Thursday Tidbits

Posted on December 23, 2021 under Thursday Tidbits with 2 comments


Covid travel tips and tales


“When lonely days turn to lonely nights,

You take a trip to the city lights,

You take the long way home,

Take the long way home.”

Take The Long Way Home – Supertramp

So. You want to travel during Covid?

As someone who has taken 15 flights (and numerous buses and taxis) in the past two years, I am happy to share some observations, tips, and stories. I should point out that all but two of these trips would be considered “essential travel”. I would argue that the two questionable trips this past spring were also essential mental health outings.

What a difference a year makes. When I was forced to come home from the north at the end of March 2020, when schools all over the country closed, travel was surreal. Flights were nearly empty and those on board had to wear masks. This was in the very early days of masking and social distancing. The planes were eerily silent as people were nervous about even talking with someone in their row. There was more chatter at granny’s wake than on a plane.

This past April, I travelled to Victoria for spring break. Things were very tense at that point and vaccines were just starting to roll out across Canada. I was one of the fortunate ones. Living in the north, we were among the first to get our initial shots. I flew to Montreal and stayed overnight in one of the airport hotels. The following morning, I took a cab to the airport. The road into the airport was empty. Where you would normally see a couple of hundred cabs lined up, the lots were completely empty.

Entering the airport was like entering a mausoleum. Honest to God, I was the only passenger as I made my way down to the Air Canada check in area. There were airline agents standing around like the Maytag repair man. It didn’t take me long to check in as a few staffers jostled to be the one to help me. Ditto for the security area and once again in the restaurant, as I was the sole patron that morning. Honestly, they could have fired up the jet’s engines as I exited the taxi, and I would still have had time to make my flight.

Last week was a very different story. My flights from the north were full as was to be expected. With everyone on board double vaccinated, there was some comfort, despite the emergence of the new and highly transmissible Omicron variant. The flight from Kuujuaq to Montreal was jam packed. I had the misfortune of having a middle seat between two very big men. Our shoulders were touching and there wasn’t any room for me to use the armrests. I was squished like a small sardine. We sat on the runway and awaited takeoff. And waited. And waited. Normally this wouldn’t bother me but in Covid times, even double vaccinated, sitting in a crowded place for over an hour was disconcerting. As it turned out, the fuel truck had encountered mechanical problems and it took that long for another truck to service our plane.

Of course, food was at a premium and by the time we arrived in Montreal, I was supremely hungry and very tired. As most of you know, this is a dangerous combination. I made my way to the baggage carousel and waited. And waited. And waited. It seemed like the baggage handlers must have been wrapping their Christmas presents. You could sense that the crowd was getting ugly. Fifty (50!) minutes later, the carousel started to move. Tip #1. Travelling during Covid demands gobs of patience.

I spent the next day in Montreal with family. I had two naps and a walk in a local bird sanctuary. It was a perfect day to catch my breath before the flight home the following day. I made one error in judgment. I casually mentioned to my daughter that I was having dinner the following evening in Halifax with an old university friend. When she saw my wardrobe (I looked like I had just returned from Max Yasgur’s farm  at Woodstock), she insisted that I go shopping with her that evening. She took me to Winners. This was a departure for me as I normally shop at Losers. With a new shirt and a pair of slacks, I felt certain that the authorities would let me into Nova Scotia.

I know that some of you are last minute people and rushing to the airport seconds from your flight is what excites you… like bungee jumping. Happily, I am not one of those people. At my age and in the middle of a pandemic, I decided to take no chances. Erik dropped me off at the airport in Dorval a full two hours before my flight. My plan was to check in and go for a leisurely breakfast. Um. The airport was busy. Crazy busy. No worries. I would go to a kiosk and do my check-in. The kiosk area was busy but there were no lineups. Not far away, at the actual Air Canada check-in counters, there were hordes of people. “Thank god I’m not in that lineup,” was all I was thinking. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the machine to accept mt credit card for payment of my bags. A friendly agent tried to help but it was all for naught. “You’ll have to go to the regular check-in counter over there.” She was pointing at the ever-growing mass of humanity meters away. My heart sank but at least I had given myself plenty of time to catch my flight.

Social distancing was not being practiced in the lineup. I’m estimating that there were 250 people waiting to get their bags checked and their boarding passes. People were jammed together “cheek and jowl”. I started to perspire just a bit now, realizing that time was becoming a very real issue. It was now 7:30 and I was due to board my flight at 8:10. Still lots of time, I thought, to get through security.

I hustled down to the security area and my heart stopped beating. The lineup was something you might see at a Best Buy in Florida on Black Friday. There were hundreds and hundreds of people in those lineups that go back and forth with the nice little security ropes. I continued to walk down the hallway and the lines seemed to grow exponentially. When I turned a corner, I saw that there was another holding pen with possibly 500 people crammed inside like cattle in a massive feedlot in New Mexico. “I’m screwed.” I now knew that there was no way that I would make my gate in time.

