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Travel Journal: What it’s like flying from Australia to Greece during the Covid-19 pandemic

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Life has certainly been far from normal since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation on March 11.

How this has affected life very obviously differs throughout the world, with each country and state adopting different methods to deal with it.

Perhaps one of the most authoritarian has been Australia, where its citizens cannot leave the country unless they make an application to the Home Affairs Department. This is supposedly to stop Australians from traveling and returning with the virus.

However, this is completely devoid of finding practical solutions to those who need to travel, or allowing thousands of jobs to return in the industry. One such example of allowing Australians to travel could be to force returnees into a 2-week quarantine in a designated hotel at their own expense. This is just one of many different solutions.

Naturally when it was time for me to lodge my application to leave Australia with Home Affairs there was a sense of doubt I would be approved.

Reason for leaving? Being a correspondent for Greek City Times in Greece and to do my PhD.

In my application I included a letter from Greek City Times, a letter from the university where I am doing my PhD and a copy of a 12-month rental contract. To my surprise it was accepted within a week.

The key is to provide as much information and documented evidence as possible to justify why you must leave Australia.

Currently, only Qatar Airways via Doha and Etihad via Abu Dhabi are doing the Sydney to Athens route. With Qatar Airways being several hundred dollars cheaper at the time, I booked my flights with them.

On the day of my flight, I arrived at the airport 3 hours before take off. What would ensue at the airport was over two hours waiting to check-in my luggage.

Although I had checked-in online and just had to drop off my luggage, several passengers were over the luggage weight limit and Qatar Airways staff did not move them aside so that the next passenger could be served.

After waiting for over two hours to check-in my luggage, myself and other Australian flyers were set aside so that Qatar Airways could contact Canberra and confirm that we indeed had permission to leave Australia. After that was done and I passed through security and passport control, I boarded the flight immediately with only 15 minutes before take-off.

Before boarding the flight though, we had to wear a compulsory mask and faceshield, that would have to be worn for the entire duration of the flight…

This humiliating and uncomfortable ordeal was only for those in Economy Class, with Business Class exempted from this.

In Economy Class there was an empty seat between every passenger.

Business Class were exempt from having to wear the the face mask and faceshield because there was more distance between each passenger, according to Qatar Airways, and cabin crew only wore the mask and not the shield.

Within 2 hours of the flight, the majority of passengers abandoned wearing the mask and faceshield combination, and only wore one or the other. Thankfully, cabin crew had no interest in enforcing passengers to wear the extremely excessive and uncomfortable combination.

After 22 hours and enduring mediocre flight food, I finally landed in Athens, where all passengers were immediately put in a line to show the QR code they received when they filled out the Passenger Locator Form at least 24 hours before arriving in Greece.

While lining up to be tested, and throughout Athens Airport, there are very clear instructions on how to conduct oneself during this pandemic.

After finally reaching the front of the line, I was quickly tested for coronavirus with a throat swab and was free to go through passport control and collect my luggage. My swab was then put in a test tube by the extremely friendly and efficient workers.

After collecting my luggage, I was then free to leave and take public transportation to my accommodation. But remember, in Greece you can receive a fine for not wearing a mask on public transportation.

On the train and metro, every second seat is cordoned off to try and practice social distancing, but this of course is rendered useless during peak travel times.

And there is always a constant reminder that masks must be worn on public transportation.

If you are lucky enough to leave Australia for Greece, remember 24 hours before arriving in Greece to complete the Passenger Locator Form, even if you are a Greek passport holder.

Also, do not forget to wear a mask when on public transport or in a shop in Greece.

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This post was last modified on August 14, 2020 2:50 pm

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Paul Antonopoulos

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