On the road – or rather in the air – again!

Okay, it’s no Love In The Time of Cholera, but hey, we can’t all be Gabriel García Márquez!

On September 1, 2021, I made my way to the airport for the first time in 17 months. Given the last 10 years of my life, 17 months without a flight of any kind was a very long hiatus. And this was going to be different, that I knew. Heck, it was already different – given I’d had a PCR test done and was carrying the results with me so I’d be allowed to board the plane (and enter the destination country).

The airport was relatively quiet – although not as empty as when I made my way back to Canada from Tokyo in April of 2020. Still, not all outlets were open, and airport lounges either closed or operating at reduced service levels. Not that it makes much difference to me, as I rarely eat or drink much in the lounge.

With fewer flights available, and less than full, I wonder how the airlines are surviving. Cargo, I suppose, is the answer to that.

My journey took me from Montréal to Istanbul to Jakarta. Both in Montreal and Istanbul I had to show a number of different documents to ensure I could board – not only the PCR test result, but additional paperwork stating I was allowed to enter Indonesia, which had closed its doors to international travel. After a 14-hour layover in Instanbul, I waited patiently as the proper approvals were obtained from Jakarta. When I was finally given permission to board, I found my seat and relaxed. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to find myself on a plane, getting ready for an 11-hour flight.

The arrival in Jakarta was smooth – with signage clearly indicating where to go, forms to fill, and validation of all documents.

I was allowed in. So far, so good.

Now came the eight-day quarantine. I wondered how I’d fare as you can’t leave the room at all during this time. Turns out I was fine. It didn’t bother me at all. I’m not sure what that says about me? I was working all day anyway, so it didn’t matter where I was. I started my days with a breath work and meditation routine, and on some days yoga. As much as I’d vowed I would do the yoga daily…that didn’t happen. Oh well…

Meals were delivered three times a day – in a little black bento box. You could choose an “Asian” or “Western” meal. I mostly stuck to Asian, except for breakfast.

It was usually cold, luke-warm at best. Any time it did arrive “hot” was cause for celebration. Can’t be easy to prepare meals and deliver them at different times to a bunch of rooms. At one point I think there were almost 30 members of my team in quarantine!
I quickly learned that for breakfast all I really wanted was fruit. No need for eggs and potatoes (and sometimes rice and pasta) for breakfast for this girl!
I was intrigued by the lovely, although strange, colours of “pudding” that showed up – never enough to actually eat it though. Purple, blue, green, pink…I have no idea what kind of pudding it was, but the colours of the rainbow were well represented. It’s consistency was also interesting – very “jelly-wobbly.” Those baby bananas though…those I could eat all day long!

In short, it wasn’t the best food I’ve ever eaten, but it wasn’t horrible either. Besides, what did I have to complain about? A meal was delivered to my door three times a day, the food was edible, I didn’t have to make it, and I didn’t have to clean up. There are definitely worse things (like no food at all).

Some of my coworkers told me they went a little squirly at day four. Likely because none of the windows opened, so we couldn’t let any fresh air in (even hot, humid air is better than no air!).

By this time airlines and countries had been dealing with COVID travel for over a year, and the systems in place were pretty smooth. Still, it was odd to be on relatively empty flights.

Returning home was different. It was end of November, and clearly people were traveling for the holidays. My flight from Jakarta to Istanbul was full, as was my flight from Istanbul to Montréal. I’m sure the airline was happy for that. Thankfully everyone wore their masks, and all airlines provide you with some disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and extra masks.

Other notable differences included countries now requiring passengers to upload their vaccine proof prior to finalizing flight check-in, ensuring pre-qualification. For my time in Istanbul, this meant having the Turkish app downloaded on my phone, which was required for entry into the country, into malls and stores, and for purchasing a transit pass. For my return to Canada, it meant downloading the ArriveCan app and filling in all the requisite information about my vaccines, pre-departure PCR test and arrival quarantine plan (in case it was required). I know many other countries are doing the same.

Flight plan maps certainly have improved! I do like waking up after a nap and seeing how far we have flown. I continue to be amazed that we can step on a plane and within a relatively small amount of time find ourselves in a completely different part of the world.

My latest trip demonstrated airlines are now able to adjust depending on the destination country. Before flying to Germany at the end of December, Air Canada required I upload my vaccine proof. This pre-qualification meant that upon arrival in Germany, my documents were barely scanned (most importantly though, I have the stamp in my passport!). For my return from Germany, I didn’t need to upload my vaccine proof, but I did require a PCR test within 72 hours of my departure flight, with a negative result, of course. The PCR test and ArriveCan app, were the only requirements, as I am a Canadian returning home. Upon arrival in Montréal I was tested, and had to isolate at home until my negative result arrived – which luckily came via email the following evening.

Unlike the November and December flights home, the flights to Frankfurt and back were half full at most. Makes for nice comfy flights for me, but it can’t be good for the airline. Let’s see what happens to airlines and the cost of flying as this COVID thing drags on (hopefully not much longer…please!).

One thing is for sure, if you are flying anywhere these days do your homework about requirements before you go anywhere (including prior to your return home).

Safe and healthy travels!

Once out of quarantine I was on another flight – to Papua, Indonesia. Well worth arriving to this beautiful (and remote) spot! It’s a five-hour flight from Jakarta. That said, seeing a parking lot for retired planes at the end of the runway left a less-than-secure feeling! I suppose there’s not much else to do with retired planes on a small island…