I flew from Turkey to the US during the coronavirus outbreak: Here's what it was like

Turkey suspended all international travel in late March, but a few flights have continued, including a commercial route from Istanbul through Minsk, Belarus, to a few European cities, and flights bringing home Turkish citizens from around the world.

Last week, US diplomats in Turkey helped arrange several Turkish Airlines flights back to the United States, including Flight 4096, to Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia, early in the morning on April 24.

I took that flight.

The sprawling Istanbul Airport, which opened a year ago and is one of the world's largest, was mostly shuttered. Passengers, for 14 or so scheduled international flights, were processed through a part of the airport normally used for domestic travel, by a small army of airport employees wearing protective gear.

Just inside the entrance, employees took the temperatures of arriving passengers. Elsewhere, check-in counters were roped off and covered in white fabric. A collection of luggage carts sat abandoned near passport control. Passengers milled around one cafeteria that was operating.

At least 70 passengers boarded the Boeing 777 to Dulles. We were greeted by flight attendants wearing masks, gloves, plastic face shields and white hazmat suits. Most of the passengers wore face masks. I wore ski goggles as well.

The wide plane was fairly empty, so I had my choice of seats. Most people sat far apart. Some vigorously scrubbed every surface around them with disinfectant wipes, then rigidly took their seats. A few people moved around the cabin frequently during the flight, seeming not to care who breathed on them, or what they touched.

Apparently because the headphones that are normally distributed could not be disinfected, the entertainment system was disabled for the nearly 11-hour flight. The flight attendants handed out blankets wrapped in plastic, but no pillows.

Meal service was different too. Instead of a tray full of food, passengers were handed plastic bags sealed with a sticker that said "We will succeed together" in Turkish and English. Inside were sandwiches, juice boxes and crackers and other snacks.


The flight attendants never lingered, hurrying through the aisles.

At Dulles, stickers on the floor at passport control reminded people to remember to socially distance. Perched on the desks of the customs agents were large bottles of hand sanitiser. I was pulled aside for special screening. A customs agent assured me that the gloves she was using to search my bags were new. Apologising, she confiscated a banana I had brought as a snack.

No one at Dulles took my temperature.


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