Springtime in Paris (Part 3)

Just writing a little more about last week’s trip to France….The less fun part!

I had booked our activities through a travel agency, and so much of the trip was straightforward: a car and guide show up at the hotel and the guide shows you around whatever attraction you are visiting. But the last two days were a little more complicated.

I sometimes get anxious about logistics, and often things are easier than I think they will be. And sometimes they are harder.

On Wednesday we were going to take a bus to Disneyland Paris. (In retrospect I should have booked a van from the hotel straight to the park, but I guess everything is clear in retrospect…) We needed to check in with the tour operator at 8:40 a.m. for the 9:00 a.m. bus. We needed to get ourselves to the bus stop, which was a few miles from the hotel. An obvious idea would be a cab, so then I was thinking about where I would get a cab, but I learned that many cabs will only take 3 people. I had four total, three of whom were kids who I did not want to send in a separate vehicle from me, so I was musing wouldn’t it be great if there were an app where you could summon an appropriately sized vehicle to take you to a destination…and then I realized I had re-invented Uber.

So I was all excited that I had solved that problem, and I dutifully summoned an Uber van on that rainy Wednesday morning only to have…no takers. The app ran and ran and I was running out of time. So I canceled and called an Uber X and asked the hotel doorman to please talk with the Uber driver who did not want to take 4 people in his car. He did finally agree (pour les enfants!) and so we made it.

(My other plan had been to call a second Uber after summoning the first one but, again, I was quite wary of sending the kids without me.)

But the transportation was easier than the Covid test ordeal. I confess that I was pondering these logistics the whole time we were in Paris. I knew we needed to take an antigen test within a day of the return flight (anyone coming to the US has to do this). Theoretically it should have been easy, as almost every pharmacy in France advertises their 15-minute test results. In countries with less testing infrastructure, hotels that cater to American tourists often have a testing option there (which is what we did in Turks and Caicos last summer) but France is well-supplied. Most people would do the Covid tests the day before (Wednesday for a Thursday flight) but… this happened to be our scheduled Disneyland Paris day.

In retrospect, I wish these had been scheduled in a different order — maybe the Louvre on Wednesday, and Disney on Monday — but I didn’t think of this until the agency had booked everything. The tour agency had suggested getting a test at a pharmacy near the Disney bus stop, but the pharmacy didn’t open until 8:30 a.m., and with the bus check in at 8:40 this seemed like it might not work (and given the Uber issue it really wouldn’t have). Pharmacies tend to close at 8 p.m., and while I had hoped we would get back at 7:30 p.m. from Disney and could do it then, we made a strange detour back to the park (I think someone missed the bus? Maybe?) and then got to the bus stop at 8 p.m.

So we had to do the test the morning of departure, which was really not ideal. I got the kids up to make it to a pharmacy near our hotel right when it opened at 8:30. Entering all the information on French forms online four times was fun (new learning: I live in the États-Unis, which I knew, but in a drop down menu, the e with an accent often comes at the end of the alphabet, and not with the “E” section…kind of hard to find!) We got the tests done and they said I would be emailed the results in 15 minutes.

We went to breakfast, and 15 minutes came, and went, and 30 minutes, and 45 minutes…

At this point I was deep into my daily 30-minute freak out. Our plane was leaving in a few hours! I knew I had the information correct on the forms because I got an initial email that I had registered. So I left the kids in the hotel room and went back to the pharmacy to investigate. The tech who had done the tests (and who didn’t speak much English — not that she should be expected to! — but I’m just mentioning this to explain why the whole experience was more complicated) conveyed to me, through a random lady shopping in the pharmacy who agreed to help translate, that the pharmacy receptionist hadn’t come to work until 9:45, and hence the tests hadn’t been put in yet.

So much for results in 15 minutes. But her colleague had just shown up! So that was good — I did get the results within 10 minutes then. But, sadly, though I could see we were all negative in the test results section, I kept getting one of those “error” and “forbidden” codes when I clicked on the link to get the digital certificates. Trying to enter a screen shot of the results page in the VeriFly app resulted in the app not being able to read the results. I really needed a clear QR code. (I imagine I could have shown my phone to someone at the airport and checked in that way but that would have meant an entirely separate wait there, and the uncertainty of whether our results were in the right form…).

So…picture me asking s’il vous plait if the pharmacy could print my results. I don’t believe they were thrilled about this, and there was a mix-up when they re-entered the children’s birthdates meaning we needed to do some reprinting, but half an hour later, I had four printed EU digital test certificates with lovely and clear QR codes that the VeriFly app just gobbled up. I got back to the room just in time to load up the suitcases into the car for the airport.

