The escape to Canada – Travel in the time of COVID


I’m not saying I thought getting home was going to be easy – I know London has a scary Varient and that travel was being heavily restricted – but I was still hopeful for an uneventful trip…

But first – what is this War Measures Act? I think it’s pretty important to understand that on a global scale – Canada is doing pretty well – and yet we’re seriously talking about the War Measures Act – now called Emergencies Act. This name change and ability to implement it was done in 1988. The big difference is that the Prime Minister can’t just say – I’m doing this. Parliament has to review it. Not sure they have to agree – but they must review it. So if it gets implemented – it will be after Parliament reconvenes on Monday, Jan 25.

But even so – getting out of Dodge and into Montreal seems the right thing to do on Saturday, Jan 23.

Adrienne and I, as planned, got up from a sleepless night at 6:30, got dressed and loaded up the car with my suitcases. Before leaving the condo I did one last sweep to be sure nothing was forgotten – looked good.

Our drive from her flat to Heathrow was absolutely uneventful. The only scary part was getting the car out of the seriously too small parking spot and onto the road. Once accomplished – the sailing was smooth. Traffic was light to non-existent and we arrived at Heathrow by 8:15.

Parked the car – took the elevator (only had to wait for one other group to board before we were able to ride up alone) to the 5th floor to find out that the COVID testing center – our first stop – was on floor zero. Ok – back on the elevator – back down.

There were lots and lots of signs of floor zero – so we pushed my loaded cart to the test center. It was clear that they were prepared for hundreds of people to be waiting in line – it looked like Disney land on a very bad day. But all the stanchions and all the ropes that marked line after line were completely empty.

There were perhaps 30 folks in line – and several ‘helper’ types directing traffic. I got in line by just asking folks – is this the end of the line – and Adrienne stood with my luggage waiting. It was much cooler in the open space near the stanchions – so she put on my good winter coat. I’m glad it got some use – I think that’s the only time it’s been warn since I left Montreal.

For a line, it moved quickly. Although the guy in front of me kept giving me the snake eye – I was standing too close to him. Even though I was masked and had on my face shield. Sorry about that – I should have grabbed an empty luggage cart to keep us apart.

The guy behind me was chatty – he told me that he’d decided to get the test done today but he was only flying tomorrow. He was heading for the US – and like me – needed a negative result to get on the plane. I’m guess that was true of most folks.

Rather quickly (maybe too quickly – I am nervous about this test) it was my turn. The helper at the front of the line told me that I’d go inside, get tested – they would email me the results. I could just show the PDF of the results to the ticket folks, or come back down and (for free – or basically included in the price) they would give me a printed copy.

Then I was ushered into a make-shift space. There was a row of tables with plastic separations, both front and sides. A young man guestured at me to sit down – took a look at my passport, and made sure I had an appointment (for an hour later – but apparently that was no problem). He took my money, and then sent me directly behind him to visit the nurse.

The nurse couldn’t have been nicer. He told me to relax, that this wouldn’t hurt, and when I had closed my eyes, took a wand and quickly swiped the inside of both nostrils. No swap down the throat, not pain, not even scary.

Whew.

I left the area – they had once side of the row of tables labeled in, one labeled out – but a bottle neck at the door. I had to wait till folks cleared the door way to get safely out and back to Adrienne.

We’d thought we’d be able to sit and have a cup of coffee/chai – but everything was blocked/closed/not available. We could have sat in the car.. but I was too nervous to take that option seriously, so we hugged and said good-bye.

Adrienne headed back to the car, I headed back up to floor 5 to wait for my ‘you are positive/you are negative’ email.

To my surprise – the inside of the airport was mobbed. Seriously mobbed. Well, ok – mobbed by COVID standards. I threaded my way past folks toward the coffee shop that was my destination. I needed coffee and I needed it now.

Unlike 3 months ago – the coffee shop was open ONLY for take-out. All the tables and chairs were blocked off or piled up – you are definitely not sitting here to enjoy that coffee. I got my top favourite British treat – a Bakewell Tart – and a medium latte. I found a quiet corner near Air Emirates and sat on my luggage cart to enjoy my coffee and read my newest story- Calico Joe.

