FRANKFURT – Last week I got on the subway in Frankfurt for the first time since February, the start of a 4,000-mile transatlantic journey to get back to my wife after a three-month separation.
I made the trip to the USA dozens of times in the quarter of a century in which I lived and worked in Germany. But this time, in the middle of the pandemic, it felt like a journey into the unknown.
Crossing borders is no longer a routine. Europeans are still a persona non grata in the United States. I would fly from a country that has just come out of the blockade to a country where the virus is still flaring up in some communities.
At the end of a long day, I would be with my wife Bettina. But the experience, sometimes frustrating, sometimes surreal, left the impression that flying would never be the same again.
It became clear that traveling these days was more difficult once I tried to book a flight. Lufthansa does not allow me to redeem a flight voucher from a canceled online trip. Instead, I had to call the heavily congested service center, which took my reservation after a long wait, but then failed to send me an email confirmation. I didn't know if I had a valid booking or not.
After numerous failed attempts to get through again, including an instance in which I waited an hour to disconnect, I was able to confirm my booking. Until then, it was less than 24 hours before departure.
The day I was supposed to fly, Lufthansa reported a quarterly loss of $ 2.1 billion, or $ 2.4 billion, when passenger traffic evaporated during the Corona virus outbreak. A question for Lufthansa management: If you need all the customers you can get, why is it so difficult to book a ticket?
About two dozen people were waiting at the check-in when I arrived at Frankfurt Airport the morning of my trip. Flights to the United States are usually full of German tourists. But everyone on this line spoke English with American accents. From her talk about operations and her camouflage backpacks, it emerged that many military personnel were on the way home with their families.
At my alarm, an airline employee who checked the passports pulled me out of line and asked me to wait for immigration. After the disputes with Lufthansa, I was already nervous about what kind of administrative snafus I might come across on this trip.
To my relief, immigration turned out to be looking for someone whose name was vaguely similar to mine, but half my age.
A few minutes later, I had my boarding pass and passed rows of duty-free shutters. I could hear my own footsteps echoing on the polished marble tile floor.
And here's the strange thing. It was strangely pleasant to travel through an abandoned airport. Air traffic is so stressful that you stand in long lines and fight your way through the crowd, but Frankfurt was peaceful. Even the guards, who struggled with plastic trays at security, seemed happy.
The feeling of strange satisfaction continued on the plane, a Boeing Dreamliner operated by United Airlines, a partner of Lufthansa in the Star Alliance. There was at least one free space between passengers, except for families. In other words, we weren't packaged like sardines.
United said the aircraft had been thoroughly disinfected. Nevertheless, I cleaned my armrests and the seat shelf with a disinfectant cloth. I also wore a mask the whole trip.
The only downside was lunch. Nobody expects much from the galley, but in the name of hygiene, the mild "spicy chicken" and the fruit cup came in packages that were sealed with plastic wrap and had to be peeled off. After that there was no coffee or tea.
Somehow I have the feeling that small privileges like coffee and fresh bread never come back.
About eight uneventful hours later we landed at Dulles International Airport near Washington, where I wanted to connect to Burlington, Vt. I grew up there and my wife and 24-year-old daughter were waiting for the pandemic.
Arriving in the US was the part of the trip that worried me the most. The official form, which my fellow travelers and I had to fill out before setting up, made it clear that people from the European Union were not welcome. There was no mention of an exception for US citizens like me, although I knew there should be one.
Updated June 5, 2020
Is there an asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19?
So far, the evidence seems to show that this is the case. A commonly cited paper published in April suggests that people are most contagious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms, and estimates that 44 percent of new infections are due to transmission from people who have not yet had any symptoms. A top World Health Organization expert recently said that the transmission of coronavirus by people without symptoms is "very rare," but she later retracted that statement.
How does the blood type affect the coronavirus?
A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The presence of type A blood was associated with a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would receive oxygen or require a ventilator, according to the new study.
How many people lost their jobs in the US due to a corona virus?
The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Ministry of Labor announced on June 5. This was an unexpected improvement in the country's labor market as attitudes recovered faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast that the unemployment rate would rise to 20 percent after hitting 14.7 percent in April. This was the highest since official statistics began since World War II. Instead, the unemployment rate fell and employers added 2.5 million jobs after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.
