When I traveled to Russia, and on to Alupka, Crimea, the COVID-19 outbreak was progressing rapidly in the world. For example, the United States had several thousand cases of coronavirus. The pandemic in Italy and China had topped over 100,000 cases. The virus was appearing all over the world. The thought on international travel at the time concerned me.
Decision to Travel During COVID-19
It was with mixed emotions that I thought about making the trip from the USA to Russia. I was “sheltering in place” in Minnesota, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The government was stopping flights into the USA from European countries. New York had a few thousand cases. My work was preparing to furlough workers. The decision was between possibly sheltering in place alone for an undetermined amount of time, or spend the time with my darling wife (and hopefully my daughter).
My wife was living in Crimea, where the COVID-19 outbreak was not widely occuring. She assured me I would be much safer in Crimea than in the USA. My daughter lives in Colorado, so I asked her to travel with me to Russia. She studies remotely due to the pandemic, but she refused to go with me because she is still working “an essential job.” This concerned me, as I felt I was leaving her alone in the United States. But, I decided she is an adult and capable of making her own decisions.
I decided I would risk flying through New York, and on through Moscow to Simferopol. This was despite the concern that airports and airplanes are not places where one can “social distance” during a virus outbreak. Reports were that coronavirus cases in New York were rising steadily, but Moscow had things “under control.”
I called Aeroflot to ask about a reservation, and found that I could fly the next morning, or the two mornings after that. Otherwise, I was likely out of luck for at least a month. I debated which day to fly, but decided I would book the middle day.
And with that, I decided to fly to Crimea and hope for the best.
Flights and Airports – Virus Breeding Grounds?
I headed to the airport on Sunday morning, with my face mask, sanitizer, and alcohol based wipes in hand. This was more a requirement from my wife, as she is a nurse and assured me the mask would protect me from COVID-19. The CDC and WHO were still not recommending masks to people. I did promise to wear it the whole way, and to sanitize everything I was going to touch.
Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport
When I arrived for my flight on Delta to New York, the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport was in chaos. There were a lot of people flying that morning, but not the normal number. The woman who checked me in for my flight told me that they had about 32,000 reservations for that day versus the normal 93,000. She told me she expected about half that number of people to show up. The Delta Sky Club was almost empty, and the desk clerk did score me a Comfort Class seat. All the employees indicated that the pandemic was certainly affecting travel.
Flight to New York
When I boarded the plane, Comfort Class seats were about 50% occupied. I did have a travel mate next to me, which made me uncomfortable. Coach class was closer to 80% full.
Needless to say, I felt a little overwhelmed and a I had a bit of OCD. I found I was the only person wearing a mask and sanitizing everything around in an attempt to avoid infection.
The service staff wore gloves to serve drinks, and people had to take their own goodies from a basket. It did not ease my concerns much. It was a good flight, otherwise.
New York JFK International Airport
JFK was an interesting place to be that morning. It was quiet relative to normal, but still busy. People were not too concerned about social distancing though.
Some differences were that I did not have to go from Terminal 4 to Terminal 1 to catch my next flight. Delta was flying into Terminal 2 during the outbreak. That made the hop to the next terminal a quick walk. The Delta Sky Club was almost empty, and the food bar had limited food on it. The food bar was still open with a restaurant sneeze guard. I viewed this as a virus petri dish, and avoided the food. They had also removed the soda machines. I saw one family with face masks, fresh in from Pakistan and I had a conversation with the son about coronavirus and his family’s trip home.
Check In at Aeroflot in JFK
When I got to check in for the Aeroflot flight to Moscow, there were hundreds of people in line. No social distancing, and most of the people wearing masks were Russian women, me, and a couple other guys. The TSA guy checking tickets and passports going into security did tell me “That face mask will do you no good. You need some rubber gloves to avoid the coronavirus.” In hindsight, he was correct, as I should have also had gloves. The Moscow flight waiting area was packed wall to wall.
When I called my wife from the gate, the Russian news was reporting and showing videos of hazmat clad medics greeting international passengers, taking temperatures, and offering face masks. The news was also reporting that Moscow had declared that all international visitors must self quarantine for 14 days. All I could imagine was being quarantined in Moscow for 14 days. My wife’s cousin lives in Moscow, and she was gracious enough to offer to bring me food while I was in quarantine.
Flight to Moscow
I flew Aeroflot Comfort Class, which is equivalent to First Class on an American airline. Aeroflot spaced all passengers apart with a good 3-4 seats between everyone. The plane was only at 30% capacity, which was Aeroflot’s policy during international flights from COVID-19 infected countries.
I had a Russian woman across the aisle from me. This woman made sure I was wearing my mask and that my area was clean and sanitized at all times. I would guess that 40% of the passengers were wearing masks. Most of them medical grade masks.
The flight was enjoyable, the food was excellent, and the crew was careful not to make contact with people unnecessarily. And they use real silverware, ceramic plates, and real glasses. Aeroflot international flights are a class game (yes, my small pitch for them).
The only thing in the back of my mind was spending 14 days in a hotel room in Moscow.
Moscow SVO Airport
When I arrived in Moscow, the plane did not go to the gate like normal. It parked on the tarmac, and a bus came to pick up the passengers. I was expecting they would take us to where the hazmat clad medics and officials were, for testing for coronavirus.
They instead brought us to an entry door in the terminal that went directly into passport control. Passport control had added a special line for “Chinese passports”. One woman from our flight entered that line and was promptly escorted away. I can only speculate on why.
After passport control, I headed through the busy international terminal and on to the domestic terminal to catch my flight to Simferopol. The domestic terminal was quiet with almost nobody there. The time it took to go from passport control to the next gate took a total of about 15 minutes. That trip is normally a 30-45 minute walk.
I had a couple hour wait for the Simferopol flight, and was comfortable at the gate. There were only a few people there, and they were all wearing masks and wiping down seats. I took a nap for a bit, and woke to about 40% of the seating area filled. I did score an upgrade to business class, so that was good.
Flight to Simferopol
The entire plane was at about 20% of capacity. Relatives were the only people allowed to sit next to each other. A good number of people were wearing masks to protect against viral infection. Again, the flight crew was practicing good habits to prevent the spread of infection. Another flight with exceptional service by Aeroflot. Uneventful flight, and it felt safe from virus outbreak.
Simferopol International Airport
Coronavirus in Crimea was non-existent when I arrived. The Republic had already prepared for the virus, and they were already issuing guidance on social distancing. The Simferopol airport was quiet and people were keeping distances of 1.5 meters, for the most part. My lovely wife met me at the airport, just outside baggage claim, and we loaded the car and headed home to Alupka.
All was well… for the time being.
See my other article for 2020 at Republic of Crimea – My Renewed Writings