Shortly after 9:30 I got my email saying my test was negative.. Whew. I drag myself back down to floor zero where a lovely staffer takes a picture of my phone showing my appointment ID – and returns with a printed copy of my test results- clearly showing the time, the date, the company that did the test, and my status – Covid Negative.

Whew

Now – onto check-in. I take the elevator back up to floor 5 – again waiting to ride alone. I’m not spending even 1 minute in a closed space with folks I don’t know… and I wend my way thru the crowds towards the Air Canada check-in. They verify my test results, my passport, my ticket – and let me in to the actual check-in area. There they again verify my passport, my test results (Am I Leslie Eiser, Leslie Agrin Eiser, or Leslie Agrin? I explain about my maiden name and the rules in Quebec – and I’m cleared), and told to go thru security.

I’m well ahead of the time I needed to be doing this – but I don’t care. Let me in.

Once passed security – again painless – I’m in the main area of Heathrow – and can check for the Gate assignment. The sign clearly says that the gate won’t be listed until 12:45 – and it’s now just shy of 10:00. So I find a safe corner – and actually can sit down. Unlike outside of security – here there are restaurants open, and even some shops. Everyone is masked, although not every one is ‘securely’ masked – and I spot a few staffers taking the whole – wear a mask thing – a bit too casually, but they have put large Cardboard signs on every other seat. So there’s lots of space between people. I’m fine.

Sooner than I’d have thought (Calico Joe is a great story), my gate is posted and I make the long long walk to section B. Basically I’m walking under the runway. But it’s not crowded (I think all those crowds went somewhere else – I’m not sure where though), and I’m fine.

I get to my gate, I wait for my turn to board. Staff is circulating thru the waiting area – making sure that everyone is clutching their negative COVID test results, has a valid ticket and a passport. The gal came a bit closer to me that I liked, but she did have to take the papers.

Eventually we’re called for boarding – and they take my temperature. Nice. They once again check my test, check my passport (I have to pull down my mask so they can see my face), scan my ticket – and I’m on the walkway to the plane.

Even getting myself and my carry-on down the tiny aisle isn’t too horrid, and I’m thrilled to see that I’m alone in my row. The stewards and stewardesses are making anyone further back than me move forward – they want to be able to sit separated as well. There’s someone sitting at the window to my right, then an empty seat, the aisle and then my seat. So I slide over one leaving 2 two empty seats and the aisle between us. There’s no one behind me. That’s good. And no one on the row to my left although there are folks at the windows both in front and behind that row. At first the row in front of me is also empty – but after the plane takes off, one of the passengers moves in. He’s wearing a mask, looks ok, and immediately lies down to sleep. Ok then.

Lunch is served – and is a LOT better than the cold Eggplant dish they served me on the way to London. At least it’s hot. And there’s a yummy chocolate pudding.. which might actually have had some real chocolate used in the making.

I watch 4 movies – two of which I can recommend – Military Wives (tear jerker but very good) and Wild Wild West. Wild Wild West is a steam punk version of a western action comedy and is really quite amusing, if a tad strange. Time went by quickly. I sanitized carefully every time I went to the toilet – and the ‘goodie’ bag they handed me had personal hand sanitizer inside. I had wiped down my seat before I sat down – so I felt pretty good about the whole thing.

We land in Toronto without issue. Since I’m in the very back of the plane, I allow all the folks to exit before me, and slowly make my way up the aisle and off the plane. Next challenge – Canadian Customs and Immigration.

Again – painless. There’s an extremely short line – clearly marked with 6’ separations and the inspectors are fast and efficient. The only hiccup is my ArriveCAN form. Turns out that there are 2 pages to the form, and I only saved the first page with the ID. I have to turn on my ipad, go back to the app and scroll down to the second page to show the very pleasant border guard my name. I’m in. He didn’t even ask me about the food I’m carrying (most of which I ate actually).

Now it’s follow the signs to the flight to Montreal. It’s a long walk, but since I only have my carry on, the biggest challenge is getting one foot in front of the other without tripping over my coat. All the doors are braced open so you don’t have to ‘touch’ anything. Again – that’s good.

Unlike Heathrow, the airport in Toronto seems relatively quiet. Some restaurants appear ‘open’ with folks sitting at tables. But since it’s now around 10:00 PM in London – I’m neither interested in food or even a drink. I just want to get on my flight to Montreal.

