Traveling to Kenya Amid Pandemic
One of our favorite parts of travel planning is working with organizations that are serving around the world- like Open Arms International, an organization serving underprivileged youth in Kenya. The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way that all organizations are managing their travel programs, making them adapt quickly to changing policies both in the US and abroad. For essential reasons, Kaytie Fiedler, executive director at Open Arms International was able to travel to Kenya last month. She has some great insight into the international travel process, as well as some great stories about traveling in Kenya. Follow along for my recent Q&A with Kaytie!
Why did you choose to travel to Kenya in the middle of a global pandemic?
I have a client that needed my assistance in a rural area close to the Ugandan border.
Were you nervous to travel so far from home during such an unprecedented time?
I am an experienced international traveler, so I was not nervous. I was anticipating that there could be restrictions, changes in regulations and other unknown factors that could impact my travel, so I went with a flexible attitude.
How did you choose your flight path? Did you have many options?
I chose the fastest route on my preferred carrier, which was, Delta. There were a few options to consider and price and length of layovers were my deciding factors.
What was it like navigating airports and flying? Did you have to wear a mask the whole time?
Masks were a requirement in every airport and aboard every flight. Most of the retail locations and even eateries were closed and the number of travelers, especially on the international legs, were very low.
On the international legs I had an entire row to myself, and the stewards were very diligent about mask reminders. They were issuing a citation if you needed reminding more than two times, which could get you banned from flying.
What was it like arriving in Nairobi? Was it a more difficult process to pass through immigration?
The process to check in for the flight was lengthier than immigration. Keeping your testing documents handy, along with making sure you are registered with the right ‘safe travelers’ programs were key. Once in Nairobi I was asked for COVID testing documentation again along with a QR code that was provided after I registered for their safe travelers program.
The lines at Nairobi immigration were very short because the flight was nearly empty. There were health checks done immediately after de-boarding, requiring a temperature check and another review of all COVID related documents, prior to proceeding to the immigration desk.
How were domestic flights managed? Did you have to follow the same precautions as the international flights?
Domestic flights did not require any proof of COVID testing or vaccinations. Masks are a requirement and on some flights seats were blocked and on others you were sitting next to another passenger.
During your time in Kenya, did you feel like they were taking the necessary precautions to slow the spread of the virus?
I was in a rural area most of the time, so the locals did not wear masks and life seem to continue on as normal, as if there wasn’t a pandemic. Once inside the larger, more densely populated city, you were required to wear a mask in shopping malls and to your table in a restaurant. Hand washing stations were located outside malls and temperature checks were done before entering hotels and other large establishments.
Hotels in Nairobi have a mandatory mask policy, and sanitize your luggage and require hand washing and temperature checks before you are allowed in.
What was it like getting ready to leave Kenya and getting your test to enter the US?
Two weeks before my scheduled return, the Kenyan government shut down all domestic road and air travel to/from Nairobi. International flights were still coming into Nairobi - but once there you could not leave. With 48 hours notice and no end date given to the travel ban, I changed my plans and flew to Nairobi prior to the shut down.
My flight went through Amsterdam which required an antigen test be done 4 hours before boarding the flight in addition to the PCR test 72 hours prior. I was able to book a hotel next to a medical clinic that offered both tests, which made it easy to manage the process.
The U.S. requires a PCR test be done within 72 hours before entering the country, as well as, signing a waiver that you will follow proper protocols should you test positive at any time along your journey back to the U.S.. The waiver was provided at check in for my flight that entered the U.S. from Amsterdam.
Did you feel like the process to enter the US was more difficult than it used to be before COVID-19?
No, there was no difference beyond signing the COVID waiver required by the U.S..
Immigration was nearly empty because the flight was empty. There are no new questions on the immigration form and I am part of the Global Entry program, which now has a nearly no touch process. You center your face in the screen, it takes your photo, then a receipt is produced that clears you through immigration within seconds. I did not have to turn in my immigration form provided on the flight, the receipt was all I needed to proceed through immigration.
COVID aside, what was your favorite part of your trip?
I loved the rural area of Kenya that I was staying in. Peaceful, beautiful, and you can almost forget there is a world pandemic going on. The work I do is for a charity that rescues vulnerable children - so spending time with those that are being helped by our program is the most rewarding part.
--- --- ---
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, Kaytie! Your experience holds valuable information- something we're all desperate for as we consider returning to international travel!