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Flying During A Pandemic

Nicola Wilson tells us about her experience flying during COVID-19 – from Vancouver, Canada, to Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

Travel Disclaimer: Although Spain, and all countries in the EU are open to Canadian passport holders, there is still a nation-wide travel advisory against  non-essential travel outside of Canada. If you do decide to travel outside of Canada, your travel insurance may not be valid. I am aware of this, and decided to take a calculated risk. I also have a self-isolation plan upon my return, as per the Canadian Quarantine Act.

My dad drops me off at the airport. We are both wearing masks, and we elbow-touch goodbye. Being used to giant hugs and kisses with friends and loved ones, it was the weirdest airport farewell I’ve ever had.

I walk into YVR, and it is nearly empty. There are Covid-19 etiquette signs everywhere, and markings on the floor for social distancing. It didn’t matter, hardly anyone was there. I looked at the Departures board, and saw that there were only 3 international departures that day, plus 2 to the USA.

Since I already had my electronic boarding pass on my phone, I headed directly to security. Again, it was empty, and I joked to the lady checking my boarding pass “I guess I didn’t need to get my Nexus out”. I walked straight up to the security machines, snapping a selfie on the way.

I get up to security and pull out my bag of liquids. Now, you could say I fly a lot, and I find Vancouver normally pretty lenient when it comes to the amount of liquids you bring, as long as everything is under 100ml. I typically throw everything into a big Ziplock bag from home, and we are good to go. Not this time. She made me take out everything and put it into those stupid little bags that barely fit anything. I had to throw out a half-used bottle of sunscreen (which was only 85ml when full), a hotel shampoo and conditioner that I always carry in case of emergency, and the worst part: two 50ml glass bottles of maple syrup that I had brought for Roy’s family. Needless to say, I was not thrilled about that. I guess they were just bored…

After clearing security, I wandered to the gate, and the terminal was a total ghost town. Most stores and restaurants were closed, only one convenience-type shop was open for packaged snacks and water. I noticed that they didn’t have the normal pre-made sandwiches/salads/veggies and dip that they normally have. However, they did have a massive granola bar section, way more than I’ve seen in the past. They also had a lot of masks and hand sanitizer for sale.

I wanted for my flight, and although there weren’t really signs for social distancing anywhere, it was pretty easy given that mine was the only flight departing at that time.

Usually I can refill my reusable water bottle in order to avoid buying a single-use plastic bottle, but unfortunately all of the water fountains were off due to Covid, so I did buy a bottle of water from the airport – I can’t handle a 10 hour flight without having some water with me.

I boarded the flight to Frankfurt, which Lufthansa did by boarding 3 rows at a time, which was actually really great. Since I was near the back of the flight, I got on pretty early, and waited. I was really hoping for an empty seat beside me, but apparently my seat-neighbour didn’t get the memo about boarding based on rows, and she was one of the last ones on board…typical.

We were required to wear masks the whole time on board except for eating and drinking, but it actually wasn’t too bad in my homemade mask my mom gave me.

After 9 hours on the plane, we finally arrived to Frankfurt, where I had a 9 hour layover. I cleared immigration, where they asked me a lot more questions than normal, including the following:

  • Where was I going, and why
  • How long was I going for?
  • He asked to see my return flight (I’ve never been asked this before)
  • Did I have travel insurance? “Yes, it’s on my credit card for up to 30 days, and then he asked to see my credit card. That was another new one!

After my questioning, he said have a good time, and I was off on my way – I was IN! I had looked ahead of time to see if there were any earlier flights to Zurich, which was my next stop, and there was one at 1:30pm. Our flight had arrived 40 mins early, at 11:30am, so I scooted to the customer service to see if I could get an earlier flight, but the rep said that flight was 100% sold out, someone else had just asked her. I then asked if there were any flights direct to Tenerife, and unfortunately she said no.

I contemplated getting a day room at the airport, hotel, but I looked up rates for the airport hotel in Frankfurt and google told me that it cost 375 Euros per night. Forget it. I went back through security into the terminal (which again was empty), and waited it out. I tried to find a quiet place to sleep, but the airport was busy. Every gate had a flight departing. It was about 1pm in Frankfurt by this time, 4am Vancouver time, and I was a complete zombie. I had seen several sausage stalls along the terminal, and found the restaurant where I could sit and have a currywurst. I mean, when in Germany…

After I ate, I walked to the end of the terminal, and it looked like the flight had departed and there was no new flight posted, and no one there. So, I lay down, set an alarm, and fell asleep for a couple of glorious hours. I spent the rest of the layover wandering around, trying to do some work (but my brain wasn’t functioning very well), and sleeping a bit more. Oh yes, and I was able to refill my water bottle in Frankfurt, the water stations were open, thank goodness.

In Frankfurt, I did notice that everyone wore masks, and there was a lovely announcement in German, English and Spanish every 10-15 mins reminding us that masks were compulsory. Finally the time came to board my flight to Zurich on Swiss Air, which was lovely. The flight was only 35 mins in the air, and they managed to give us all bottles of water and a piece of delicious chocolate.

Upon my arrive in the Zurich airport, I made my way to the Radisson Blu Airport Hotel, which was about 15 mins walking from the arrivals terminal. Normally I’ll book a cheaper hotel and take the shuttle, but I knew I’d be exhausted after my long day, plus I arrived at 9:30pm and departed at 6:30am, giving me only a 9 hour layover. After checking-in at the hotel (which was super quick and efficient, gotta love the Swiss), I ripped off my mask (which wasn’t smelling so great after 22+ hours of wear) had a glorious shower with shampoo but no conditioner (curse the security woman at the YVR airport!), and collapsed into bed.

I woke up at 3:30am (damn jetlag), and lay in bed until 4:45am, when my alarm rang. I pulled myself out of bed, threw on a new mask, and headed back to the airport for my final leg of the trip. Shockingly, there were a number of people in the Zurich airport who weren’t wearing masks. That was surprising to me, and the only airport I had been in where that was the case. I looked around for a water-refill station, and of course, they were closed. So I grabbed a water bottle from the one place open, payed with my credit card, and almost cried – it was $10 CAD. But the flight was 4.5 hours and I was not willing to go thirsty…

Finally, I boarded my flight to Tenerife, which was 100% full, and was thrilled to arrive 5 hours later.

Travel Tips for Flying During COVID 19

  • If you have a long journey like I did, definitely bring multiple masks. You will want to switch it up after many hours of wearing the mask and not brushing your teeth or washing your face
  • If you have a long layover in the airport, look for a quiet place with no flights departing, so you can catch some sleep (and even take off your mask for a short time, which feels pretty darn good)
  • WASH YOUR HANDS often. I washed them anytime before boarding the plane, when I got off the plane, before I ate anything, etc.
  • Disinfect your seating area when you get on, including your tray table, TV screen, armrests, the wall (I rest my head on), head rest, seatbelt buckle, and anything else you touch
  • Be sure to practice physical distancing when you can

Have travel related questions to ask the #worldygirlies? Contact us HERE.

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