First trip back to the US since moving abroad

I’m “home”! Well, kind of. I’ve arrived at my parent’s house back in the States and am lying low here for a few weeks.

It’s a last-minute trip that I only decided on taking last week, when my grandfather passed away. I hadn’t seen my parents for more than a year, and my brother for two years, and it seemed like the right time. Both of my parents have been vaccinated already, thankfully. But I’m currently confined to a room in their house, and they’re bringing meals to my door. Just in case.

This is my first time coming back to the US since I moved to Switzerland in 2019. It’s also the first time I’ve been on a plane since March 2020. To be honest, I found the journey pretty stressful, and I didn’t enjoy it. But just being able to go home without restrictions or mandatory quarantine is definitely a privilege right now (looking at Australia, New Zealand, China, etc).

I booked Premium Economy with Air France to fly Geneva – Paris CDG – Atlanta. I choose Premium Economy because I thought it would mean less people and crowding, but it didn’t really make that much of a difference. On the Geneva-Paris leg the plane was a regional jet and had all economy seats, so everyone was packed together like sardines. And then on the Paris-Atlanta leg there were so few passengers that the cabin class did not matter all.

I’ll recount the travel day from the beginning.

I arrived at Geneva airport at around 9:10 for a 10:25 flight. There were only three staff members working the Air France desks, and the line moved at an excruciatingly slow pace. Whenever there was a family, it took 10 minutes minimum to process them because of COVID paperwork and checking baggage.

To travel to the US, I had to show a negative COVID test certificate from the last three days and a printed attestation form. I had my COVID test done at HUG (Geneva University Hospitals) on Monday and it was not bad at all; felt like a sneeze and a mild twinge. I had to pay around 170 francs for the test since I didn’t have symptoms and it was for travel.

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Finally, I got checked in at 9:50 and sprinted through security, just five minutes before my flight began boarding.

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Boarding gate for Paris.
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The plane was absolutely packed. I would never fly to Paris in normal times. It’s only three hours by train from Geneva, which is both more environmentally responsible and simply a hassle-free method of transportation. I think most people were probably in the same boat of having to transfer in Paris to go somewhere else.

While on the plane, we all had to fill out and turn in a detailed form about our travel plans, address and contact info for the French government, even if our final destination wasn’t France.

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What I found nice about flying during these times is that when the plane lands and arrives at the gate, there is no mad dash to open the overhead bins and stake a spot in the aisle line. Everyone is just sitting calmly.

In Paris I went through immigration and effectively exited the Schengen Zone. There were no questions, just a brief glance at my passport.

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Have to admit these passengers in hazmat suits made me do a double… or maybe quadruple take. I think they’re going to China, because quarantine restrictions are suuuper strict for international arrivals right now and testing positive for COVID is almost a form of social stigma there at this point.

Before boarding, we had our passports, attestation and proof of negative COVID test checked again by agents.

When I got on the plane, I was pleased that I’d gotten a first-row seat in the Premium Economy cabin — a.k.a. the baby row. I waited for other passengers to board and was confused when they… didn’t. There were maybe three people in business class, four in our cabin, and a dozen in Economy. Then I heard one of the crew say “On a fini” (We’re done [boarding]) and it was a major shock: this was the entire flight! On a plane that has the capacity to seat over 200!

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They gave each of us an envelope with a mask, hand gel and disinfectant wipe inside.
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Butter and cheese, bread, an apricot cake, salmon and something I have never encountered before, and mashed potatoes and chicken in creamy mushroom sauce.

The food was decent. While we were eating, the crew announced that “due to U.S. health regulations, we ask that you keep your mask on in between bites.” And I was like, I don’t know if I can physically do that? It did make me eat much more quickly than usual to minimize the amount of time with my mask off. It didn’t bother me, keeping my mask on for most of the day, since I’ve already done that on long train journeys.

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After a 9-hour flight, we finally landed in Atlanta in the afternoon. Going through immigration was strangely simple; the officer at the desk didn’t even ask to see my passport or COVID test. He just took a picture of me with the camera and waved me through.

As I sat on the plane watching the airport workers running around, getting ready for us to disembark, I felt a warm, fuzzy feeling. We’re all just trying our best, I thought. Americans don’t deserve enough credit for how hard they work and how much they care about other people.

… This golden balloon of warmth was almost immediately punctured when a customs worker stopped me for a quick interrogation and the first question out of his mouth was “Do you speak English?” And later on, when I arrived home and discovered that my checked suitcase had been opened and riffled through, bags unzipped and underwear strewn about. Nothing had been stolen, thankfully, as far as I can tell.

Ahh, America. It’s good to be home.

One comment

  1. Great that you are able to visit home again. Oh how flying has changed- that empty flight looks very appealing though but not the eating advice…..not much common sense there? America has done a great job at turning the situation around and the rates of vaccinations.

    Liked by 1 person

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