Global travel while the coronavirus pandemic rages

I made it to New York City and back to Israel, and lived to tell the tale.

NEARLY EMPTY: Ben-Gurion Airport waiting area (photo credit: SHARON FEIEREISEN)
NEARLY EMPTY: Ben-Gurion Airport waiting area
(photo credit: SHARON FEIEREISEN)
Like many people, I’ve been eager to resume international travel. While I spend most of the year in Israel and am married to a Tel Aviv-based Israeli, I’m an American whose parents live in New York City and with whom I’m exceptionally close.
Before the pandemic I was traveling back and forth every few weeks. As we all know, countries across the globe now have mitigation measures in place that include quarantines and limits on who can pass through their borders. These rules are always changing, so before planning any trips, make sure you qualify to get into the country you plan to visit and back into Israel, and know any restrictions that might be in place once you are there.
In early July I boarded a plane from Ben-Gurion to JFK, with all the expected anxiety. (As a non-citizen, will I be let back into Israel if I leave? Am I putting my parents at risk by visiting etc., etc?) 
I was told to get to the airport four hours in advance, yet within 25 minutes I was at the gate. The airport was nearly empty, so even though staff had been savagely cut, things moved faster than ever. On the Delta flight there wasn’t anyone, as far as I could tell, who didn’t have an entire row to themselves. 
There’s an inordinate amount of fear about flying, but given how empty my flight was, I felt safer at the airport and on the plane than I do strolling down one of Tel Aviv’s busy streets.
Delta had all the middle seats blocked off, something that isn’t a given on other carriers like United. The staff were exceedingly friendly, and everyone went out of their way to follow protocol. That said, when a plane only has a few dozen people, social distancing doesn’t take much effort.
Once I landed in New York, I zipped through passport control and baggage claim within minutes. Our nearly empty flight was the only one landing that early morning. There were no questions, no temperature checks, and seemingly no added security measures in place. Within minutes of getting off the plane, I was in an Uber cab to New York City and shortly thereafter in the Jitney bus to the Hamptons.
I didn’t spend very long in Manhattan, where I was born and raised, because like a good chunk of locals, my parents decamped back in March. They went to the Hamptons. Others when to Connecticut, Florida, or wherever else they were able to rent a house or happened to own a second home. 
It’s wasn’t hard to understand why. Crime has gone through the roof in Manhattan. Retail stores are, at best, boarded up, and at worst, vacant or for rent. The things that make the city so special – Broadway, nightlife, museums and cultural happenings – are all on pause through the end of the year, at least. And let’s not forget all the extra taxes that are hurled at New Yorkers just for living in Manhattan. 
With everything closed, anyone who could leave, left. It’s also worth noting that even though it had been months since the pandemic started, you still could not readily get Lysol wipes, Charmin toilet paper or even disposable masks in the city.
THERE WERE, nonetheless, three things I did see that impressed me. First, nearly everyone in New York City was wearing a mask. In Israel that wasn’t the case until fines were put in place. 
Second, restaurants are offering outdoor seating with tables either very far apart or with clear plastic barriers between them. A number of retailers, like Lululemon, are giving out free masks at the door and limiting the number of shoppers. They have also created QR codes that you can scan to get a text message when you can enter the store. That meant no waiting in long lines in the summer heat. 
And third, many grocery stores are offering special “senior shopping hours” and are set up with arrows to ensure one-way traffic through aisles.
When I made my way to the Hamptons, I found the same to be true. Restaurants, shops and farms have all gone to great lengths to ensure, as best they can, the safety of their customers. A few glossy workout studios have even managed to convert their indoor spaces to outdoor only. 
Among the most impressive was Tracy Anderson’s Water Mill studio. Billed as “Al Fresco Training,” the outdoor space comes complete with floor-length mirrors, Anderson’s signature joint-friendly, shock-absorbent floor to protect students’ knees, and personal headphones so everyone can adjust the music to their liking while blocking out surrounding noise. Students are all positioned eight feet apart, and while no masks are required during the workout, they’re required before and after, and the staff disinfects the space and equipment non-stop.
When I made my way back to Israel, I found the JFK Delta terminal still almost empty. There were only two flights departing, including my own. Once again, I made it to the gate in less than 30 minutes, and everyone on the flight had an entire row to themselves. While an empty airport and flight may sound amazing, in the context of coronavirus it felt, like so much else these days, disheartening.
Once I landed in Israel, I immediately got a text message asking me to fill out a form, in which I requested to isolate at home. If I didn’t meet the requirements, the text said, I would be sent to a “corona hotel.” At the time I landed those requirements included either living alone or living in a space where I could isolate with my own bedroom and bathroom. 
There were temperature checks and briefings on the mandatory 14-day quarantine. I was told that there would be regular check-ins, and if I left before the time was up I could face a fine of NIS 5,000. 
I was also told that no taxis were allowed in the pickup area, so my husband picked me up in our car, however, it turned out that there were plenty of taxis waiting to take the very few passengers who landed.
All that said, it still took no more than 30 minutes to make it from the plane to the car to get to my apartment – record time, as anyone who has gone through passport control at Ben-Gurion knows.