Just as despair and resignation were starting to wash over me, a miracle happened. The lineup started to move… quickly. No, I hadn’t ingested magic mushrooms for breakfast. I wasn’t hallucinating. The throng was winding its way through the pen like a boa constrictor, snaking around the security ropes. When I cleared the holding pen and was back in site of the security area, I happened to see an Air Canada agent. I asked her ever so politely about my chances of making my flight. She looked at her watch and nodded her head in the affirmative. I was certain that she had the magic mushrooms for breakfast. She went on to explain that for some unknown reason, the security area had been locked up tight until just a few minutes ago. Passengers from several other early morning flights were waiting for security clearance as well. I did a quick estimate. I reckoned that there might have been between 1500 and 2000 passengers in that lineup… not socially distanced.

I was stunned at the efficiency inside the security area. They were frantically trying to get people through in record time. Once I realized that I was going to make my flight after all, I exhaled a sigh of relief until I realized my gate was in another terminal. I ran with my carry-on bag, my laptop and my guitar. (I told you I was coming back from Woodstock!). I made it to my gate with 3 minutes to spare. Tip #2. Give yourself plenty of time when you go to an airport, and then add an hour.

#3. Make sure you have your proof of vaccination. As the old American Express exhorted us, “Don’t leave home without it.”

#4. Take heed of travel requirements. They vary from province to province. You may have to complete papers leaving one province and another set for entering a different province.

I was ecstatic when I touched down in Halifax. I had a great visit with family and old friends. One of the highlights was a trip to The Keg. I hadn’t been there in many years and was salivating at the thought of a nice juicy steak. With apologies to my vegan and vegetarian friends! Now some of you might be thinking that this was rash and was going against the advice of Dr. Stranglove but having survived crowded airplanes and huge lineups in airports, I didn’t think that going to a quiet restaurant was a big threat to humanity.

Now, back in the day, a trip to the Keg might have started with a few sociables back in the hotel bar. Instead, Pete and I treated ourselves to a rapid Covid test in my hotel room. On our way from the parkade to The Keg, we passed by the Halifax Convention Center and were handed an early Christmas gift of a 5-pack of rapid tests!  There was a day that The Keg couldn’t fill me. Endless salad bar, loaves of piping hot bread, appetizers, a humungous steak, beer and wine and dessert. And maybe throw in a Grand Marnier at the end for good measure. Fellow seniors. Are you like me? After two bacon wrapped scallops, a piece of bread and a few forkfuls of Caesar salad, I was pretty much done. When she brought the nearly mooing rare prime rib and plunked it down in front of me, I wondered what to do. I had a few bites and saved the rest for a late-night snack… or breakfast the next day.

#5. At the age of 70, don’t order too much food.

Going home.

Pete dropped me off at the bus station near the venerable Nova Scotian Hotel on Hollis Street.  Yeah, I know it’s now called the Westin but it’s still the Nova Scotian to me and many others. It was snowing heavily at the time. I was one of three passengers boarding the bus. The bus driver looked at my name on his electronic device. “Are you Leonard P.D.?” He was masked but it didn’t take me long to recognize him as one of the “Smiley” Chisholm’s from Fairview Street in my hometown. Well, it was like old home week.

Our journey had barely begun when we had a snag. When we arrived in Dartmouth, the bus from the Valley was running late and many passengers on that bus were transferring to our bus. Dave (the bus driver) came back and sat across the aisle, and we had a long chat about work, life and travel. He is a walker too and told me that he sees the regulars out early every morning in Antigonish. Only in Nova Scotia. He mentioned that he was an educator and took up bus driving in retirement. I jokingly said that that sounded like fun. The part time job funds his trips to foreign countries. He said that there was a serious shortage of drivers. I told him that Maritime Bus wouldn’t likely be interested in a 70- year old driver. He quipped that the average age of their drivers is 69. As we made our way to the airport to drop off some passengers, the bus hit a slushy path and swerved a bit. That ended any thoughts of me driving a bus!

#6. Expect travel delays and snags. If you must travel during Covid, you need to be prepared for hiccups. It’s almost inevitable. Just about every business is understaffed. Meals take longer. Stores don’t have enough employees.

#7. Try and be kind and exhibit patience even when you’re stressed out and want to throttle someone. Travelling during Covid is hard. Avoid travelling in a foreign country unless you have no time constraints and pocketsful of dough. We don’t know what’s around the next corner and a person could get stuck somewhere in the world not as forgiving and easy to navigate as Canada.

There’s a lot more that I could say but I realize that you have gifts to wrap and last-minute baking to do.

Yes. It is a scary time.

I will leave you with this. Susan, an old friend from Port Hawkesbury, commented on a FB post earlier in the week. This was my response: “Thanks, Susan. I have travelled a number of times during Covid out of necessity. I have had 4- two week quarantines and a couple of other shorter ones. I have done exactly what health experts have asked all of us to do. I have been triple vaccinated – throw in a flu shot for good measure. I am not trying to rationalize my choices, but I refuse to live in a cave and live in constant fear.”

Not all of you will agree and I understand and respect that.

I took “the long way home” and am glad to be back in Antigonish… at least for a while!

Have a happy and safe Christmas.

P.S. Hoping that Santa will leave me a rapid test kit!

P.P.S. I had a PCR test a few days ago that came back negative. Relieved. However, I will remain vigilant.

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