Coronavirus still seems to hold everything in the balance and wield its power over us all. This story is anecdotal, but I'm sure many more were affected by Greece's sudden decision to open and close borders, literally within hours to U.S. tourists and U.K. citizens.
At around 3 am, the morning of June 15th, I was thrilled to check Greece's U.S. consulate website, one that I have gotten to know very well over the past few weeks, trying to decide if we should cancel our scheduled trip from the U.S. to Greece. June 15th was THE day in Europe: many borders and rules were being lifted, the biggest hurdle to any traveler. Greece made a bold move and announced that they were opening to tourists again, even to U.S. citizens.
Sure enough, a message from the Prime Minister, standing in front of the glowing whitewashed buildings in Santorini, was, “Our message is simple, come to Greece.” I turned off my phone, excited for the good news.
For the past few weeks, we called government and consulate offices, ensuring that our travel to Greece would be secured. We understood that upon arrival in Athens, we would be tested for Covid-19 and spend a night in a government building in Athens awaiting our test results. Having already been tested, we knew our test would be negative. Then, we would be able to self-quarantine for 7 days and then enjoy a 7 day holiday on Greece's Peloponnese and the islands.
June 15th, we packed our bags and headed to DFW's airport at 2 pm for our 5 pm flight. We had paperwork filled out for France, where we'd be transitioning from France and then on to Athens. We were a bit worried that there would be problems at the airport, particularly in Paris. Still, after receiving confirmation from Pari's Charles De Gaulle airport, Athen's airport, and speaking with the U.S. Greek consulate, we felt we had everything in order.
I was ecstatic. I couldn't wait to head to one of my favorite places in the world, Greece. Michael had the right idea, “Don't get too excited, Helene. We aren't sure what could happen.”
This was our first international flight since the pandemic hit. We actually were on a sponsored trip in Dublin, Ireland right before all flights seemed to halt in February. I remember thinking, when everything first started and Coronavirus seemed to affect more and more, that there was no way this could last longer than a few weeks. But then it was clear this was a real pandemic, and Michael and I self-quarantined in our home for months, barely leaving the house when we needed food. But back to our June 15th flight. The plan was to take a flight from DFW at 5 pm, arriving in Paris on the morning of June 16th and arriving that evening in Athens.
The news seemed to be good; phase 2 was rolling out. This is exactly what it said (and we adhered to every single step):
That is from the Ministry of Foreign affairs in Greece. We also checked the U.S. embassy website which was updated June 15th with the same information, again, welcoming U.S. tourists.
At the airport, we went to the check-in desk, eagerly handing over our passports, wearing our blue medical-grade masks. But the woman at the check-in desk at American Airlines shook her head, “You can't take this flight.”
We were confused, but found out that Greece, just hours ago went from excitedly allowing tourists in to suddenly changing their minds.
How could this be?!
We scampered for information on our phones but couldn't find anything. We spent a few hours talking to customer service, gate agents, check-in desk attendants and then, we refreshed the U.S. Embassy in Greece's webpage, and suddenly it changed.
The information on Phase 2 and welcoming U.S. citizens had changed, now the time was extended for the USA and Brits to July 1st. WHAT?!
Greece changed its mind in literally hours on the day they were to open the border.What could we do? Well, really nothing at that point.
We went home and tried to get refunds on flights, bookings, and stays. As of now, it seems traveling to Europe for U.S. citizens, is not possible. While it seems information is changing daily, it appears countries are making decisions and changing their minds in hours. So, why did this happen?
Unfortunately, there's not much information that we could find. There was one article from the U.K.'s Daily Mirror exclaiming that Greece had a last-minute change:
“The government changed its stance once again after previously deciding to resume flights between the two countries on June 15.
Greek officials told the Guardian that the decision was made in line with the European Commission's recommendation to phase out travel restrictions gradually.”
We think that Greece might have felt extreme pressure from the European Union to follow suit. Meanwhile, Greece has largely not been affected by Coronavirus with only a little over 3,000 cases. Losing millions in tourism dollars and many jobs affected, they seemed the most eager to open their borders and start to travel. But apparently, not just yet.
Health and safety are a top priority and I can completely understand them changing their mind, espeically with the surge in cases in the U.S. I wrote this as I wanted to shed some light on the situation from a personal aspect.
UPDATE: If you need a refund on flights, it will take LOTS of time, but call and talk to a person about getting a refund or changing a booking. We spent 2 hours on the phone with United and originally they said no but they were able to change it.
I'll continue to share more and update this document with what borders are and not opening in Europe here. I'll also be sharing updates on our travel and what's to come on my Instagram: @heleneinbetween.