Fun morning! Travel in the Covid era has this added uncertainty that can ratchet up the anxiety a lot. But as often happens, now that I have leapt through that particular hoop, my trip becomes rosier in retrospect. I forget that in my jet-lagged state I would be up at 2 a.m. worrying about how to make a within-1-day Covid test happen. And hey, we made it home. All good in the end.

Photo: Another picture of Versailles….

19 thoughts on “Springtime in Paris (Part 3)

  1. My husband and 14 yo son traveled to the UK in January. Their Covid tests for the return trip home were through a testing service at the airport. The whole time they were gone I had visions of them getting to the airport and one of them testing positive and getting stuck in the UK. Can a 14 yo fly alone on an international flight? I was so relieved when my husband texted they had both tested negative. My husband admitted he was also nervous about this, especially after sitting on a train car for several hours with drunk, maskless, singing soccer fans.

    But as you say, they had a great trip and we’ve all but forgotten the stress we felt about those covid tests.

    1. @Gillian – if we had tested positive I guess my plan would be to try to extend our hotel room and just keep testing everyone every morning until all negative. I did not plan to put any negative testing children on the plane alone though that is a thought! I had the kids mask up (N95 or surgical) when we were in crowded places like the Eiffel tower elevator. I’m not worried about them getting Covid per se (as young, vaccinated people) but TESTING positive would have been something of a disaster…

    2. I’m sure there are so many stories about the covid test to re-enter the US, it’s really a nightmare. Last December, we flew to Scotland to visit my husband’s family for the first time in 2 years, the first time they would meet our youngest daughter, so we were determined to make it work despite the horrible timing of the Omicron surge coinciding with Christmas. We were able to get tests in the US no problem before we left, to be able to enter the UK. We brought at-home tests with the option to video chat and have a person watch you take it to verify the results. So in theory, this should have worked great for the requirement for the 24 hour test to fly back to the US. I had a bad feeling about it all week, and when we called in right at the 24 hour mark to take the tests and opened the package on screen, I saw that the tests were expired (which we couldn’t see until you opened it on the call). So we had to scramble to get tests at the airport 45 minutes away (thank goodness that was an option) for my husband, me, and our 4 year old. The operation at the airport was actually super efficient, but it was so much stress and uncertainty. So disappointing that we missed out on half of our last day with family because we were
      dealing with it. Could have been worse, at least we had negative tests and were able to fly back, but it really throws a wrench in international travel.

      1. @Chelsey – oh dear, that does sound like no fun. To me, one of the worst parts of all of this was what you were saying about having a bad feeling about it all week — same with me and needing the test the morning of. I kept worrying about what could go wrong, which made it hard to relax and enjoy the trip. I’m sure all sorts of international trips are happening under a cloud because of this. While I think it would be great for the testing requirement to go for vaccinated travelers, if that’s not going to happen, even just extending the window (to 48-72 hours) would dial down the pressure a lot.

  2. We’ve had to do the pre-travel covid test thing twice now, once in Mexico in January and then coming home from Europe last month, in Dublin. I guess we lucked out, because both times it was super easy and quick for us! I got our results within 10 minutes or so both times. We were also able to go in the afternoon both times the day before our flights, and I did actually plan our “itinerary” taking this into account/ pre-planned a time slot for tests. So, I guess score one for me for actually thinking ahead on this. Ha!! Doing Disney the day before definitely complicated it for you guys, I’m sure.

    We also saw that the Dublin airport was offering tests to be done there, but I did NOT like the idea of getting pre-flight tests done on the same day as travel, just in case….Like Gillian said, what if someone tested positive?! So we were able to find a place in downtown Dublin to pre-schedule at, which fit in very nicely to our plans for that day: post- Book of Kells, pre-evening pub music. 🙂 I was very relieved to have that piece done in advance. I really hope the “pre-travel to the U.S. testing thing” can go away soon for vaccinated people. It wasn’t required anywhere else in Europe now anymore, and honestly it feels a bit futile at this point in the game, with everyone moving about, gathering in groups and traveling again anyway. It’s such a hassle- and an added expense, too. I think we paid at least 30 euros a person.

    1. @Grateful Kae- I think just extending the window would make it more doable – 48-72 hours is a very different matter than one day. Or the airlines could just test everyone in the boarding area! (Though that would introduce it’s own fun I am sure…)

      1. @Laura If I had really been thinking I would have sent them with at home tests to take in the hotel before going to the airport. That way you would have a better sense that you would be negative at the airport. Not 100% obviously, but it would have given me peace of mind. A friend who traveled overseas last week used an online proctored test for reentry to the US which seemed like an interesting option. However, I agree with GratefulKae, it would be great if all this futile testing (specifically for travel into the US) went away.

