Hacks & Tips

Travel diary: From Canada to Europe with Air Canada during a global pandemic

“Sir, over your nose please” I overhear a flight attendant address a passenger in the isle over.

Spending 7 to 8 hours on the plane with your mask on is a daunting thought. But then you realize that the mask goes on as soon as you enter the airport and stays on until your final destination, which in my case was a near 13 hour journey.

Wearing a mask these days is the normal and not even new normal – masks are now mandatory and can be a fairly stylish accessory. For this journey, I used 4 and for the most part, it wasn’t bad, you kind of get used to it and on multiple occasions, I forgot I had one on when lifting a fork during dinner service. 

The first flight was sponsored by Air Canada which did not review or approve the story.
Read the disclaimer about affiliate links & PR gifting here

With restricted travel globally getting on a plane is not the most popular activity these days. Personally, I was worried about being crowded in the airport and spending all those hours in an enclosed environment with no fresh air. But I chose to travel for a family reason and did my due diligence with the research to make sure I can travel safely and be of no risk to others upon return.

I was traveling from Toronto to Luxembourg last minute, there were no direct flights, and connecting flights were very limited so my journey was two part: Toronto to Frankfurt with Air Canada and a quick flight to Luxembourg with Lufthansa

What put my mind at ease during the research phase is learning about the Air Canada (AC) CleanCare+ program, in their own words it is an “industry-leading program committed to end-to-end health and safety protocols using new biosafety standards and enhancing preventive measures”. What that means in plain language is that there is a long list of activities performed in front of you and behind the scenes with a goal to create the safest possible environment for travel. The measures that addressed my biggest concern – fresh air – is the use of High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters which catch 99.9% of airborne particles, and refresh cabin air every 2 to 3 minutes for a total of 20 to 30 air changes per hour, much like in the hospital rooms. Fresh air, check!

There are many more measures in place with both airlines and all airports, however, during this journey I found that Air Canada and Pearson Airport (YYZ) had the highest standards for preventative measures (from those I traveled with this time). 

Note: Make sure to check travel restrictions with your local, destination, and all lay-over airport authorities before booking and traveling as these things may change very quickly.

Checking-in

Pearson airport entrance is currently restricted to passengers only to minimize number of people on the grounds (this was not the case at LUX). Walking in you get immediately stunned with how empty the space is, majority of the counters are closed and the check-in is now all in one area. Hand sanitizer dispensers are sprinkled throughout the airport and absolutely everyone is waring a face mask. It is also worth noting that Pearson airport and Air Canada do not allow masks with an exhalation valve, bandanas, or scarves since those were proven to not be very effective. 

All passengers go through a COVID-19 health screening questionnaire during the web check-in and at the airport when dropping bags. When entering the bag check area an airline employee quickly talks you through the touch-free bag check and points out that you need a printed boarding pass. I hovered around the kiosk trying to initiate the process, confused for a few minutes until an attended tapped the screen to begin, “So not fully touch-free,” I thought to myself. My boarding pass did not print so I took the luggage tags and went to stand in a very short line, actively trying to create a 2 meter bubble around me, which not all other passengers were able to follow, especially those with children. There were only a handful of passengers in line so this step took around 15 minutes and only because the people at the front were a family of 6 with nearly 20 bags (not exaggerating), my interaction was very prompt.

Note: The bag drop closes an hour prior to departure for international flights and might be even earlier at some airports so make sure to check.  

Before entering security all passengers go through a mandatory temperature check: you stand a couple of meters away from an attendant seated behind a large piece of equipment. In many ways this felt like taking a school photo, so I smiled under my mask for absolutely no reason.

The security check was quick and painless, I forgot to take out my large sanitizer bottle* (you are allowed 12oz) so I was ushered into additional bag screening, which took about a minute. 

Note: If you were not already doing this, place all your liquids in a ziplock bag for easy screening and to minimize touching, some articles even recommend putting your personal items that need to come out of your pockets during security check into a ziplock for a peace of mind.  

Departures Area

The nearly empty international wing of the airport felt like a slightly apocalyptic movie: all full service restaurants, many shops, and booths were closed and covered. All seats were evenly marked for social distancing, extra chairs stacked in various areas to prevent gathering, and large parts of the airport were simply empty because they were not active gates. 

Additional AC safety precautions notes:

  • Frequently touched areas like check-in counters and kiosks are disaffected often
  • All AC employees are wearing face coverings and gloves

Boarding

Boarding process has changed (more spread out) to minimize contact and ensure appropriate distancing and the flight attendants were trying extra hard to make sure people don’t crowd and keep a safe distance. Your travel documents are not touched unless necessary and you yourself scan the boarding pass. Given how few passengers there were this too was quite fast.

On-board

Thinking about all the safety precautions research and Naomi Campbell’s airport routine I immediately begun wiping down all surfaces I might touch with a sanitizing wipe*. While there was no one sitting in the middle seat directly next to me, performing this cleaning routine in Economy was pretty uncomfortable physically as some contortion was required to do this in the exceptionally limited space. On the return flight I upgraded to Premium Economy and chose a front row seat. Having the entire row to myself (and just one passenger behind me) I was free to sanitize at peace (cover image, courtesy of Air Canada). 

Each seat already had a wrapped and sealed blanket and pillow on it and once all passengers boarded they were handed a customer care kit. 

