Let me start by saying that air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic should be avoided except for essential reasons. It’s not a time to be heading out on vacation, especially out of country travel.
I made this journey from Canada to the USA to visit my husband who is currently living and working there. The purpose of this trip was not a vacation, it was to see my husband who I’ve only seen once since February 24, 2020. This trip to Oregon was the 2nd time.
Read more: Separated by the Coronavirus: Love in the Time of COVID
This is my experience of what air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic was like, and what you can expect if you need to travel.
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Air Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Booking Your Plane Ticket
When the COVID pandemic hit, the airline industry was one of the 1st of many industries affected. Most countries implemented strict travel restrictions and entry requirements. With these new restrictions, and due to the now high risk nature of air travel, people chose not to travel or simply were not allowed. This forced most airlines to immediately suspend a large portion of their operations. As a result, finding a flight and making a booking became very difficult.
This was my 4th attempt to go visit my husband. Each time I had booked a flight, they kept getting cancelled or changed to a ridiculous routing with 2 connections instead of what was normally a direct flight.
Finally, 6 months into the pandemic, struggling airlines slowly started adding more flights. Therefore, I was able to get a flight from Calgary to Portland with only 1 connection in Vancouver. And at a really great price. I checked the flight daily making sure it wasn’t cancelled. As the day approached, it felt like it was really going to happen this time. I finally got lucky and was able to make the journey.
If you are booking flights, do your research. Check if the airline has a history of cancelling that flight in the recent past. It’s likely there will be some changed to your itinerary. If you expect this, you will avoid a lot of disappointment. And if there is a change, be flexible. Remember airlines are struggling financially and fighting to keep operating.
At the Airport
I travelled with Air Canada out of Calgary International Airport to Portland, Oregon, via Vancouver. Although my 1st flight was only domestic, I wanted to get to the airport early to allow time for extra screening procedures.
Masks are required to be worn by everyone, everywhere inside the Calgary International Airport. Everyone I saw complied with this. Also, only passengers are allowed inside the terminal, with few exceptions.
Make sure to check the rules of the airport you are flying from.
Even though I wasn’t sure what to expect, the airport was definitely busier than I thought it would be. I had checked-in online the night prior so check-in at the airport was nearly touchless. Air Canada has done a great job of their check-in processes at Calgary. Some enhanced screening features included mandatory hand sanitizing at kiosks and check-in area, health screening questions, and temperature checks.
Busy Calgary International Airport
The security line was really long. Fortunately, they accepted my expired Nexus (trusted traveler) card and I was able to take the fast track.
Once through security I found it still pretty busy with lineups at the few restaurants that were open. I was very surprised (and relieved) that Chili’s had a take away counter, with mimosa’s to go! What a score!
Mimosa to go!
The boarding process started earlier to allow time for enhanced screening procedures. They still board by groups, and everyone else is expected to remain seated until their group is called. To keep everything as touchless as possible, we were required to scan our own boarding pass prior to boarding. In addition, passengers were asked to pull down their mask so that the agent could verify their identity.
During all Air Canada and Westjet flights, anyone over the age of 2, is required to wear a mask at all times while onboard the plane. In an effort to minimize contact, there was no longer service on my short flight however, they did hand out a ‘Clean Care’ kit which consisted of a bottle of water, pretzels, face mask, antiseptic cleansing wipes, a small hand sanitizer and plastic gloves.
Although my flight was full, and even the seat beside me was taken, I still felt safe. People kept to themselves and didn’t move around the cabin very much.
Air Canada’s ‘Clean Care’ Kit
Connecting in Vancouver
If you are connecting in YVR to the USA, be prepared for nothing to be open except for a Tim Horton’s. And they have a very limited menu. The domestic side of the airport was a little bit busy, but once through to USA departures it was very quiet. It was almost eerie!
Photo by @redbarley Empty Vancouver International Airport
Connecting in Denver
On my way home I connected in Denver and it was the complete opposite of Vancouver. Denver was busy, busy, busy! There were line ups everywhere, even to get into the United lounge. On the plus side, Denver International Airport offers a program called Verifly. It’s a new free program that provides assurances to the more health conscious and those at higher risk of illness by allowing access to a dedicated TSA screening lane and train to the concourse. Masks are also mandatory in the Denver airport.
Flying Home to Canada
In order to speed up your arrival in Canada, you should download the ArriveCAN mobile app and fill out the online questionnaire. I did this and I was able to skip a couple of long lines.
The Canadian Government still advises against traveling outside of Canada except for essential reasons and restricts travel into Canada. Strict rules have been put in place to help prevent the spread of COVID, therefore all passengers arriving in Canada must complete a 14 day self-isolation. A few days after you arrive you will receive a call from the Federal Government, making sure you are following the self-isolation requirements. They also want to ensure that you have access to your basic needs (groceries, etc) during your isolation. If you are staying in Alberta, you can also expect a phone call from the provincial government as well. In addition to these phone calls, you will receive several emails reminding you of your mandatory self-quarantine and its importance in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Your health during any trip is very important. You don’t want to travel anywhere without ensuring you have adequate medical insurance and this is even more important with air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some insurance companies have clauses that exclude Covid related illnesses while traveling so make sure you double check that you are covered.
All in all, with my 4 flights and 5 airports I passed through on my trip to and from Oregon, I felt pretty safe. People, for the most part, kept their distance. Everyone had masks on. Even on my busy flight with someone seated right beside me, I felt safe.
Most importantly, 3 weeks later as I write this, I can say that with all the efforts put in by the airports, airlines, services and other passengers that I encountered, I made it COVID free.
Have you had to travel during the pandemic? Let me know how your experience with air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic was in the comment section below.
Stay safe everyone. We’ll get through this!