In the past – there were flights from Toronto to Montreal twice an hour – but in the time of COVID – they are down to 3 flights a day. The next flight leaves at 9:00 PM – 5 hours from when I arrived here in Toronto, and 2:00 AM London time. I’m going to have to hang tough on this one. I’m tired, I’m sore, I’m not happy – and I’m scared of exposure. I’m wearing my mask, my face shield, I’m sanitizing everything – and I’m still scared.

I walk and walk till I find the Montreal Gate. It’s isolated at the far end of one of the long halls – and at 5:00 PM is relatively empty. I sit down, but after about 30 minutes get very uncomfortable. Since this is the only flight to Montreal – anyone who is flying in from Florida, from Mexico, from Cuba, from any of a zillion holiday sun destinations – is coming here to sit and wait. And a lot of them are clearly NOT taking COVID seriously. Too close together, too many, too casual about masking.

I’m moving.

I find another area of the terminal that is much less busy, and settle down again. This time, it’s clear I’m not going to have to move on. No one is coming near me at all. I set a timer to remind me when to move back to my gate – I don’t want to miss the flight – and eventually it rings.

Walking back to my gate I realize that things have gone from bad to worse. Flight after flight must have arrived – and the number of folks waiting to get to Montreal has sky-rocketed. This flight could well be full – or at least a lot more crowded that I’m comfortable with.

Eventually they start boarding the flight. No temperature check. No looking at COVID Negative results – just scan your boarding pass (lower your mask so we can see your face) – and then on board. Oh dear.

There are lots of folks who have clearly returned from ‘sun’ destinations. They have beads in their hair, kids in tow, suntans, masks hanging from the glasses instead of snuggly around their faces, sandals and palm frond hats.

The Prime Minister of Quebec has been going on and on about folks taking these all inclusive holidays – at bargain rates I might add – and then returning – infected – back to Quebec and Montreal. He has been publicly blaming them for Quebec high infection rate – not that this has prevented them from going apparently. Part of the logic behind implementing the War Measures Act (Emergency Act) is to stop folks from doing exactly this – And I’m going to be on a plane full of them.

Oh dear.

My seat is on a row to myself, but there are folks behind me and in front of me who are clearly returning from these ‘sun’ destinations. I try to figure out where I can move that would at least feel safer. I try moving further back – but that feels worse. Finally I spot a row near the exit door that is empty. At the last minute I grab my things and take one of those seats. There is still one guy in front of me – and a lady to my left, but they both look like they are treating COVID more seriously.

At this point, the lovely stewardess comes over to hand me my forgotten back cushion. I guess she had spotted me trying to find another place – and knew exactly where I’d dashed off to! After handing me my cushion, she takes her place in the jump seat just in front of me – but safely distant.

The flight lasts for a very scary hour and a quarter. I drink the water they hand me – I don’t want to get dehydrated, but otherwise my mask and face shield stay firmly in place. If I don’t get COVID from this flight – it will be a miracle.

When we are landing, the nice stewardess sits back down on the jump seat – and I ask her if she’s concerned. She admits that the flight is quite a bit more crowded than normal – and it’s a tad alarming, but says that being careful seems the safest option. I hope she’s right.

I wait for EVERYONE to get off the plane before going back for my luggage, and then drag myself down the aisle,

Naturally – the terminal is basically empty. Everyone from our flight has bee-lined to the luggage pick-up location, and since I was last off, I’m basically alone.

I make the walk to the luggage carousel hoping that the suitcases have already been delivered and picked up. No such luck. The herds from our flight are all clustered around the carousel – waiting.

I back off, and move to a quiet area and wait. When I spot my suitcase, I circle around the hoard and grab it off the Carousel.

Now I just need to get a taxi and I’m home. The taxi proves to be more challenging than normal. There’s no one running the dispatch line – it’s a free for all as folks push past me to grab a cab. Finally one taxi takes pity on me and actually stops right in front of me. I get in, we leave, I get home. I’ve never been so glad to see my home – EVER!

Hubby, Bed, Bathroom, my fridge, my house, my yard, my bird feeders… I’m so happy.

Signing off in fond hopes that things are going to get a lot better – soon would be nice… The Soup Lady