International Travel to the U.S. during COVID.

We received a text message a day before our flight from the airline for our flight from Seoul/Incheon (Korea) to New York to arrive at least two hours before the flight. It said that there are certain procedures that must be taken pre-flight for all passengers bound for the United States. I got anxious. There were lots of media coverage on how the U.S. is not doing a good job at handling the COVID-19 situation and how there is lack of hospital beds to even deal with all of the COVID patients. I didn’t even really want to go back to the U.S. at this point and now the airline is telling me that I need to take some procedures in order to board the plane. Hmmm…

It rained pretty hard since the night before the flight into the morning. Our car service driver was NOT happy that he had to deal with all 5 pieces of luggage bags in the rain. (That got us thinking that our car service in Bangkok, who dealt with 7 pieces of luggage bags with a smile on his face, was a true angel.) We dreaded our way to the airport. (The airport limousine buses that goes tot he airport were not operating, so we were stuck with a car service.)

Where we needed to stop by prior to check-in.

We My husband reeled all 5 of our large suitcases to the airport check-in counter and then they told us that we cannot even enter the counter area if we don’t have this health clearance form from the other side of the airport because we are bound for the U.S. Apparently, the U.S. requires this health screening for all passengers boarding a flight bound for any of the U.S. destinations. Which I thought was quite comical, considering the U.S. is not doing a good job containing the coronavirus compared to Korea, where I am boarding from.

Behind the dividers were empty desks with health forms to fill out. Social distancing measures were in full force.

The health form had questions about any symptoms and whether we visited the doctor within the last 4 weeks. And since my husband and I both had an annual physical exam done (including endoscopy and colonoscopy) and due to the endoscopy, I had some scratches in my throat, which caused it to bleed, I did go to the doctor. Maybe I should have lied on the form. I had to hand it to this lady, manning the section, and she had a million and one questions for me about my answers. She even asked around what time I visited that particular doctor and the diagnosis that I was given. She went so far as to what pharmacy I got my prescriptions from! A little much, don’t you think?

Anyhow, we survived the hurdle of the health questionnaires. She handed out a clearance “ticket,” which she told us to take it back to the counter, where they checked us into the flight. They were really strict about boarding during the pandemic. I overheard someone checking into a flight bound for Taiwan, this person was asked a gazillion questions on whether he has permission from the Taiwanese government to enter the country. He had to even produce an official documentation issued by the Taiwanese government, which states that he is permitted to enter. He then had to reshuffle his check-in bags because he had masks in them. (You are not permitted to carry out any more of the KF94 grade masks than the number of days on your foreign visa if you are a Korean national. For any foreign nationals, you cannot carry out any more than 30 of the KF94 grade masks out of Korea.) Due to the restrictions against taking out masks out of Korea, all passengers on international flights that are leaving the country must have all masks on the carry-on luggage for inspection. Otherwise, if the x-rays on the check-in luggage catches that you have masks in the bags, you may be denied boarding, even after you already boarded the plane.

We were fine because my friend who works at Korean Air already gave us tips on how to pack for boarding bound for the U.S. But the carry-out restriction on the masks only applies to KF-94 grade masks. It doesn’t apply to any other masks. We had hundreds of other masks less than KF-94 grade and the TSA screening guy held us up and told us to go to customs and get certification in order to take out these masks. So I refused. I told him that it only applies to KF-94 grade but he insisted that it applies to all masks. Then a supervisor came over and told me that I can go because I am right. psh~ smh…

And we went through immigration. At immigration, the officer asked me when will I return. Now, if I am not a permanent resident card holder, I may have been required to have a COVID test result paperwork issued by a local hospital of the departure country in order to return to Korea. I was okay because I have a permanent resident card.

We entered the departure terminal. There were more staff than passengers. What used to be one of the busiest airport departure terminals in the world was completely empty. This made me so sad.

I was really looking forward to hanging out at the first class lounge on my to the airport. It was really the only thing that got me going, as the entire trip was a drag for me. But guess what…? We got to the lounge and they SHUT DOWN THE FIRST CLASS LOUNGE!!!!! Nobody was using the lounge, so they didn’t open it. They asked everyone to use the business class lounge. Lounge is better than no lounge, but it was such a downer.

The only upside to it was that the online duty free pick-up was so smooth and hassle free. Let me tell you, it was absolutely the biggest duty free sale EVER! It was like one for three sale; you buy one and you get two free. You also get loads of gifts with your purchase. When I walked out of the online duty free pickup, my husband asked me why I bought so much. I did not. Two-thirds of my shopping were freebies from my purchases.

Then we made our again dreaded way over to the plane. The flight attendant told me that it was only 20% occupied in business class and less than 50% occupied in economy class. How sad?! It was those people in the photo and us! The other two seats were occasionally occupied by the pilots who were taking turns to rest.

All boarded up and ready to take on this flight! We had to keep the masks on during the entire 14 hours of the flight except during meals.

The flight itself was fine. We got to eat literally everything and anything because there wasn’t enough people on the flight. There was some turbulence but we managed through. And next thing you know, we were already at the New York City, John F. Kennedy Airport.

Arrival.

And when we arrived, we were very confused as to what the whole fuss was about with the health forms at the Incheon Airport. Nobody stopped us. Nobody briefed us about any quarantine restrictions. Nobody cared where we were going. Even the USCIS officer just stamped our passports and didn’t ask any questions. Maybe it’s because we came from one of the safest countries? I don’t know. But really. Nobody cared.

Welcome back to the United States of America. We got here safe and sound. We just pray and hope that we will not catch the virus here in the most dangerous COVID-19 country in the world.

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