Lockdowns from COVID-19 in 2020 were brutal for the global tourist. They also took a massive toll on the tourism industry. Luckily, European nations decided that bringing back tourism this year was a top priority and had to be done with careful controls and measures.
On July 12th, French President Emmanuel Macron made a bold move and announced a new health pass system that would allow tourists and citizens to begin to safely access public spaces again. The French/EU health pass grants its holders entry to businesses, events, and long-distance forms of transportation by showing a scannable code that proves a complete vaccination against COVID-19. Whether you want to sit at a Parisian café or take a high-speed train, you must be able to show your health pass.
Businesses will be fined heavily if they do not check QR codes at the door. There have been many protests in France over this new measure, but the rule has also prompted millions of French citizens to get fully vaccinated.
After almost twenty-one months of no flights abroad, I was thrilled to get back in the international travel saddle!
First Trip: Denver to Bordeaux, France
I visited France in early September to cover the wine harvest in Bordeaux. I was able to apply for the French health pass easily online. It arrived by email overnight.
- Airline Ticket to France
- Proof of full vaccination
- Arrival and departure dates and where you will stay while in France
French/EU COVID Pass – Non-EU citizens may apply online here:
I was also required to obtain a COVID PCR test 72 hours prior my arrival in France. This caused extra stress prior to my trip, as my health provider told me that results could take from 24 to 48 hours to be received. The results appeared on my phone (72 hours later) just minutes before I checked in for my flight.
I flew from Denver on a low cost/low thrills airline, Iceland Air. I was required to wear my facemask during the entire seven-and-a-half-hour flight to Keflavik, Iceland. My mask could only be removed while drinking or eating.
When I arrived in Paris and checked in at my hotel, they asked to see my health pass. Restaurants also requested the same upon entry. When I arrived at the train station a security guard checked my health pass and banded my wrist with a blue wristband. Hey President Biden, why can’t we follow the French? They are handling this so well!
No one in France asked to check my COVID PCR results. I wonder why I had to get that?
When I embarked on my return flight from Paris to Iceland, I was asked to show my proof of vaccination. When I arrived in at Keflavik airport to connect with my flight to Denver, travelers were herded like sheep through a very disorganized customs checkpoint.
At the gate to Denver, there were two Iceland Air employees checking paperwork. One employee was telling passengers that they could not board the flight without a new COVID PCR test that had been completed in the last 72 hours. A second employee was just checking passports and allowed me to enter the boarding line without interruption.
Trip Two: Denver to Barcelona, Spain
Several weeks later, my wife Darcy and I departed on a trip to Barcelona, Spain, where we would begin a seven-day cruise of the Mediterranean.
Spain has their own COVID Pass system. It is very similar to the French COVID Pass. Travelers are required to register online here: https://www.spth.gob.es/
We were required to get a COVID PCR Test within 72 hours prior to our arrival. We did this at a Kaiser drive-through kiosk. Luckily, results arrived on our phones on the same day.
We flew on a United Airlines flight from Denver to Frankfurt, Germany, where we connected to our Barcelona flight. At the Denver gate, a United agent checked all of our paperwork and passports. We checked in our luggage and received our boarding cards for both flights.
When we arrived in Frankfurt, we transferred to our flight to Barcelona. At that gate, we were asked to show our paperwork again (including our COVID test results). Upon arrival in Barcelona, we were asked to show our Spanish Health Pass at the customs counter.
When we arrived at our hotel in Barcelona, the front desk clerk asked to see our passports only. He explained that Spain had not yet made it mandatory for hotels or restaurants to check Spanish Health Passes.
Part Two: The Cruise
The following afternoon, we took a taxi to the Barcelona Cruise Terminal and we checked in for our cruise with Norwegian Cruise Lines. We were excited to take a tour of the Mediterranean by sea. The price and features were fantastic. All passengers and crew had to be vaccinated and that made us feel safe.
The check-in process involved several steps.
- When we first arrived at the cruise, all of our paperwork was checked, our luggage was accepted, and we were given keys to our state room.
- The next step was our COVID Antigen Test. We were required to pre-register for this in advance. We had the QR codes on our phones ready. The test involved two quick nose swabs each. We were given special index cards with six-digit codes at the top and were led into a waiting room. The room had a large screen monitor that displayed twenty individual test codes at a time. When our codes appeared on the screen, we flagged down security and they checked us in for the cruise.
We then were allowed to board the ship, we found the nearest bar to order a celebratory cocktail!
On the sixth day of the cruise, one day before embarkation in Barcelona, we were instructed to visit a meeting room where we were given another COVID Antigen test. The results were delivered to our room later that evening.
The following morning, we disembarked the ship, gathered our luggage and took a taxi to our hotel in Barcelona. We decided to stay and explore the beautiful city of Barcelona for two days before returning home to Denver. To my amazement, no one in Spain asked to see our COVID test results until we checked in for our return flights to the United States. At the boarding gate, a Lufthansa representative asked to see our COVID tests results. She noticed that our tests were three days old (72 hours) and verified with a manager that she could allow us to board our flight.
The airline had not notified us that this would be a requirement. So, in retrospect, we were glad that the cruise line included our COVID test as an extra measure.
Stressful? Yes! Was it worth the hassle? Yes!
Welcome to the new world of international travel. If you are planning an international trip, do your research online. Check the country’s requirements as well as your airline’s requirements as they may differ. In my opinion, airlines are overcompensating to make sure passengers can complete their flights.