No one thought Traveling during a pandemic would be easy. And the path to getting to Italy was a narrow one, but we made it. Probably the single most common question I’ve had over the last several weeks has been “how are you getting into Italy right now?”, Closely followed by “Can you even go anywhere?”. Hopefully, I can can help to clear these up and give y’all a bit of insight into how this whole experience has changed.
Several months ago, Delta airlines announced that they had been working with Italy to provide the first plights into Italy that would require no quarantine upon arrival. The routes would be JFK-MPX (New York to Milan), and ATL-FCO (Atlanta to Rome). These would still only be for essential travel, and the testing requirements would be strict, but the would save the travelers up to two weeks worth of quarantine.
Mary Katherine and I took the JFK-MPX route (I gave up on flying into Rome a long time ago, and it’s on the wrong end of the country). We had a connection from Atlanta to JFK, so that’s where out journey begins.
For anyone who has flown out of ATL, the experience is a strange one. For one thing, the airport is no longer 24hrs. We arrived at 3am only to find that the airport didn’t open until 4:30. Fortunately, southern hospitality is alive and well, and some construction workers let us inside to wait. Even after the airport opened, it’s difficult to describe just how sparse it felt to be in a place so obviously meant for a large number of people, but running at a fraction of it’s capacity.
Travel is always a series of gate keepers, and our first was the check in agent. She was nonplussed at having to check our bags at 4:30 in the damn morning, and informed us that we would need all of our required documentation for the trip in order to do so. This amounted to: a letter on company letter head giving the purpose for our visit, proof of employment, a copy of my liquor license, a list of people and places we intended to visit, an itinerary of our trip, and a negative PCR Covid test within 72 hours of our departure time. But after practically drowning this woman in evidence of the business chops of our trip, she finally relented and allowed us to check our bags.
Security was shockingly mundane. If it weren’t for the masks, you’d be hard pressed to know anything had changed. Further, after making it to the Delta sky club (always worth every damn penny) and settling in with a “complimentary” Mimosa, my fears of poor hospitality were thoroughly exercised. Delta has always had great hospitality, but they have really stepped up their game. I was so impressed with the sheer mass of information that every single employee had on the current restrictions and regulation.
Our flight to JFK was really just normal air travel with masks, screaming babies and all. I was surprised how full the plane was, but that’s neither here nor there.
JFK, on the other hand, was very different. For starters, I’ve always rejected the ‘rude New Yorker’ stereotype. But there were some prickly assholes at the airport that day. The gate agent when we landed was particularly rude, and left me thanking the man upstairs that I was born in dixie. We got our next covid test, a regular antigen rapid test, and went looking for a bite to eat. Normally, JFK is rife with cool places to eat or grab a drink. Not anymore. There were a grand total of eight food establishments open, with only two having seating available. After passing on a pizza place, we settled on The Palm. It’s always been a solid choice for quality, if a bit pricey, food in JFK. They also usually keep a decent selection of liquor. The food was still good, if hilariously overpriced ($22 for Jameson, anybody), but the men was severely impacted. Two appetizers, two entrees, no desserts, one salad. Sitting there and enjoying my Irish whiskey that was apparently made from unicorn farts and angel’s tears, it really sank in: We missed the worst of this whole thing. Everyone has been hit hard by this pandemic, but the large cities have seen the diversity of great food, retail, and culture that accounted for so much of their quality of life evaporate.
The last hurdles before we could board the plane to Italy were the EU entry requirements, and the Italian self declaration form. The form was straight forward enough, if a bit poorly translated. But my god, if you work for a government agency, allow me to offer a bit of helpful advice: NO ONE WANTS YOUR STUPID APP. Seriously folks, we get it, you have a bureaucracy to support. Just give us a regular ass form instead of making us jump through a bunch of hoops for what is, quite literally, just another way to fill out a form. After getting the above together and being given a magic QR code by the EU (governments love these damn things), every single passenger had to get their documents checked by mr. salty gate agent. All checked out, we were allowed to board. These planes run at decreased capacity, so it’s a much better experience. Bring a giant carry on, lean your seat back, and call a flight attendant for a drink, everything happens the way air travel should. And the flight crews for these flights are Deltas very best, so expect truly spectacular service. Seriously Delta, charge me double and make this the new normal.
Landing in Milan, we filled out a few more forms, and headed for the fastest Covid test I’ve ever seen (under six minutes), and that was all she wrote. We were free to wait for the rental car office to open, bicker about the wrong reservtion, and fight for our life on the Autostrada. But that’s a story for our next post.