I am a dual nationality citizen that has been living in the UK for many years, my parents are now in their 80’s and although healthy and active, doctors, pills and treatments are a regular part of their lives. So when the coronavirus pandemic hit and their usual medical visits were cancelled the gaps in their health really started to show. As anyone who was separated from family during the pandemic is painfully aware it is difficult to watch and be powerless to help when loved ones are declining. So I took the anxious decision to make the trip, I left it for as long as I could to get past the peaks in both countries hoping that with time more information would present itself and less risk to everyone would be involved.
I already had a credit note from the trip I cancelled in March, using that I booked another much longer trip. Fortunately, thanks to the generosity of friends who are more like family, I was able to find accommodation for my 14 day quarantine period. A self contained flat in the basement of their family home, these people were also kind enough pick me up at the airport. I must admit I almost cancelled several times prior to leaving, I am quite an adventurous person but peoples reactions to the news that you are travelling can shake your confidence a bit.
I flew with Air Canada who maintained flight between Heathrow and Canada through out the lockdown period. Rebooking was easy, I spoke with an actual person to book this time which helped with the credit note situation. The only difficulty I was really running into was information about travelling to and from the airports. The agent I spoke with didn’t have any information and although the Heathrow airport site was quite good the Canadian airport sites weren’t much help, there was just no information on the rules around getting to and from the airport to where you were staying or what was even running by way of public transport and car rental. I ended up contacting the Canadian High Commission who informed me I could have a family member or friend collect me from the airport or rent a car but again no real information on if you had to mask up or if that person would then be subject to quarantine as well.
The departure date arrived and I was committed whatever may come, I arrived at Heathrow and to be honest it didn’t really seem much different than normal except it was a Saturday and it felt more like a Wednesday as there were noticeably less passengers mulling around and most people were wearing face masks. I was already checked in so went to drop my bag, the queue was very short so it was all very quick. I went to security where I had to queue, distancing from others so the security area did not get overcrowded but it really didn’t take that long. Again all very normal just a bit hard to hear staff talking to you when they have a face mask on, but they all saw the funny side of it too saying they kept forgetting to speak louder.
None of the usual shops or restaurants were open, except WH Smith so at least you could buy some water, snacks and reading material if you needed to. I was desperate for a coffee but all of the coffee shops were shut so that was something I had to wait until I arrived to get. The Air Canada ground staff and flight crew were brilliant I have to say, it is fair to say that we have all had a mixed bag of experience with airline staff and it is usually based on how stressful their day has been before you speak to them, but this time there seemed to be less stress and more of a spirit of camaraderie. Everyone had smiley eyes (couldn’t see their mouths) and time to answer questions and help. Getting on to the plane one staff member whom I really wish I would have got her name, gave me such a caring greeting she asked if I was ok and I said I was better than when I arrived, I had been a bit anxious but so far everything was going well. She was great and said we are all in it together and if you feel any anxiety or need anything just speak to her. She really was brilliant with everyone on the flight the whole time.
Air Canada require you to keep your mask on during the flight and they provide you with a care bag of water, hand gel, gloves, a mask and disinfectant wipes, but everyone turned up with their own. Although the aircraft was noticeably cleaner that on past flights everyone made themselves busy wiping down their own little area. The flight was only about 30-40% full so distancing really wasn’t an issue, I had the row of 3 seats to myself and everyone in the cabin was very respectful of social distancing. As we all know now it is difficult to make small children social distance, they just aren’t wired for it, but all the parents did their best to keep them in their seats and keep their masks on, really they all did great.
The flight was uneventful I manage to get some sleep and watch a film, there was food served but it was a very sanitary service, sandwich and snacks served in a sealed box. No alcohol was served which I would be so bold as to say that it helped the atmosphere on the flight immensely, I am not an advocate of removing alcohol service from flights but being honest I think now if your flight is under 8 hours there are probably more benefits to staff and passengers alike to not serve alcohol.
Another noticeable difference - no turbulence, not sure if that is a net result of less traffic in the skies or just a lucky day but it certainly was very smooth. Getting off the aircraft was the usual scramble for overhead lockers but with less people it was quicker and less dangerous.
Again I have to say the airport was the let down, I previously loaded a Canadian track and trace app on my phone as per the government advice but when I arrived it wouldn’t work, I asked a staff member about it and was told it was only for passengers arriving at terminal 3, terminal 1 where I arrived didn’t have the activation codes, all very strange so I ended up having to fill in the paperwork, they had tables laid out with all the paperwork that needed to be filled out and pens, obviously the app would be a far better contactless approach. Other than this nothing really changed, I picked up my bag in the usual spot went through the arrivals hall as normal, got my coffee there as normal and went outside to my usual collections spot as normal.
I am not saying there are no risks of coronavirus transmission when travelling, by far not however, if my experience is anything to go by then please if you have to travel then don’t stress about it unnecessarily be vigilant take precautions and don’t travel unless you feel you must but also know that in my experience airlines really are doing their best to keep you safe and it is not as scary as you might think.
Just have to get through my 2 weeks of quarantine now……