We booked a flight to the Dominican Republic back in February, before the COVID-19 pandemic really took off. We got a great deal ($230 round trip from San Francisco) through Scott’s Cheap Flights for a two-week trip. Then…COVID hit. We left our tickets alone, thinking, “hey, maybe this COVID thing will be over by July”. Boy were we wrong. However, much like I tell everyone else, we left our tickets alone, knowing that if the airline cancels our flight, we were entitled to a full refund to our original form of payment. Here’s what happened.
We realized by May that this pandemic was not going to disappear anytime soon, but we’d learned so much about how the infection spreads and how to take the right precautions. The Dominican Republic was completely shut down to foreigners, which thoughts of reopening before July. Since we were unsure about quarantine requirements and immigration policies, we called Delta and asked to extend our trip for two weeks, giving us the chance to book an apartment and self-quarantine if need be. Delta was understanding and changed our tickets completely free-of-charge.
Next, I booked an apartment in Cabarete (a renowned Kiteboarding spot), complete with a kitchen to ensure we could make our own food. I also booked a car for the month through Avis knowing they have stringent cleaning policies and transparent pricing. This would allow us to minimize our interactions with others since we wouldn’t need to rely on taxis or public transportation.
Fast forward to the end of June when it appeared that the Dominican would open up with no quarantine requirements on July 1 – we were set to go. As our flight date was fast approaching on July 3rd, we stocked up on hand sanitizer, wipes, new masks (our favorites linked here) and filters. Delta sent us text messages and emails several weeks out constantly reiterating their policies and reminders to bring a mask. We have never been happier to fly Delta in our lives. As many of you may be aware, Delta is truly the only airline that is sticking to their policies of capping flight capacity in the US to 65% and blocking all middle seats on all flights through, at least, September 30. Unlike United and American Airlines that are stuffing people into planes like pre-COVID times, Delta guaranteed we would be on a relatively empty flight. Our roundtrip flights include a 3-hour layover in Atlanta, giving us just enough time to visit the Delta Lounge in Concourse F.
Adventure time: the check-in experience
Our red-eye flight on July 3rd to Atlanta departed at 11:35. This leg of our flight was in First Class on a 737. We arrived to the airport at 10:15pm. For our journey, we both wore baseball hats, glasses and masks. I braided my hair as well to keep it off my face. We were not surprised to find the airport completely empty. Check in was a breeze and everyone wore masks. Everything was easy and straight-forward, apart from their bizarre baggage policies that apparently state that if you have a layover in the US, your tickets don’t qualify for the free international baggage policy. Due to this being super unclear, we were able to get a refund by calling Delta the next day. Shortly after that call, I applied and was immediately granted access to the American Express Delta Gold card (free for the 1st year, $99 after and free first checked bag for all parties on my ticket. If you don’t have an AmEx platinum, you can also check out the Platinum Delta Reserve).
As we made our way through security, again, completely alone, everyone was wearing masks and respectful of distance. As we got through security, we noticed the hand sanitizer station immediately in front.
The boarding process
Delta, along with most airlines, have closed the majority of their lounges. Priority Pass and Centurion lounges are also closed. The Delta Lounge in SFO was closed, so we made our way to our gate. After thoroughly sanitizing the seat at the gate far away from all other passengers, we sat and watched others around the gate area. 99% of people wore their masks, but we did see a few passengers with their masks either off or pulled below their chins.
As the boarding announcements started, it seemed people abandoned all concept of Social Distancing and went straight towards to the gate queue. At that time, no announcement was made to stay seated until the row numbers were called, which was a bit surprising.
During this time, Delta is boarding flights from back to front, the only exception being folks who need extra time may board first. Personally, I’m on the side of boarding as late as possible. Since we were in First Class, this worked out for us anyway and we boarded last. While the boarding announcements were spaced fairly far apart, as we entered the gate tunnel, there was a huge line and zero social distancing. We stopped near the top of the gate and waited until our fellow passengers were all the way at the end before proceeding.
Once we got onto the plane, the flight attendants handed us two personal size sanitizing wipe packets and we made our way to our seats.
Flight #1: SFO –> ATL
Our seats, 2B and 2C, were the cleanest I have ever seen plane seats. It is clear that for the first time in a long time, airlines are actually cleaning the planes. Regardless of how clean it looks, we still took our wipes and made sure every surface was cleaned again. Note that the personal packets are very small and we did use our own wipes as well. Next, we sanitized our hands.
Given the circumstances, Delta did not offer blankets or pillows for the red-eye flight. While I can appreciate the situation, the plane was freezing and I was not prepared for that. If you travel, be sure to bring extra layers.
Similarly, this flight only offered personal water bottles in a ziploc bag along with a bag of Cheezits and 1 pack of biscotti. No soft drinks, coffee, tea or alcohol were served. We were prepared for this, thanks to Delta’s many emails and communications. We both had our new water bottles with built in straws to make sure we stayed hydrated.
We woke up in Atlanta to the landing announcement, which included a message to please remain seated until the passengers in front of you were already moving towards the front of the plane to help maintain some distance. Of course, literally not a SINGLE person listened and everyone got up and rubbed against eachother like always. Shocking, I know.
Regardless, we tried our best and made our way off the plane in search of the Delta Lounge that we knew would be open in Concourse F, the international terminal.
Delta Lounge at ATL Concourse F
After deplaning in the Domestic terminal at Atlanta Airport, we noticed how much more crowded this airport was than SFO. There were people everywhere and the majority had masks on. We did notice quite a few more people without masks on their nose and mouth than we’d previously seen in San Francisco. Once we got to the International Terminal, it was completely empty.
