Four months after Belize closed its borders, my husband and I travelled from Belize to Chicago, USA on a repatriation flight on July 17, 2020. Below, you’ll find my first-hand experience.
Our journey started at the Philip Goldson International Airport, where only ticketed passengers were allowed within the terminal. Much like every public place in Belize, face masks are mandatory inside the airport and for the entirety of your journey. At check-in, a sneeze guard of plexiglass separated the agent and ourselves. Meanwhile, security was as per usual; in the departure terminal, social distancing was requested with no rebuttals – everyone seemed more than willing to follow the rules. At the waiting area near the gate, every other seat was blocked off to ensure physical distancing between passengers waiting to board the flight.
While boarding, we could see substantial construction taking place at Belize’s airport. Here, a medical clinic and testing facility is slated to finish once the airport reopens on August 15. From afar, it was quite large and seemingly close to finish – a comforting thought as Belize is just one month away from reopening to international travelers. I found this impressive.
At boarding, United Airlines issued everyone disinfecting wipes on entry to sanitize your personal space. However, I took the extra precaution to Lysol our entire section, with additional disinfecting wipes on every reachable corner of our seats. For the duration of the flight, service was as per usual; snacks, water and sodas were all offered. However, the flight was pretty empty with the closest passenger at least 10 feet away. This was comforting.
A layover in Houston, TX
We arrived in Houston for our connection, although I was surprised that not much had changed; life seemed like pre-pandemic. There were no temperature screenings. In the immigration line, every other row was used to queue for physical distancing, but I was shocked at entry in Houston requiring fingerprint screening as usual. Yes, your four fingers and thumbs of both hands was required on the touchpad, but no sanitation was done between passengers. Customs was as per usual, however information was pretty limited throughout the airport.For example, I was unsure if masks were mandatory as nowhere stated airport requirements. Although, many still wore face masks, including ourselves.
Additionally, there was also absolutely no health inspection or screening before (or after) TSA; the only difference at this part of the airport was to keep your physical distance while in the line. However, all the retail stores were closed and the airport was a dead zone. There was very limited food options with everything now served in disposable ware; with nothing reusable was being served, this rang a huge bell on how it could negatively affect our environment. As an international port of entry, I expected a lot more preventative measures.
Arriving in Chicago, IL
Our flight to Chicago had more passengers than the first and I proceeded to disinfect our area the same as the first flight. Boarding and deplaning is now done by row number – not by group number – with only 3 rows at a time allowed to board or deplane. Again, flight service remained the same. Everyone on the flight was required to wear masks. Not to mention, we were lucky enough on both flights to have no one in the middle seats, but not all passengers had this luxury. On the flight, we saw every imaginable version of what people wore for their sense of safety: face masks, face shields, ski masks, hair nets, etc.
Upon arrival in Chicago, we could see a big difference. Mainly, the jet bridge had explicit signage and your first steps into the airport informed you of the rules enforced by the city of Chicago. Besides outlining their quarantine orders, the Chicago O’Hare International Airport had physical distancing decals installed throughout, as a reminder. The airport hummed with silence with our late night arrival – our flight was the only one for baggage claim. However, the experience in Chicago O’Hare International Airport made us feel better about the precautions taken for COVID-19.
How will Belize measure up?
I couldn’t help but think that these two airports, in such a developed country, have such minimal regulations. America is open with all the resources to implement first class technology and health screenings, yet are not. Meanwhile, Belize is outlining more precautions for travelers and citizens. Inside the Philip Goldson International Airport, you can expect physical distancing decals throughout and protective barriers, along with a health and temperature screening on arrival. Inside, everyone is required to wear a face mask – travelers and workers alike. Plus, kiosks for scanning passports upon entry, luggage scanners in the Customs Hall, and safety barriers where inspection of luggage is required.
For entry, Belize will require a negative COVID-19 test result; whether within 72 hours of travel (PCR Test) or on-site at the proposed medical clinic. Based on what I saw, traveling from state-to-state in America is more a risk than proposed travel to Belize.