to head down to the Chick-Fil-A at the end of the concourse, but I discovered it was closed--another loss of the pandemic, it seems--as if we haven’t sacrificed enough…
The plane was about two-thirds full, but I ended up being the only one in my row: a huge win.
The flight itself was easy--you get used to wearing a mask the whole time. Come to think of it, pre-pandemic it was never pleasant to think about what kind of air my fellow 200 humans were breathing out all around me, so having a mask was kind of a comfort.
They asked us to limit the number of times we got up and walked around, and to change our masks ‘every four hours’ (though I don’t think anyone did).
Upon arrival, the line for customs was shorter than usual. The guy in front of me was arguing with the agent about the timing of his PCR test, which made me nervous. But when it was my turn, I handed them my info and she didn’t even check my test. And just like that, I’m in!
Life in France
Having been to France many times for work, this time definitely had a different feel. The masks are still very much a thing, indoors and outdoors, and are enforced pretty rigidly. France has a traditionally tactile culture, but these days even vaccinated people don’t do the kiss-on-the-cheeks greeting, or even shake hands. It’s been replaced by a Namaste-like bow where we acknowledge each other.
Still, the French find ways to enjoy life, share meals, and make delicious carbohydrate-based foods.
(Left; Distanced meal with my colleague, Philippe van Mastrigt, on the Rue St.
Georges, in Rennes.)
(Shown below: Some of those delicious carbohydrate-based foods; the offices of Ouest France, which I was visiting; all the different editions of that day's newspapers.)
The other thing that struck me is how much these folks love QR codes. I had to bust out my phone to get a menu at a restaurant, access test results, check in at a hotel, etc. When they came by to check tickets on the train, they scanned my watch--it’s the future, man.
I had to get tested before coming back too, which was a bit tricker because I don’t know how to do anything health-related in France. A contact at Ouest France graciously set up an appointment to get me tested, and within 72 hours of departure, we went to this glorified trailer (it wasn’t particularly glorified, to be honest) on the side of the road.
The nurse did the nasopharyngeal swab (aka the Brain Tickler) for way longer than they did for my tests in the States. My discomfort must have been obvious because at the end, she said: “It feels good once it’s over, doesn’t it?”, which I thought was an interesting way of framing the situation. Twenty-four hours later I was notified that I was Covid-free.
Arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport--that notorious den of anxiety and disorder--I can tell you that the pandemic has not improved things there. They recently finished some renovations, which somehow managed to make things even more chaotic and unorganized than before. Lines were long, it was hot, and people were *not* living their best life.
(Left: Apparently, you can check your own bag now? Madness reigns.)
Interestingly, they didn’t check any Covid-related paperwork at the airport before customs or security. I was beginning to think my trailer test was all for naught, but they asked for it at the gate just before boarding.
The flight back to Detroit was even less full (probably only a quarter of seats occupied). I almost had a whole row.
They made us sign a statement confirming that we either had a negative test or had recovered from Covid within a certain period of time. At the Detroit airport, they told us the US authorities ‘might’ check to make sure we had the documentation to back this up. Spoiler alert: they didn’t.
Overall, a smooth trip. Good to be flying again, even better to be home.
Until the next time.