    2. I’m headed to Dublin soon and curious if you can offer any insight. U.S. guidelines indicate we can return with the Abbott’s BinaxNOW™ COVID-19 Ag At-Home, but Aer Lingus (airline) page offers two in-person options. I’m wanting to confirm that all U.S. accepted tests are eligible with all airlines. Let me know if you’re aware from your own experience. Thank you!

      https://www.aerlingus.com/support/covid19-information/covid19-testing/#/tab-0-flying-from-ireland

      1. @Amanda – good question! The overlapping and sometimes contradictory rules sometimes seem like they are designed to be confusing…

        1. Thanks, my question was intended for @GratefulKae, as I realize you were in Paris and see she went to Dublin. I’m not sure if the CDC or specific airline determines which tests are eligible. Would love to plan ahead if possible

  3. I was trying to decide whether to fly internationally this year (with 2 under 8) and I think this has made my mind up! That sounds seriously stressful! Glad you got home ok.

    1. @Kirsty – that wasn’t my intention! It was a good trip – if you plan ahead more strategically than I did it should be fine. I mean, if we’d had some other activity the day before travel (from, say, noon to 5) we could have tried in the morning and if anything went wrong tried again in the evening and that would have lowered the stress a lot. Even though I do hope the US either drops the requirement for vaccinated travelers or makes the window bigger (48 hours or 72 hours).

  4. The covid testing for entry to the usa is very stressful, especially with the short timeframe they allow. My parents are on a short trip to visit me in Norway right now and unfortunately one of them has become ill with covid while here. That really throws a wrench into the travel plans for returning to the usa in a few days. We really haven’t figured out what to do yet.

  5. You’re braver than I am! I’m glad it all worked out for you, and it’s good to remember that the most stressful travel experiences often become the best stories! We talked about going to the UK this summer but I didn’t want to risk the presumably required Covid testing to get home especially with our kiddos. So we’re adventuring to Alaska this summer (and then Hawaii later in the summer but that’s a long story LOL). A very different trip but we’ll get to Europe again soon hopefully!

    1. @Shelley- Alaska and Hawaii are still certainly adventurous! But yes, it lowers the degree of stress to travel within the same country…

  6. Let me tell you a little story about day-of-flight testing in Lisbon… having your elderly mother pop up “positive” as the flight is boarding… having your children and husband return home as you try to figure out quarantine hotels and medical care and reentry requirements (which are NOT well described in any single document; United’s website has 3 different descriptions which differ from CDC, which differ from what United agents and Portugeuse health authorities each say), while not speaking a lick of Portuguese… and then coordinating everything for the next week while trying to work from a hotel room.

    It’s not fun.
    Zero stars.
    Do not recommend!

    1. @Kathleen – wow, that really does sound like no fun whatsoever! Yes, it’s unclear what you do once you have a positive – I know it’s possible to do a certificate of recovery but that sounds like it would be challenging when you’re not around your regular medical care providers (and I’m glad your mother wasn’t really sick – I assume she wasn’t if it came as a surprise?).

      1. Laura-

        Yes, it came as a surprise! She was a little winded when walking the hills of Lisbon, but so were plenty of people 30 years younger than her, so we didn’t think anything of it!

        We actually had to get a certificate of recovery from her doctor, because she continued to test positive (you can for months). Words of wisdom, won the hard way:
        – CDC guidance states that you can fly with a recent positive test (under 90 days) and a certificate of recovery.x
        – CDC does not state a minimum number of days prior the first positive test needed to be.
        – CDC does not state that symptoms must have abated at any particular point to fly with a certificate of recovery, but some airlines (at least United) require that the symptoms abated 11 days before the flight date. Unfortunately their website never states this and has 3 separate and contradictory sets of guidelines. And United chatbot agents don’t resolve the problem. It was only by going to the airport and talking to the agents that I was able to get the 11 day language made clear.
        – Just because your airline accepts your positive test and certificate of recovery does not mean your local authorities will. We had a VERY harrowing moment when moments before boarding the local Portuguese authorities insisted on checking tests — even through the airline had cleared things, and even though we were leaving their country — and they gave us the stink eye about her letter, talked to their supervisors, etc.

        But we survived! And hopefully someone will run across this and have better knowledge than I had going into this nightmare scenario!

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