To my surprise, there was no one to speak to; simply a machine that scanned my passport and let me through into London.-On arriving in England
As this pandemic continues to unravel its way around the globe, more and more people are struggling with the decision to travel during this unprecedented time. Most countries have even administered a travel ban, urging their citizens to stay home if possible.
It’s an awkward decision for all involved and not one that should be taken lightly.
But what about the people that have deemed it necessary to buy a plane ticket and make their way into unchartered waters? What do they have to do? What can they expect?
*Photo by aircanada.ca
I write this blog to you as I sit through my second 14 day quarantine of 2020, having just flown myself from Montreal, Canada to London, England. This is not a forum in which we need to discuss what is considered “necessary travel”, but a place where those in impossible situations can perhaps be comforted by some information and knowledge about what it is to fly during Covid-19.
Though I technically live in Ottawa (2 hours from Montreal) and was heading to Plymouth (4 hours from London), I chose to fly on Air Canada 864, a direct flight from YUL to LHR. I predicted it would be safer to drive the longer distances on my own than take multiple flights, resulting in airport transfers (and Covid germs) along the way.
I was lucky that I had close family available to drive me both in Ottawa and Plymouth. Purchasing my ticket was done with no changes, and the price was fairly average for a direct overseas flight.
As a Canadian in the UK, I knew I would have to quarantine upon my arrival and was told, through the UK government website, to fill out a form 48 hours prior to my arrival in London. The form was fairly simple to complete, asking for flight/passport details as well as the address and phone number that I would be using during my quarantine. This is so that border control can call or stop by to confirm you are following the appropriate rules.
Link to check out the form – https://www.gov.uk/provide-journey-contact-details-before-travel-uk
The Montreal airport was quiet, but not deserted by any means. All the doors at departures were closed except one to control arriving traffic. After a few routine questions (destination, any symptoms?) and a barely noticeable thermal body scan, only passengers with tickets were admitted into the airport. Masks were mandatory.
Most people seemed to be waiting in line to check in with an airport employee, but I had no problem using the self check in and luggage machines to expedite the process. From what I could tell, most were open but the airport was quiet enough, it was easy to follow the 6 foot rule all the same. The counter restaurant before security was open, as was a smaller section of tables. Everything else was closed.
The international departures board at YUL
After being a lucky randomly-selected-passenger for a quick electronics bug test, I continued on towards security. There were 6 foot markers on the floor and the two middle sections of security baskets were blocked off to allow for more space. There were also glass shields between the security belt and the employees, to help protect everyone involved.
I zoomed through and picked up my bags on the other side, as usual. The whole airport process had only taken about 20 minutes to this point.
Once in the international section, most everything was closed except one restaurant.-At YUL
Directly past security, a sandwich/salad bar was open and I stopped to grab a quick dinner before my 6:45 flight. Again, there was a glass panel in between myself and the employee and the seating area was open. Everyone took their masks off to eat but seemed fairly respectful in putting them back on before leaving their table.
As I walked towards the international section of the airport, I noticed a convenience store was open (the type to buy snacks, books, an airplane pillow) as well as a few other counter restaurants and stalls. Not a huge variety, but enough to cover your basic needs. The bathrooms and water fountains seemed to be running as normal.
Once in the international section, most everything was closed except one restaurant. None of the duty free shopping was open and I quickly noticed that there were only 10 flights left for the evening, leaving the departures board looking empty and lonely.
Eventually, I boarded the plane with my 29 other fellow passengers. That’s right, we were only 30 flying that day. They boarded quickly, announcing all the seating zones within minutes of each other and we found our seats, very socially distant.
I had heard rumours that Air Canada supplied their guests with mini Covid bags (masks, disinfectant, gloves) but did not receive one. No matter. Having packed sanitizer wipes, I used a few to disinfect the area around me, including the tvs, table trays, arm rests and windows. Though the plane looked recently wiped clean and smelled of disinfectant, I recommend bringing some with you just in case.
I also packed three masks in my carry on which proved very helpful halfway through the flight, when my first one started to feel damp.
My fellow passengers prior to departure, boarding complete
Right after take off, the stewardess brought by two bottles of water and a cold dinner; some sort of veggie wrap, salted nuts, a piece of cheese and a cookie. Though nothing official was announced, it seemed the crew were trying to keep their distance. I didn’t really see them again until a few hours later when they served a cold breakfast; a bagel with a few sad cucumbers, another pack of nuts and a granola bar.
Looking back, I was happy for the snacks I brought with me. Everything else about the flight (the bathrooms, entertainment system, the boarding process) ran as normal.
Our flight landed about ten minutes early and we all debarked the plane with very little fuss. Trying to keep our distance, the 30 of us walked purposefully to customs, masks always on. I had, on hand, the document (that I had previously filled out on the UK government website) with all my quarantine information, expecting to speak to border control to explain my situation.
To my surprise, there was no one to speak to; simply a machine that scanned my passport and let me through into London. Though no one seemed to have too much trouble, I suspect that had those forms not been filled out and registered to my scanned passport in advance, I would have been redirected by an airport employee.
I made my way to the baggage carousel and my bag was the first to emerge only a few minutes later. From there, I walked straight through the exit into the car that would take me to Plymouth.
A week later, I’m sitting at my desk, patiently counting the days. I was impressed with my journey across the pond and with Air Canada’s successful measures to keep me safe. With only 30 passengers peppering the seats of a fairly large plane, I felt safer in those 6 hours than I had at a local grocery store just days prior. Though I don’t recommend flying during this time, I commend the airports and the airlines for creating an environment in which I felt able to travel when I needed to. My return flight to Montreal is August 23rd, where I will drive home to Ottawa and, you guessed it; quarantine for a third time this year. Joy.
A week later, I’m sitting at my desk, patiently counting the days. I was impressed with my journey across the pond and with Air Canada’s successful measures to keep me safe. With only 30 passengers peppering the seats of a fairly large plane, I felt safer in those 6 hours than I had at a local grocery store just days prior.
Though I don’t recommend flying during this time, I commend the airports and the airlines for creating an environment in which I felt able to travel when I needed to. My return flight to Montreal is August 23rd, where I will drive home to Ottawa and, you guessed it; quarantine for a third time this year. Joy.