Will protests trigger a second wave of corona virus?
Mass protests against police brutality, which have put thousands on the streets of cities across America, are causing new outbreaks of coronaviruses and causing political leaders, doctors and public health experts to warn that the crowd could cause an increase in certain cases . While many political leaders reaffirmed the right of the demonstrators to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and social distance to protect themselves and prevent the virus from spreading to the wider community. Some infectious disease experts were reassured that the protests were taking place outdoors, saying that the open-air settings could reduce the risk of transmission.
How do we start exercising again without injuring ourselves after months of being blocked?
Sports researchers and doctors have some clear advice for those of us who want to do sports regularly again: Start slowly and then speed up your workout, even slowly. American adults tend to be 12 percent less active in March than when they started to stay at home in March. However, there are steps you can take to safely return to normal exercise. First, "Start with no more than 50 percent of the exercise you did before Covid," says Dr. Monica Rho, chief physician for musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Also thread some prep squats, she advises. "If you haven't exercised, you will lose muscle." After these preliminary sessions after the lockdown, expect some muscle tension, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clear call to stop and return home.
My state is opening again. Is it safe to go out?
States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available and more and more companies are allowed to reopen. The federal government largely leaves the decision to the states, and some heads of state leave the decision to the local authorities. Even if you are not asked to stay at home, it is still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.
What is the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting them with the germs is usually not a spread of the virus. But it can happen. A number of studies on flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus, and other microbes have shown that respiratory diseases, including the new coronavirus, can spread through touching contaminated surfaces, especially in daycare, offices, and hospitals. However, a long chain of events must occur for the disease to spread in this way. The best way to protect yourself from corona viruses – whether on the surface or in close human contact – is still social distancing, washing hands, touching the face, and wearing masks.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or difficulty breathing. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection more difficult, but runny noses and blocked sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle aches, sore throats, headaches, and a new loss of taste or smell as symptoms to watch out for. Most people get sick five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms can appear as early as two or 14 days.
How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is inevitable, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. Most importantly, wash your hands frequently and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study by Emory University found that during the flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is a window, since people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you arrive at your seat and your hands are clean, clean the hard surfaces of your seat with disinfectant wipes such as head and armrests, seat belt buckles, remote control, screen, seat back pocket and storage table. If the seat is hard and not porous or made of leather or leather, you can also wipe it. (Using cloths on upholstered seats can cause the seat to get wet and germs to spread instead of killing them.)
Should I wear a mask?
The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks when going out in public. This is a shift in federal guidelines that reflects new concerns that the coronavirus is spread by infected people without symptoms. So far, the C.D.C. like the W.H.O. advised that normal people do not have to wear masks unless they are sick and cough. One reason for this was the storage of medical masks for healthcare workers who they urgently need at a time when they are in short supply. Masks do not replace hand washing and social distancing.
What should I do if I feel sick?
If you have been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have a fever or have a fever or symptoms such as coughing or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how you should be tested, and how to seek medical treatment without infecting or exposing others.
But it was a no-brainer. In Dulles, a woman in a nurse's smock checked my shape, asked if I felt sick, and put a sensor to my head.
It is easy to imagine that such health checks, along with poorer food, will become an integral part of international travel. Travelers can only hope that the pandemic will also bring some positive changes, such as fewer crowded flights and more freedom to switch flights without paying high fees.
The sensor said my body temperature was 98.1 degrees Fahrenheit. Good to go.
Dulles seemed even more sleepy than Frankfurt. Rows of United jets stood on a side lane, apparently waiting for a vaccine to revive air traffic. All but a few airport restaurants were closed. I was glad that I packed some energy bars.
The plane to Burlington, another United flight, was so empty that the pilot asked the flight attendants to take the passengers to the front of the plane. "We are a bit tail-heavy," he said over the intercom.
In Vermont, people arriving from another state must be quarantined for 14 days. But when I landed, nobody took names, just my wife's friendly face. It seemed like the only enforcement was a sign at the airport exit, as the friendly street crews use it to warn of upcoming road works. "Stay home," it said.
I underestimated the Vermont government. A few days later, I received a phone call from a gracious woman in the Ministry of Health asking if I was fine, remembering the quarantine rules, and where to get a coronavirus test if I wanted one . I'm fine, I said, but thanks for asking.