NEW YORK – Bureaucracy, strict health and safety protocols and reduced numbers of passengers compared to normal are the main features of the transatlantic voyage, in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, in a strange as well as melancholy summer, which has never been experienced in the post-war history of humanity.
The first fact, which, of course, has been known for a long time, concerns the exclusion of Americans without citizenship from a European Union country. This condition makes it almost impossible from the outset for a completely full aircraft to depart from the United States.
Second, your entire trip hinges on a necessary document. It should be noted that if the traveler does not have a Greek passport, he must have in his possession either a Greek identity card with full name and in Latin characters or a written certificate from the Consulate General, if no identity card exists. There is no risk of misunderstanding, since even an insufficiently informed employee will consult his superiors and give the "green light" even with a few minutes delay.
Thirdly, the Passenger Locator Form (PLF) document and the special QR code. The PLF document must be completed and printed up to 24 hours prior to the flight. The QR code will arrive in your email – along with the attached PLF document with the QR now integrated – shortly after midnight Greek time, at the start of the day you arrive in Greece. This means that it will arrive in your email shortly after 5 PM the previous day, New York time.
If you fly from New York at 6 or 7 PM, you will not be asked for the U.S. check in. However, you should check your email and make sure you either take a screenshot or download the QR code when you receive it, as it is necessary for boarding the connecting flight and – mainly – for your entry into Greece.
As mentioned above, the experience we had at Newark Airport has nothing to do with what we all knew about New York airports in the middle of summer. There are relatively few people at the United Airlines terminal – I say mainly domestic flights – but international flights have a limited number of passengers.
Security checks are completed faster and the lines are shorter. Many of the shops at the airport gates are closed, as are most cafes and restaurants. There are some that serve by phone orders and contactless payment.
Boarding the aircraft, on all flights, is done with specific protocols. In the case of Greece, the PLF document is checked before boarding begins, in order to avoid delays. When the gate opens, the rear rows are usually given priority so that passengers do not come into contact with each other entering the plane. When the plane lands, the passengers exit row by row in an orderly fashion. The connecting European flight, which was almost full, was the first passengers to enter are those with the window seats.
European airports – as shown in the picture in Amsterdam – have more normal traffic levels for the season. Note that the "key" for travel to Greece remains the PLF code, which is a prerequisite for boarding.
Brief Test Process
Upon arrival in Greece, a security guard greets the passengers and checks the QR code. Depending on the "message" that the code sends to the Authorities, the passengers are notified where to go for the COVID-19 test.
Only a percentage of passengers must be tested. It is a short and painless procedure, as doctors complete the procedure in less than a minute, without lines or waiting.