Our experience : Flying back to the Philippines during Covid-19 – All you need to know
My mom Tita Eliza, CEO of the travel agency Visit-Philippines, received a phone call from our family in the Philippines. They said that my grandmother – my Lola – was sent to the hospital after feeling depressed from loneliness and facing poor health conditions. Our biggest fear arose. Maybe this is yours too, especially during this global Covid-19 pandemic : to lose loved ones and not being able to see them on time.
The decision was clear : to book a flight back to the Philippines ASAP for my mom and I.
After all the anxiety coming from long waiting days and the last minute flights cancellations, we finally were able to book a flight with Emirates Airlines*.
Whether you are an expatriate hoping to return to your home country, a traveler with an urgent personal or business matter that requires an international trip or a tourist willing to consider a holiday in the Philippines, here is what you need to know*!
(*please keep in mind that along with time, measure and protocols can be modified – please check latest updates and requirements with your airline company, airport of departure/arrival and embassy – not sponsored – no lower rates for travel agents)
How do you book a flight back to the Philippines?
First, not everyone can travel and enter to the Philippines. Please check latest updates of the Philippines government measures about international flights.
Who can Travel to the Philippines ?
As of Septembre 29th 2020, only Filipino passport holders – OFWs , Filipino residents – with valid passports (6 months valid before date of flight) can travel and enter the Philippines. All borders are closed to foreigners and touristic/leisure motives.
As for my father who is French but married to a Filipina, he was able to fly and enter the Philippines by showing official document of Family Record Book both in French (to French customers) and English (in Dubai) .
Flight schedules remain uncertain with frequent and last-minute cancellations and changes in departure dates and times.
A capacity quota
Mainly because airlines can’t fill enough seats on the plane to make it financially worth it. To make life less painful for passengers in these uncertain times, many airlines have dropped fees for changing flights and are even honoring unused but expired tickets.
Travel agency or online
Thanks to our travel agency services, we were lucky to have access to the latest airline updates – as soon as a flight was maintained, my father booked us the tickets and informed other clients willing to travel back too. If interested, kindly send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org Another way is for you to directly check online into airlines’ websites. Keep in mind, that the main differences are – in case of any last minute issues, a travel agent will take care of everything for you.
We booked 2 tickets in Economy Class with Emirates – departure on July 4th, 2020 at 3:51PM . Here is our experience :
Pre-boarding The trip - how does it go?
Once we entered the Paris Charles-de-Gaulle Airport, our first thought was : “There are so many people!” We quickly lined up to our counter ready for check-in. While waiting for our turn, we filled up a Medical Health Form.
Tip : Emirates does not allow hand carry baggage on board – Passengers can only a shoulder bag or backpack. However, This restriction doesn’t apply to ALL airline companies. Double check in advance the new restrictions and measures.
Boarding - flight
From Paris to Dubaï
Mask and Gloves on.. It’s time to travel!
Flying during covid-19 pandemic is a surreal experience that I hope won’t last too long..! If you ever happen to travel during those special conditions, here are the main changes I noticed when Travelling during the covid19 pandemic compared to a flight in normal conditions
- The plane was almost empty – there were at least 3 seats apart from the passengers – my mom and I had our own row of seats so we could lay our legs and be comfortable.
- All the cabin crew staff was wearing a full-body protection uniform, masks and glasses. But surprisingly they still looked great and fashionable!
- All reusable items such as pillows, headphones, covers were all covered into plastic.
- Before departure, stewardess gave each passenger a Travel Hygiene kit with inside
- 2 pairs of gloves in 2 different sizes : M and L
- 4 disposable masks
- Sanitizer gel
- 2 sanitized tissue
As for food in the airplane, they serve regular meals & snacks and drinks for your convenience. But we prepared our own food for extra precaution especially since my mom is at higher risk.
After 8 hours of flight, we finally landed to our stop-over in Dubaï. It’s Midnight and we were half-way to our final destination
What to do?
- Shopping & Restaurants : Dubaï Airport is big and feels empty. Duty Free stores and some food chain restaurants such as Starbucks and Mcdonald’s were open.
Tip: Eat something before getting inside the plane! If you plan to not eat during the next flight, This would be your last full meal.
- Find a calm corner far from the crowd & relax : Almost 3hours of wait until boarding. I personally recommend passengers to avoid crowded areas of the airport, carry hand wipes, sanitize or avoid “high-touch” areas.
- VIP Lounge : If you have a special card (Masharba, American Express) that allows you to purchase any extra services such as entering the VIP lounge, it’s time to use it ! Enjoy the free food (chicken biryani), the free WIFI, the clean, spacious and comfortable seats before your flight !
