Make Travel Safe Again
Insights from a mid-pandemic trip to Portugal
If you follow my social media, you probably know that I was recently in Portugal. Specifically, I traveled to the Azores Islands and Lisbon. Before you start travel shaming me, you should know that I was invited to visit by TAP Air Portugal and Azores Getaways to visit in a professional capacity. I flew over on TAP’s new 4.5-hour direct flight from Boston to São Miguel Island.
I had the privilege of being one of the first American journalists to travel to Portugal during the pandemic. I went to investigate what they are doing to keep their country safe during COVID-19 as well as to observe Portugal’s travel restrictions and the procedures they are putting in place as they ready themselves for tourism recovery. From what I can tell, Portugal has a great head start on what it will take to make travel safe again when the time is right.
PORTUGAL TRAVEL AND TOURISM SAFETY
Portugal is the first country in Europe to receive the Safe Travels Badge from the World Travel & Tourism Council. That is a pretty significant endorsement. In addition to that, Portugal has implemented the Clean & Safe program. According to National Health Authority guidelines, this coveted Clean and Safe stamp recognizes hotels, restaurants, and businesses as establishments that comply with all of the protocols set forth by Portugal’s National Tourism Authority. In essence, it tells visitors that a business has taken all the possible steps necessary to avoid risks of contagion of COVID-19 and prevent the spread of the virus. To-date over 21,000 stamps have been issued.
Consider what it means to travelers when they see a Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence badge. It likely confirms they have booked a top-rated hotel or a restaurant with great ratings. The Clean & Safe badge is designed to do the same with regards to travel safety. It should assure you that you have made a good decision regarding visiting a safe establishment during this unprecedented time.
TAP Air Portugal Clean & Safe program requires a negative RT PCR COVID-19 test within 72 hours of flight departure. That doesn’t sound like it should be too difficult, but as you know, testing varies from state to state and city to city. I don’t exactly live in a bustling metropolis. I live in Burlington, Vermont. Until recently, test results have been taking 7-10 days to get back. As luck would have it, the week I was set to fly out, a new testing facility opened at Burlington, Vermont airport, where I could get my test results within 48 hours.
Before departure, at check-in at Boston Logan airport, I was asked to prove my negative RT PRC COVID-19. Upon arrival at Ponta Delgada Airport in the Azores, I was asked to show that paperwork to customs officers.
In addition to proving a negative COVID-19 test, I also required proper documentation demonstrating that I was traveling to Portugal in a professional capacity and not for tourism purposes. Currently, Portugal’s travel is suspended for tourists. To prove that I had an official letter from TAP Air Portugal in both English and Portuguese to give to immigration officials upon my arrival.
Additionally, after clearing customs and collecting my bags on São Miguel Island, I was met by Azores officials in full PPE garb. Again as part of Portugal’s travel restrictions, they asked me to present the paperwork for my negative COVID-19 test. Before departure, I filled out a form on TAP’s website that generated a QR code. I showed that to the officials to scan, which sped up the process immensely.
I departed for São Miguel on an evening flight out of Logan, which left just before midnight. The airport was empty. Almost eerily so. Not only were there no people milling around, but the majority of restaurants, shops, and bars were also closed. At my gate, there were only a handful of people, all of whom wore masks.
Before boarding the aircraft, at the end of the jet bridge, I had my temperature checked. Although I had plenty of my own, Flight attendants handed out extra antibacterial wipes. Over the loudspeaker, we were informed that in addition to being required to wear a mask while on board, we should change them once every four hours.
I sat in first class on the new airbus 321 Neo. The seat configuration is two, and one meaning that rows two and four have a single seat. I was happy to have the maximum amount of distance between myself and the next passenger.
TAP AIR PORTUGAL LOUNGE
While at the Lisbon Airport, I was able to check out TAP’s new Premium Lounge. Besides having a cap on the number of people who can be let into the lounge, every other seat is blocked off, and placards on tables denote whether they are sanitized. While the buffet still exists, plexiglass separates guests from staff wearing masks, and food is individually wrapped or packaged for grab-n-go.
ON THE GROUND
Hotels – At all four properties that I stayed in during my trip, which includes the Marina Atlantico Hotel in Ponta Delgada, Terceira Mar Hotel in Angra do Herosimo, the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Lisboa in Lisbon, and the Hilton Boston Logan Aiport, I found tape across my door. This seal indicates that guest rooms have been cleaned and that no one has entered since the cleaning.
Temperature Checks – On tours, temperature checks and hand-sanitizer were mandatory.
Hand Sanitizer – In restaurants and bars, food and drink were delivered with hand sanitizer.
Sanitary Table setting – Tables were disinfected and set only once our party was seated. Servers used silverware as tongs to place cutlery and napkins on the table.
Mask Requirements – As of October 23, Portugal’s Parliament approved a law mandating mask-wearing in outdoor areas. Those who violate the order can face fines of up to 500 Euros.
TRAVELING RIGHT NOW
Obviously, the travel world has not returned to normal, and perhaps it never will. However, if you are considering traveling right now, I’d suggest using the following resources first to make sure you comply with airline and country travel requirements. I used the following to understand Portugal’s travel restrictions before I left.
- IATA COVID-19 Travel Regulations Map
- CDC COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination
- U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories
- U.S. Department of State Safe Traveler Enrollment Program
- European Union Re-Open EU
The bottom line? Follow the rules. Wear your mask. Socially distance. Get tested. Hopefully, if everyone does the right thing, we will all be back out there, traveling again safely soon.
Disclosure: TAP Air Portugal and Azores Getaways provided complimentary flights, accommodations, meals, and activities. No other compensation was received for this review. This post reflects the honest opinion of my experience without outside influence.