Skip To Content
  • Coronavirus badge

I Went To Japan After The Coronavirus Hit — Here’s What It Was Like Returning To The US

Thank you, hand sanitizer!

When it comes to travel, I’m not a big worrier. So in mid-February when I had the opportunity to book a last-minute flight to Japan, I went for it.

But the moment I arrived in Tokyo, the realities of the coronavirus started to hit. I felt cautious, but in control.

Then, as I got ready to head home, things really started to set in. This was my experience reentering the US.

I should note this is just my experience and perspective, and that since I flew home on March 6, travel warnings and the spread of coronavirus have evolved, and the World Health Organization has characterized the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. It is important to take government and CDC travel warnings seriously, especially if you're aged 60 or above, have any preexisting medical conditions, or have a weak immune system.

1. My biggest worry was getting home. United had started canceling flights, and even though my flight was direct, I was anxious.

2. I assumed my flight home would be empty, but it wasn't.

3. At check-in, the agent asked if I had been to China in the last 14 days. I was asked the same question (and so was everyone else) by the gate staff as we boarded the plane.

4. The number of people wearing masks at the gate and on the plane was surprisingly low.

5. There was no mention of the virus on the flight — it was business as usual.

6. I was expecting a lot more questions and protocol on my reentry into the US.

7. The airport experience in the US was vastly different than it was in Japan.

8. As normal as things seemed at the US airport, the moment I got home it was obvious the threat was growing.

9. I felt socially stigmatized.

10. I was immediately asked to work from home.

11. Before everyone started self-quarantining, I had to lie low.

12. I've tried to limit the amount of time I spend talking about the coronavirus by instituting a $5 rule.