After 25 months of hanging out in the states, several cancelled trips, a few rescheduled trips, in September 2021 we decided things were looking good enough to plan a Christmas trip to Germany for the Christmas markets, a visit with a German friend and meet up with some Iowa friends who had the same idea we did.
We bought the tickets from Lufthansa – direct to Munich so no stops to cause possible problems. We found some great hotel rates since December in Munich is not a big visit time, lined up a schedule with Jutta and Sam and Josh. We were fully vaccinated and even got our boosters in November. We investigated how to get the online Vax Pass for Germany, where to get a COVID test 72 hours before flying home to Denver and uploaded the Luca app for contact tracing in Munich.
Everything was looking pretty good when COVID decided to attack Germany. We watched Bavaria and Saxony cancel their Christmas markets only a few days before the markets were supposed to start during Thanksgiving week. After we watched rules change for restaurants and museums, we gave in! Cancelled everything and rebooked our plane tickets for some made up dates next Fall.
Now where could we go for Christmas? We knew Hawaii was packed already but what about Tahiti? United flies direct from San Francisco, seats were available, and we could find hotels to stay in. Why not?? About 4 days later, we’d booked the flights, reserved hotels, and investigated Tahiti entrance rules – not in that order!
Paperwork and testing!
We needed to fill out a ETIS (electronic permission to board the plane and enter the country), prove we’d been vaccinated and pay $50 each for testing when we landed. At this point, we also needed a COVID PCR test within 72 hours before departing – 2:05 PM 12/7.
Tahiti gave us permission to come, took our $100, and all the documentation still told us we needed a COVID test (PCR) 72 hours or an antigen test 48 hours before departure from San Francisco. This meant we needed COVID tests after 2:05 PM on Saturday 12/4. We went on-line and managed to find one in FC. Actually, we found and scheduled 2 different ones in Fort Collins just to be sure – one for money and one for free.
I’m a big chicken when it comes to scheduling flights out of Denver in the winter with connections so we were flying from DEN – SFO on Monday 12/6 and then SFO – PPT on 12/7 (Tuesday).
Everything is going merrily along when Thursday 12/2 hits. I checked the French Polynesia entry requirement ONE more time (I have them memorized at this point.) and see that Tahiti changed the COVID test to 48 hours before departure, thanks to our Omicron friend. Now we need our test after 2:05 PM on Sunday. Time to cancel the FC 72-hour tests. (BTW – United still said 72 hours on their Travel Ready website and we’re thinking there are going to be LOTS of pissed people at the airport.)
Now what are we going to do? It is really hard to find a test in FC on Sunday that will get you results quickly. There’s always the SFO airport but those tests cost about $250 each and we made some reservations there just in case. Mark did great research and found a place in SF who would do a test on Monday afternoon and was even free. Another set of reservations were made! We just needed to take BART into the city and go from there.
Now it’s Friday and United texts us to inform us that Tahiti changed their entrance requirements to a test 24 hours before departure. I’m pretty sure they were wrong but who am I to argue with United when they control access to their planes? More research! Mark finds a place that will perform rapid antigen tests in San Bruno about 4 miles from our hotel by SFO. We make more reservations for after 2:05 PM on Monday and cancel the ones in the city. We rent a car for the day, too, so we can actually get to the test site.
Saturday and Sunday, I keep checking United and French Polynesia which still don’t agree.
Monday rolls around, we fly to San Francisco, pick up a car, and wait until close to our reservation time for our COVID test. Google maps gets us to the address which has the correct signs and is a repurposed shipping container. We drive up; fill out a bunch of forms on our phones while we sit in the car. The lady does the test and we head off to Target to pick up some socks since Susan forgot to pack any. By the time we bought socks, our results were available. We passed!
Back to the hotel for the next stress point. United makes you upload a picture of your passport and the app has a bit of trouble actually focusing. No, you cannot upload a jpg file. The app has to take the picture. We also had to upload the file with our COVID test results. Mark downloads the file on his tablet and uploads it to the United website. Approved! Susan downloads the file on her laptop and uploads it to United. Fail! Not accepted! Try number 2 – Fail! Mark reads the comments closely and sees that the file can’t be read. SO … Susan sends link to Mark, he downloads the file on his tablet and uploads it to United – Approved!
We are ready to go and had a few beers and wine at dinner to celebrate!
Lessons learned for COVID travel:
- Check and double check and triple check the rules and regulations for testing. Everyday is a good benchmark!
- Print out EVERYTHING! If you have any form that is electronic, print it out.
- Take then entire pile of paper with you on your flight.
- Download any files that you couldn’t print to your phone AND to any other device you are traveling with.