The Delta Lounge had large plexiglass covering the entire front desk, and behind the glass were two super friendly check-in agents. They both wore gloves and when I handed over my boarding pass and AmEx platinum, the agent grabbed a napkin to pick up my card and returned it also in the napkin to minimize ALL contact. I greatly appreciated the gesture. The wifi password is also “wearmasks”, lol. They reminded us that we must wear our masks inside the lounge.
The Delta Lounge had an amazing outdoor patio and there was no one else out there, so we took the opportunity to take our masks off to breath and relax for a little while. It felt great after a long night of mask-wearing. Keep in mind, we only did this because there was no one around. When we got up to go inside, we put our masks back on.
The food in the lounges have been scaled back to include only personal items such as individually wrapped sandwiches, oatmeal and snacks. There is a coffee machine and they ask that you use a napkin to dispense coffee instead of touching the machine with your hands.
The utensil holder was brilliant- individual spoons, forks and knives are dispensed automatically and you only touch that one utensil. The bar is still available, with a bartender behind plexiglass.
Shower service has been removed as an option due to the circumstances. However, the private restrooms are still available and they are spotless. I still used hand sanitizer after using the restrooms, grabbing food, etc.
Overall, the lounge experience was excellent. They do enforce the mask requirement and when we noted to the front desk that there was a gentleman who was not wearing a mask and refused despite our personally asking him to put one on, they took our comment seriously and went to speak with him again.
Flight #2: ATL –> PUJ
After our time in the lounge, we made our way to our gate for our second flight to Punta Cana. We noticed many more people were quite a bit more relaxed regarding masks here. We found a place as far from others as we could get and sat giving the stink eye to passengers shamelessly hanging out without masks. When the boarding announcement was made, again, people flocked to the gate like lice.
The same boarding process was followed and on this flight we were in Delta Comfort+, row 11 A + C. As we boarded the plane, I was having a mild freakout to Max because two women ahead of us were not wearing their masks, they were just hanging around the bottom of their faces. They would pull them up halfway to their mouths as they scanned their boarding passes and boarded the plane. I expressed this to the flight attendant upon entering the plane and she said “it looks fine”, turned away from me and ignored me from that point on…for the entire flight – I guess we know where she stands on the matter. I noted her name for the survey I knew would come later. This was NOT the same type of flight as we had from San Francisco, that much was clear.
Middle seats are blocked so we had this row to ourselves. This was the second row in economy on this flight. Once we boarded, we noticed the woman across the aisle, one row back took her mask off. The gentleman in the aisle seat and I exchanged horrified looks. Again, we noted this to a different flight attendant and he asked the woman if she wanted a new mask. She put her mask on at that point.
Several people had their masks below their nose, so Max and I made sure we did not take ours off the entire flight, even to drink water. Our water bottles have straws (linked here) and we brought our reusable straws for wine. Unfortunately, this experience was not as great as our first flight, but we were grateful for the middle seats blocked and 60% capacity, as well as the standard upgraded HEPA filters, hopefully filtering out the disgusting germs the jerks on the plane were breathing into our air :).
Arrival in the Dominican Republic
To be honest, we had no idea what to expect upon arriving in the Dominican Republic. The government had no updated information on their website, so all we had to go off of were comments we found online of people arriving on the 1st and 2nd of July, right before us. Some people mentioned temperature checks, so we expected at least that much. There was no mention of a quarantine or isolation. On the plane, we did sign 7 documents between the two of us…SEVEN! These documents stated that we were not ill and if we began to exhibit symptoms, we would need to contact the government. For filling out that many forms, I expected at least a temperature chec\k.
Upon landing, people immediately jumped into the aisles, surprise surprise, and again, we did the best we could to make it out safely.
There was virtually no immigration line and we made our way to the front. All airport staff were wearing masks and the immigration agents were very strict about how far you stood from the counter. We made it through and went to baggage claim. We assumed the final piece would be a temperature check, but once we got our luggage, we walked straight through with no further contact with airport staff. Weird, we thought. We weren’t sure why they didn’t do the temperature screening or anything else, but we made our way to the rental car area to pick up our car.
We noticed that, incredibly, every single person wore a mask at the airport. The exception to this was still just some of the Americans on our flight, who by the way, still weren’t wearing their masks. As we picked up our rental car behind plexiglass walls and after tons of hand sanitizer from the Avis, we were on our way north to Cabarete.
Overall, the journey went incredibly smoothly. From Delta’s incredibly generous policies they upheld, to the general mask usage, we were really impressed throughout the experience. It is clear, however, that not all flights are made equal. The leg from Atlanta to Punta Cana was significantly more “lax” than our first flight and that was disappointing to see. It was also disappointing to see some of our fellow Americans blatantly disregarding the health and safety of the people at the airport who didn’t have a choice about coming to work that day or not. It is my hope that everyone follows the rules and respects the local population if they insist on traveling during this time. The only way we will stop the spread of Coronavirus is if we all follow the rules, collectively, and have the respect and decency to consider others’ health, as well as our own.
As Max and I drove 5 hours northeast to Cabarete, we noticed even in the small, most rural towns, that the majority of people were wearing masks, even when they were completely alone. Children playing in the streets were wearing masks, men playing cards wore masks- so many people wore masks as if it was completely normal.
If you’re asking yourself if you should travel during this pandemic, here is my advice (of course, I am not a doctor and I cannot provide any medical advice):
If you are going to travel, do so only if you know you are not infected with COVID and only if you follow the rules. Wear your mask, respect the local regulations and know that travel is going to look very different. This is not the time to expect to go clubbing, living carefree sans mask or traveling like its any other day. We’re so incredibly grateful to be here and the experience is already so fulfilling, but we also know that we have a lot of responsibility to maintain our distance, stay safe and respect the local culture.
We hope that recounting our experience has been helpful! Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions or comments about the experience.