Opinion: Flying back to Canada is a big pain – and that’s a good thing

Opinion: Flying back to Canada is a big pain - and that’s a good thing

My wife and I are under virtual house arrest. No going out. Nobody allowed in. We feel a little like prisoners in our own home. But we’re more than fine with it. Plus Thrifty’s just delivered us some food. What’s not to like?

We are in 14-day quarantine in our place in Central Saanich after flying back from England a week ago. My wife had gone to England some months earlier after her 99-year-old mother, who lives at home, suffered a stroke. I went to support my wife and help out and watch a whole lot of English TV.

Getting there some months ago was eerie and relatively easy. Planes and airports were empty. Even Heathrow, usually a mayhem of international travellers, felt like a deserted warehouse of a place. I went straight through border control and customs in less than two minutes.

Coming home proved a whole lot more difficult. And, it turns out, a whole lot more crowded – especially on the flight from Vancouver to Victoria. But more about that later.

We had both had two COVID jabs. The UK, for all its problems, has done a first-rate job of vaccinating vast numbers of people, and we qualified because we are dual citizens.

To get home we first had to download an “ArriveCAN” app and fill in plenty of relevant information – including where we would be quarantining for two weeks upon our arrival, and the name of a hotel where we would be required to quarantine for the first three days.

Our flight reservation home was rejigged a number of times because we preferred to do that mandatory hotel stay in Vancouver rather than Montreal or Toronto. That meant flying from London to Frankfurt and then direct to Vancouver because Air Canada was no longer flying from Heathrow to YVR.

Kudos to the staff of Air Canada. We had to call a number of times to change reservations and they were always friendly and helpful and accommodating. I flew on points and my wife on a regular fare, but they made it work for us every time.

Before we flew we had a mandatory COVID test (before 72 hours of flying) in outside portables on the grounds of Southwark Cathedral at London Bridge – a bizarre, somewhat ecclesiastical location, but effective nonetheless. Two tests cost us around $300. The results came back within 24 hours. We tested negative and were judged fit to fly.

At Heathrow, we had to show our ArriveCAN app, proof of a hotel booking, and proof of a negative COVID test. All very efficient and friendly.

Our one-hour flight to Frankfurt was on a smaller half-full plane. But we had to walk a long way to another terminal for our Vancouver flight, had to go through security again and had to show all the aforementioned documentation.

This is something we’re all likely going to have to get used to in the future if we want to travel. Nothing will be smooth and quick and easy for some time to come.

Again, the flight to Vancouver was about 70 per cent full, and we were well separated from other passengers. We, and the crew, wore masks throughout – the masks had to be the white medical kind. No cloth masks.

The arrival at Vancouver was amazing. Friendly and efficient. We were the only flight, and we went through border control quickly, picked up our bags and then went to a COVID testing area. We had filled out our details before leaving the UK, so we were through the procedure in ten minutes. A big plus, it was administered gently and with good humour.

A taxi took us to our hotel, Le Soleil in downtown Vancouver. It was designated for arrivees. The driver insisted on cash – it was a set amount of $32, and luckily we had a quick trip downtown.

We could pick from a number of hotels either at the airport or downtown. Ours cost us around $1,300, which we had to pay in advance and was non-refundable and included three meals a day. We went straight to our room on the fifth floor – and within 90 minutes we were waving out the window to our son, his partner and our new granddaughter Summer who we hadn’t seen in months. They had come to the alleyway behind the hotel, holding a Welcome Home sign and waved and yelled up to the fifth floor. It felt very special. More importantly, we got back before Summer has started walking.

The meals arrived in brown paper bags and were fine. Breakfast: usually a breakfast bun, a muffin, a banana, yogurt and juice. Lunch was a salad and a cookie for dessert. And a banana. Dinner was pasta or noodles and a cookie – and a banana. Trying to send us bananas? And it didn’t help that we were on the fifth
floor so the hot food wasn’t hot by the time it got to us. But really it was just fine. Also fine is that your rooms are not cleaned while you’re in quarantine.

Our negative tests came through the following morning and we were allowed to go home. We rebooked a flight for the following day and I did a conference call and chatted to friends and family. We were allowed to exercise – under supervision in that yard behind the hotel. Enough for me, but my wife – a runner – did about 200 circuits before she felt happy.

Ironically, that day a federal science panel said they should scrap the hotel stay, particularly for those, like us, who are fully vaccinated. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the advice and said we’re not there yet – and need to keep Canadians safe.

I agree completely. The hotel stays are part deterrent, part safety belt, and I think they’re necessary to ensure we get out of this pandemic effectively.

And so we got a taxi back to YVR, and all went well – before we got on the plane to Victoria. The plane was jammed – just a couple of empty seats – but that wasn’t what irked me. I was more upset about the zone system for boarding. We had zone 5 printed on our tickets, which meant we were the last
to board. And guess where we were sitting? At the very back of the plane.

I’ve never understood the zone system for boarding. I get it that if you’ve paid for Business or First Class or if you need assistance you board first. What I’ve never understood is why they board the front half of the plane first and then the back half next, even in coach. It means passengers have to wait for passengers
to wrestle their bags into overhead bins, or jump in and out of the aisles retrieving forgotten items, while passengers at the back of the bus have to wait in the aisle and get up close and too personal with others.

Now we’re home and the rules are strict. No friends or family can visit, no trips are allowed outside your property line, and you face fines or imprisonment if you misbehave. We’ve had a couple of phone calls from health officials checking up on us already, and each day we have to fill out our ArriveCAN app, assuring we have no COVID symptoms. We’ve been told government officials may conduct spot checks.

Tomorrow we have to take a self-administered COVID test. They gave us the kit at YVR and it has to be shipped to the lab by courier. It came in an impenetrable box that we’ve already half-trashed. I’m sure we’ll figure it out.

Family and friends have dropped off some groceries and meals. We booked a Thrifty’s grocery order online, which arrived this morning. The driver left it on our walkway and welcomed us home.

And, yes, it’s good to be home. Yes, it’s a pain to travel internationally these days, but I understand why it’s so difficult, and will likely remain so for most of this year.

But, you know, even when we get our freedom next week, we hope we won’t be travelling overseas anytime soon. Next year will be just fine.

Ian HaysomIan Haysom

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