Each Customer Care Kit (in a sealed ziplock bag) contained: a disposable mask, bottle of water, small hand sanitizer bottle (which I keep refilling & carrying in my jacket pocket), a couple of sanitizing wipes, gloves, earphones, pretzel snack, message from the airline, and a card with the details for the McMaster COVID-19 study (more on that below). Premium Economy passengers received an additional care kit and the Air Canada Travel Essentials pouch with a toothbrush, toothpaste, eye mask, socks, and earplugs. 

At take off our plane was struck by lighting! I did not quite realize that’s what happened, all I saw was a bright spark of light, as if the sky parted for a second, but apparently, there was a quiet thump indicating contact. The captain promptly reassured us that the plane is well equipped to sustain the impact and we were safe on our way to Frankfurt.

After each meal service the passages were reminded to put their masks back on and keep them on for the duration of the flight. A similar reminder was also made as people were going to sleep when the flight attendants noticed a few passengers getting loose with their mask wearing. 

I had a few masks with me and changed them as needed throughout the flight but at some point my face begun to get warm and sweaty, combined with dry over-sanitized hands it was a slightly uncomfortable experience which I was able remedy by changing into a lighter face mask* and adding hand lotion into my purse for the flight back. 

Additional AC safety precaution notes:

  • All high-touch areas are sanitized with a hospital-grade disinfectant before every flight, and each time an aircraft overnights it receives a thorough cleaning, you can watch a video here
  • All seat belt buckles, seat controls and armrests, cabin windows and shades, light switches and air controls, ceiling areas, inside of overhead bins, tray tables, headrest covers, sidewalls, personal screens are sanitized
  • Bathrooms are frequently disinfected and there’s a box of single-use hand sanitizer packages 
Premium Economy Travel Essentials kit

De-plaining & Baggage Collection

All passengers are asked to remain seated until their row is called but, as you might imagine, not many people were obeying by these rules. Funny enough, the shorter flight had the most restless people on it, crowding in the isles and invading other people’s personal space. In Frankfurt border control line a man physically walked into me, looking incredibly puzzled by my reaction which, I can only imagine, was lasers shooting out of my eyes over the mask. 

For all of my flights we were the only group at the baggage carousel, the area around which was similarly empty. The bags were dropping with a healthy distance so no passenger had to touch another person’s bag. In all 4 instances the baggage pick up was surprisingly fast, perhaps attributed to the small number of people on board.  

Arriving to Frankfurt airport at sunrise was very eery, the empty airport felt like a Stephen King novel until people came out of nowhere and turned into a small crowd to board the Lufthansa flight to Luxembourgh. This was a very short flight and, therefore, a very small plane, pretty much completely full, and getting to it required taking a very long bus ride around the airport. As much as I enjoyed the tour of the grounds, being in a crowded bus felt rather uncomfortable. 

Returning to Canada & the Quarantine Process 

Frankfurt airport staff were not checking temperature so passengers got one directly from the Air Canada staff during document verification. Since all passengers arriving in Canada are required to quarantine for 14 days messaging about those requirements is offered on many occasions during the flight and upon landing. 

During the flight an announcement was made sharing information about the ArriveCAN app and the McMaster HealthLabs study offering COVID-19 testing for international arrivals. The app (or the paper form if you chose one) asks a handful of basic questions about your current health, where you intend to quarantine, and contact information for public officials to get in touch with you. 

Note: Some domestic flights are included in the quarantine requirements. Check with the province you’re travelling to directly. 

I used the ArriveCAN app and pre-registered for the COVID-19 test ahead of time hoping it would expedite the process. After exiting the plane all passengers were subject to a passport check right in the hall, which seemed a bit odd. I was asked to show proof of health form completion by showing a code in my App when entering security, speaking to the agent, and when existing to baggage check. The declaration screens had additional questions about your health status and asked to acknowledge the quarantine requirements. The entire process was very fast and I only had to take the mask off once to show my frazzled face to the agent. 

The COVID-19 testing is absolutely voluntary and heavily encouraged with many perks offered upon completion (free month of Crave TV, discount on a future flight, and a chance to win airfare). I was interested as soon as l learned about the option of doing a test on arrival: for one, I won’t be able to get one until after quarantine and a peace of mind is good for mental health, and secondly, I felt it was important to contribute to the study given how little we still know about the virus. 

The test at the airport is self-administered (tongue, cheek, nose) and guided by the medical representative from a distance. I was given 2 more tests to do at home on days 7 and 14, both of which will be picked up by a courier. My first test result came in within 24 hours and was negative, which does not mean that I am completely out of the woods and I do still have to quarantine but it did put my mind at ease. 

I hope this has been helpful to anyone looking to travel. Enjoy your flight and stay safe!


Packing must-haves

  • TRAVLEISURE Bamboo Mask*: This mask has been rated highly for travel, I found it very comfortable to sleep in (image below).
  • Sanitizing Wipes*: This 10-pack of purse-size packets has been been great, and the best part they are 75% alcohol and do not have any sent.
  • Hand Sanitizer Spray*: It’s always to have some of your own on hand and the spray works well for larger areas and personal belongings like bags.
  • The Hustle Backpack*: Comfortable, sustainable travel backpack that can comfortably fit everything you need including electronics.

In the gear bag: Fujifilm X-T100 with an XF50mmF2 R WR lens. I also created an Instagram highlight from this experience, see “✈️ w/ AC” on my IG profile.

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