Pandemic Travel: My Experience in Aruba

You got on a plane in the midst of the pandemic? Are you crazy? What was it like? There’s a lot of questions around pandemic travel, so I’m here to share my experience visiting Aruba, firsthand.

Waiting to board our flight at JFK

Why Travel Right Now?

I’ll be honest, as much as I love travelling, I didn’t expect to get on a plane until late spring/summer 2021. Even as a number of Caribbean islands reopened their borders to Americans, I couldn’t imagine the stress of travelling right now. In addition to ever changing entry requirements, I worried about the possibility of catching or spreading COVID-19 while in a confined space with others for hours.

However, after seeing so many articles about the increase in remote work visas, my tune changed. Working remotely and travelling has always been a dream of mine. Along with my parents and sister, I decided to work remotely from Aruba for one month. 

COVID-19 Entry Requirements

One of the big reasons I chose Aruba was its COVID-19 entry requirements. All U.S. citizens are required to either present a negative COVID-19 test result (taken 72 hours prior to departure) or take a COVID-19 test upon their arrival at the airport. In addition, everyone must complete an online embarkation form, including a health declaration.

GoPro footage from my flight to Aruba

Day of Flight

The day of our flight from New York to Aruba, I was expecting to be greeted with a nearly empty terminal at JFK. Surprisingly, it was quite busy. While everyone, employees and travelers alike, were all wearing masks, social distancing seemed to go out the window while waiting on line to check our bags and board the flight. My family and I were all required to present proof of our embarkation form, which granted us conditional approval to enter Aruba, both at the bag drop and at the gate.

Our flight was about 65% full and all the middle seats were empty. We flew into a bit of a panic two days earlier when we discovered that JetBlue had changed their policy and was now selling some middle seats. We decided to pay extra to choose our seats in advance; my sister and I were in one row, while my parents were seated across the aisle. 

In addition to coming armed with hand sanitizer, my family and I used disinfectant wipes to clean the area around our seats. Despite my plans to forego eating and keep my mask on for the entire flight, my hunger got the best of me and I ended up munching on some cookies. One pleasant surprise of the flight was deplaning. Everyone patiently waited to exit, allowing the people in the row in front of them to grab their bags before standing up.

Arrival in Aruba

My family and I opted to take our COVID-19 tests beforehand to reduce our chance of spreading the virus and to avoid the $75 charge for the airport test. Fortunately, we received our test results just as we landed in Aruba. We presented these results to an airport employee and were given a card stating we were approved for entry into the country. This was collected at the airport exit.

For visitors who needed to be tested upon arrival, there was a separate line, which was quite long. You are required to quarantine until the results come back. Aruba’s Ministry of Health aims to return your results within 6 – 8 hours.

Enjoying a meal out on our 1st night in Aruba. Since we tested negative prior to arrival, we didn’t have to quarantine.

On-Island Enforcement

Aruba has a mandatory mask requirement for indoor establishments and outdoors, only when 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained. I would give Aruba a B for enforcement of this rule. While the employees all had their masks on, a good number of the tourists, the majority of whom were Americans, did not have their masks on outdoors. Nonetheless, I felt relatively safe throughout my month-long stay on the island. The beaches were not crowded and the majority of the restaurants were outdoors, making it easy to avoid contact with other people.

Returning to NYC

Our return flight to New York seemed slightly more full, though I didn’t see any middle seats occupied. Aruba requires you to go through U.S. customs on the island, meaning you’ll have to go through Aruba’s security, immigration, and customs checkpoints, then duplicate this process for the U.S. My Global Entry membership came in handy and I was able to breeze past the U.S. customs line.

Our flight home had the same mask requirements, but a bit more drama. A couple refused to keep their masks on, causing the airplane to return to the gate, right before take off.

New York State requires all visitors, except those from bordering states, to fill out a health form and quarantine for 14 days. State representatives were handing out paper forms to each arriving passenger, but didn’t seem too forceful about collecting them. I had already completed the form online, so I simply showed my confirmation to the representative and headed on my way.

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