By Chiara Crisafulli
“You are naughty!” shouted a tall blonde hostess with heart-shaped red lips. She was admonishing a Portuguese lady because she had silently swapped her seat to fly next to her friend. “We need to know where everyone is sitting at all times!”
Earlier on, the same hostess had welcomed me on board, offering single-wrapped disinfectant wipes placed inside a big basket. After 17 years of traveling to Greece, I immediately thought about the small red plastic-wrapped candies I used to fill my pockets with – they used to be inside that basket, next to the aircraft’s doors. A few hours later, while sipping my first iced coffee overlooking Rafina Port – my feet more eager maybe than ever before to dip into the dreamy Aegean blue – I wondered: Am I reckless to travel?
Each of us has a different ‘pandemic’ comfort zone, but if there’s a country which doesn’t seem to struggle in relation to the services that are offered for tourists during these difficult times, it is Greece. I didn’t have a clear idea about it until I landed in Athens at the end of July, and this idea stayed firmly with me until I left the country at the end of September. This big time lapse during overnight-changing sort of news left me with vivid impressions about traveling during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to Greece. So if you’ve got itchy feet, come on board with me.
#1 Getting ready
The first thing I had to do was plan my trip a bit so that I could fill in a PLF: Passenger Locator form. In a passenger locator form, every tourist has to declare their next 14 days address(es). It’s not mandatory to state a hotel name as you may sleep at your brother’s. Immediately after submitting the form, I received a confirmation via email. On the midnight before my departure day, I was forwarded the important information that I had to carry with me: my unique barcode.
Afraid of getting tired of wearing a mask for too many hours? I consoled myself by looking at the airport staff: cleaners, shop assistants, policemen, security guards. This made me refrain from complaining – I was still going on holiday, after all.
Inside Terminal 1, checking in my luggage took me 12 minutes, going through the security checks 15 minutes, and I was asked to show only my liquids bag. The thing that struck me the most was witnessing the Lisbon Airport with empty and dark pastelerias (and, for once, no McDonald’s queue!). During the Lisbon boarding operation, I was asked to show my PLF. There was one woman who didn’t know about it, and I left her quarrelling with the airport crew. The rest of us, adapted to living in the current times, queued and boarded smoothly. My flight wasn’t too full, so a sort of social distancing was possible. Aegean Airlines on social media doesn’t seem to have a great reputation for that, but my experience was rather the opposite.
Inside the airport, we queued for a few minutes until the rows were separated: those who were getting tested (to the left) and those who weren’t (straight to the exit). On that occasion, our plane was fully tested, while a plane coming from France was skipped.
Funnily enough, or maybe not, when I tried to respect social distancing, a policeman shouted at me (in Greek) to proceed forward because the line was getting too long. Four cabinets were arranged on the side with hospital-like movable curtains, and two women dressed like astronauts were waiting for me. One scanned the barcode on my PLF while the other one inserted a swab into my throat. Before I could even put my mask on, they shouted ‘NEEEEEEEEEXT!’ Within 30 minutes of landing, I was already out of the airport, breathing without a mask after 8 hours (a full-time employee shift).
#4 And then, what?
24 hours passed by and no one contacted me – or the next of kin I’d had to put in my PLF – otherwise the health protocol would have followed. In this article, I’ll spare you the splashes and the adventures. (You’re welcome!)
#5 I don’t want a virus in my luggage
Before leaving the country, I wanted to take a COVID-19 test. I was going to visit my 94-year-old grandmother in Sicily, and Italy had put Greece among the risky countries group, together with Croatia, Malta and Spain (aka the Italians’ most beloved destinations). To take a test in Greece was a doubly good choice, also to avoid self-quarantine on my arrival in Rome.
I rang the Athens Airport for information, after which I was directed to the medical platform where I could buy my test online (70 euros). The test can be taken at the arrivals section 3 of Athens Airport, with no booking. You simply have to show your order receipt, and, in a separate area, the nurse will take your sample (this time, it was through the nostrils— but she was gentle). I received the result exactly twelve hours after I took the test. The thing you need to make sure of is that you provide them with the correct email address, otherwise you’ll be waiting forever.
The country-to-country bureaucratic differences are making traveling harder than it should be. Furthermore, in Italy, no one cared to check if I had effectively declared the truth by stating that I was carrying a negative test result. But my granny passed away yesterday, and those 70 Euro allowed me to see her one last time. Until yesterday, I thought that meeting her spared me the thought of tossing away money. Today I wonder: “How expensive can it really be not to follow our ruthless instinct?”
The traveling scene, among all the other spheres of our life, isn’t just changing – it has already changed. There isn’t a ‘new normal’ anymore: things are what they are. It feels a bit like when the Euro was introduced. The first ones to learn weren’t those converting from their old currency, but the ones surfing the unknown.
As of 1st May 2022, most of the Covid restrictions in Greece were lifted. It is, however, still mandatory to wear a mask on public transport, on boats, in taxis and hospitals.
- Useful information on travel via Athens International Airport
- Greece tourism Corona website
- Greece’s official tourism website
About Chiara Crisafulli
Chiara is a 36-year-old Italian globetrotter, currently based in Lisbon and working as a tour guide. She left Italy in 2010 to experience the world by either living in new countries, backpacking or volunteering.
She has been traveling to Greece since she was 18 on an almost yearly basis, and she’s really proud of her far Greek roots.