International Travel Post-COVID (September 2021)

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Last week was my first post-pandemic international travel. Actually, my first time on a plane at all since March of last year!

I’m happy to report that it wasn’t all that bad. Humans are creatures of habit, but we’re also remarkably adaptable.

Yes, I had to wear a mask everywhere. For those of us who traveled in Asia in the last 15 years, it’s really not that a big deal.

Yes, I did choose to be vaccinated. Proof of this didn’t count for anything in the US though, as apparently there’s been so much forgery. This changed between when I booked my ticket and when I used it.

Meanwhile, even though I was traveling from a severe risk area where less than 1 in 3 people are vaccinated and our COVID numbers are way up (central Utah) to a low risk area where over 2 out of 3 are and their numbers are lower than they’ve been since spring of 2020 (Panama), they validated the phone-uploaded picture of my vaccination card well in advance of my flight. No test needed on that end.

But yes, I needed a COVID test to get back in the USA. Only the rapid and not-so-intensive one, not the uncomfortable “brain swab” like before. I timed the travel so that I could get the test in the US and get back before it expired (3 days), which worked out fine. Other than making it too little time on the ground at my destination.

Overall, it was a good dry run for int’l travel. Granted that I do have Global Entry and TSA Pre and all that, but these are no guarantee against travel mishaps and getting stuck in prolonged conversations with border guards. I’m happy to report that I had no real issues anywhere.

Two things that did stand out, both in the US.
  1. When boarding my flight to Panama in Houston, there were 6 very intimidating big officers with big guns and big dogs interviewing and sniffing everyone in the jetbridge (between where they scan your ticket & the plane). That was weird, never seen that one before in all my travels. The only thing they asked me is if I was carrying over $10,000 in cash. Sadly, I was not. I don’t lead a life so well-financed that this would be an issue for me. (Though even if someone did have 10K USD on them, I’m not sure why they would ever answer “yes” to this question? Admitting this is the same as saying, “No, I don’t want to be on this plane that I’m boarding right now after all. I’d rather have a conversation with you about why you’re confiscating my money and whether I’m going to jail today or not.” Seriously, does this kind of question ever work?!?)
  2. For the flight from IAH to SLC, after being told 3 times by the flight attendants about the mask requirement, the pilot had to go all “Dad in the car” and announce that the plane wasn’t going anywhere until everyone put on their masks & seatbelts, and that we could have left on time already if everyone had. We departed a minute later.

Just saying what I observed, in case this might be useful to you. This is not a political post, but you can make it one in the comments as you wish.

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