From Dubai to Manila
As I said earlier, we were only haf-way through this journey.. And little did I know this part would be the hardest one. Indeed, this second trip was drastically different from the first one.
– Plane was full : From afar, we could spot a big crowd of passengers boarding… Mainly OFWs from Dubaï, others from everywhere (Seamen coming from Brazil..)
– We could notice a difference of treatment between the OFWs and non-OFWs travellers who were prioritized. (= to read more about it blog link
– Once inside the plane, no social distancing
– All seats were taken
– No hygiene travel kit given this time
And once seated, i felt ambushed and I could see danger everywhere but food and water were still served but we fell deeply asleep during the whole flight.
But no choice… Time to be brave and patient.
Landing in Manila airport : the process & experience
- When landing in Manila, we felt relieved and anxious because we knew the SWAB test was out there..
- First thing to know when you enter the Philippines, Required COVID-19 testing and quarantine for Overseas Filipinos and foreign nationals traveling to the Philippines are mandatory (stated by the Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines and processes implemented by the DOT and BOQ Bureau Of Quarantine)
And my first impression is how well-coordinated NAIA Airport staff was !
– A group of military guards & medical team under PPE’s will welcome you upon arrival
– Travellers will be separated into lines : OFWs and non OFWs, foreign nationals
– Non-OFWs and Foreign Nationals were prioritized to get into the 1st phase : Red Cross Registration or e-CIF for All Arriving Passengers :
We entered a room for a general briefing about the safety measures and next protocols. Followed by a mental health awareness speech. They ended the briefing with an open questions-answers – if you have any concerns, time to ask questions!
We had to scan a QR code on our phone and fill up a form (http://e-cif.redcross.org.ph) with basic information (personal information, travel history) , you’ll receive an email with a QR CODE to present later on your turn of interview
– Then proceed to SWAB test . Yes, this is it. The moment we feared the most … letting doctors put huge cotton pad in our nostrils!! In reality, it looks scarier than it really is. Some information to know :
- It is free and mandatory
- They will insert cotton pad in your 2 nostrils + 1 in the mouth
- Uncomfortable (I personally felt I was drowning then I almost puked) but very fast
- Takes 3 minutes
Ps: A young kid of 6 years old did it with a smile, you can do it too 😉
– The nurse will put a sticker with a number on the back of your passport – You will need it to identify yourself online and look at the results.
– Where to find the results?
- You will receive an email from Red Cross Philippine
- Check the website Coast goard for the “Negative PCR results ” list (but not very reliable since late updated)
- https://www.redcross.com.ph/verify (need ID number + passport number)
Go through the last step of passport immigration and time to get your luggage !
Last step: Airport-Hotel Transfer & Being quarantined
Are we done? Oh not yet! You can’t leave the airport so easily… Time to get ready for self-quarantine!
- How long? According to the Department of Health (DOH) & Bureau Of Quarantine (BOQ), Self-quarantined is requested and mandatory for all travelers officially for approx. 14 days maximum before going anywhere else (home, to families..) you can leave as soon as you receive your SWAB / PCR test by email – it can take 2 to 5 days. My mom and I stayed 3 nights quarantined . My father only 1 night.
- Who covers the charges? You. I quote ‘Those who are financially capable to pay for their own food and accommodation may be allowed to stay in a BOQ-approved hotel quarantine facility of their choice”
- Where did you stay? Thanks to kuya Jeff, our hotel was booked in advance at Azumi Boutique Hotel, right next door to our home village.
- If I didn’t book a hotel, what should I do? If you weren’t aware and haven’t booked a hotel yet, don’t worry it’s not too late. Just line up and the DOH will find an available facility for you.
Now, for airport transfer : no one from your relatives or no grab/ cars from outside can fetch you – you can only take the taxi and SUVs coordinated with the DOH provided at the airport
ps: Fees and toll gates are under your personal charge
This last phase (hotel reservation, fill up forms, transportation..) can take from 1 to 5 hours depending on how many travelers there are and on your travel status (OFWs, non-OFWS or Foreign Nationals)
Finally we leave the airport. Get inside the van. My mom and I can finally relax watching the sunset. Seeing Manila almost empty calmed our mind and hearts. But it wasn’t finished yet…
Once checked in, time to stay confined. Be careful, you are not allowed to leave the hotel for any excuses. Guards will report you if you do. Plus, think of the others – your friends and family – just be patient and wait for 3 to 5 days until results are released to go out and see your relatives!
We will see you soon Lola! Wait for us !