During the height of the pandemic lockdown, I recall telling a friend that I'd be so happy to get travel again that I wouldn't even complain if I got stuck in the last row of coach.
Silly, delusional me.
While I am thrilled to now be vaccinated and back in the air, the harsh reality is that the return of the masses has made the getting there more complicated, expensive and frustrating than ever.
From passengers flouting mask and social distancing rules at every opportunity to the uncertainty of whether border or testing rules will change on a dime -- even whether drinking water will be available in coach -- my anxiety about the discomforts of modern air travel returned the second I boarded my first flight during the pandemic last year.
Getting to Costa Rica, on its face, for a long weekend getaway this month was fairly simple. It's a relatively short, easy trip. And its borders have been open for months with no testing requirements. But passengers are required to buy insurance to cover any extended hotel, quarantine or hospital stay should they contract Covid-19, and that must be dealt with before leaving, as proof is required before you board your flight into the country.
A Google search said options other than the three Costa Rica-licensed providers listed on the official Costa Rica tourism website were cheaper. But I decided not to risk having the wrong or insufficient coverage and paid $50 to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Costa Rica for my three-night stay.
The check-in process at Liberia Airport was smoother for Delta, which has adopted technology to let travelers scan QR codes that verify they have the negative Covid tests needed to enter the U.S. American manually checks documents. Photo Credit: Jeri Clausing
I also needed to line up my Covid-19 test to get back into the states. My rather remote mountainside resort could arrange a doctor to come for $180. But since I was landing in Costa Rica only about 74 hours before my departure back to the U.S., I decided to hang out at the airport for an hour or so after clearing customs so I could get a test within the 72-hour predeparture window. That turned out to be the easy part. For $65, I walked up to the testing site that had been set up in the airport parking lot and was in and out in less than 10 minutes. The results came back in less than an hour.
But there's always a wrinkle. And that came on check-in to leave when I realized that despite having only a carry-on, I was going to have to queue up in the long American Airlines general check-in line to show proof of my test. As the line spilled beyond the snaking ropes set up to keep the queue orderly, ground employees at two different points meticulously, but slowly, manually checked everyone's varied documents and cell phone files to verify everyone had indeed met the testing rule. My impatience grew as I stared at the nearby empty Delta counter and the signs telling customers how to use QR codes from their testing centers to download and verify test results.
During the nearly hourlong wait, I tried to keep my suitcase far behind me keep to force some space from a crowd that seemed oblivious to the social distancing stickers all over the floor. And masks, of course, were also in various states of placement on people's faces.
After I finally made it through check-in and security, I breathed a sigh of relief, then headed straight to the lounge for lunch and a cocktail before boarding a four-hour flight that offered nothing but a one-time service of a small bottle of water and a bag of pretzels.