I decided not to tell the whole story of my trip to Calgary from California via Vancouver in one whole post. There are certain points that require their own post, and right now, I have decided to share my experience of flying during COVID.
Before deciding to fly to Canada, there were some things about flying during a pandemic that I couldn’t ignore. I looked up as much as I could about how to fly with a lower risk of infection. In terms of risk, flying was deemed the highest risk activity you could do, but there were some other things that made me not so sure. Eventually, I found an article that detailed what you could do to minimize risk and planned the trip from there.
Back when the pandemic first started, there was all this stuff in the news about US airline companies filing for bankruptcy to get massive government bailouts, while US citizens only got a measly $1200 check! What a joke, especially since the airlines were able to operate with social distancing measures a few months later! Additionally, US airlines weren’t enforcing their mask policy with customers who refused to wear it. That made me think, “Well, you just inspired me to fly with Air Canada!” My thinking was that international airlines have a vested interest in keeping their country safe, so they will have better safety procedures. Fortunately, my Mum was absolutely on the same page with me!
I’m so done with US carriers anyway. I’m only flying with international airlines from now on. Besides, at the time, I learned that Canadians are really into supporting their homegrown brands, and local businesses. I honestly love it and I’m embracing it! I plan to write a post about the importance of that someday!
So, here’s how my trip to Canada went:
The story starts the day before flying. I was trying to do online check-in for Air Canada and it wouldn’t let me because I was a foreign national. That was a new COVID rule back then, which was okay. I tried contacting Air Canada but found out we had to do the check-in at the airport. When you do the check-in, they check all your papers that you will be presenting at Border Control, so it’s best to be prepared.
There weren’t any delays with the process at SFO. When you’re checking in, going through security and boarding, you have to lower your mask for identity purposes, but that’s okay. I noticed that all the airports I went through seemed to turn the temperature up from a comfortable “I-Can-Relax” level to a muggy, sweaty, breathless “It’s-Unbearable-To-Wear-A-Mask” level. Were they trying to weed out the people who weren’t serious about wearing a mask or something? I don’t know. I deliberately had to seek ways to cool off! I wore a mask for 12 hours straight that day. I had to throw it out after that, but it kept me safe in the end!
If you have brought your own food with you, ask at security if there is someplace where you can go eat. Airports have set spaces aside where you can eat if you aren’t buying food, so I was happy about that.
I had to admit it’s weird that the boarding process goes so fast since airplanes are operating at a lower capacity. I’m so used to crowded planes and super long boarding times that there was some cognitive dissonance there.
On the flights, I was ecstatic to see and hear French again in the announcements and also from the flight attendants. One of them called me Madame, which was amazing! (I like that or Mademoiselle better than Miss or Ms). I really liked that everyone was reminded that wearing a mask is conditional on travelling on Air Canada. They also handed out COVID care packages. And get this: wearing a mask on a plane is SO NOT a big deal because they circulate the air and the temperature is steady! My Mum and I both got window seats at the back of the plane because they are a lower risk of catching COVID. The flight to YVR was about 10 or 15% full and YYC was almost twice that. At least we were able to take more baggage!
The views en route to YVR were mostly cloudy until we got closer. I wouldn’t say the views were breathtaking, but I did get this sense of awe I get when I see a new city from the air!
After we landed, we went through customs, which was a breeze since I had downloaded the ArriveCAN app and filled in our information before we arrived. We also thought we had to wait for our baggage, which turned out not to be the case. We were at the carousel and there were two sniffer dogs there: a black lab and a yellow lab. Anyone who knows me knows that I am so crazy about black labs it’s not even funny! Then, the black lab came up to us to inspect us. I have noticed black labs seem to know I’m crazy about them, and this was definitely true of this dog, Jake. He suddenly started acting all lively like labs do even though he was working. I said to his handler that if Jake wasn’t working, I’d be making a fuss over him and he thanked me graciously.
I was sort of lost as to what to do next, but I saw an immigration office though and went to check if we had anything more to do. This French Canadian guy was really kind and polite and he said “Welcome to Canada!” about 4 times. He told me I had to go to Border Control, and gave me directions, so I thanked him and went back to tell Mum.
As a Third Culture Kid, I have had more than my fair share of bad experiences at Border Control or any business to do with immigration or citizenship. This experience was no different. I understand why though. All I want to say about it right now is that I read an article that said the US is losing its passport privilege, and it couldn’t be more true!
I think the IRCC relaxed a bit after they called us to check we were complying with quarantine regulations. My confidence increased because of all the bad experiences I have had with immigration, I know how to deal with immigration officers. I will do a post about my personal tips for that! Hint: Honesty is the best policy.
Then, it got dramatic:
Because of being at Border Control for a long time, the officer said we had technically missed our plane to Calgary and said to go talk to Air Canada. We tried to find the Air Canada desk and then I noticed we had half an hour until our plane left! I thought if we legged it as best we could, we could make it. I didn’t know we had to go through security again! I don’t know if this is a thing in Canadian airports to have to go through security again when you have a layover. The last time I was at a Canadian airport was over 20 years ago and I didn’t have a layover then!
By then, I was running on pure adrenaline and sweating profusely thanks to the aforementioned uncomfortable airport temperatures for wearing a mask, and being dehydrated. They had to confiscate my water bottle that they gave me on the flight to Vancouver and had to open my bag to check my scissors! I had a book about TCKs in that bag and I saw the lady do a double-take when she saw it! She let me through when she asked if we had to catch a plane! I wish I had been reading that book while waiting around at Border Control. I think it sends the message I’m an experienced traveller and immigrant! My Mum can’t run, so I went ahead to see if the plane to Calgary was still there and it was! I got to the gate and the lady there said she was just about to call us on the speaker!
By the time we got on and by then, my entire body was feeling weak and shaky as an after-effect of being at Border Control but I had to get our bags into the overhead bins. The stewardess couldn’t help me because of COVID, which didn’t make sense because the stewardess on the other flight had helped me! My Mom’s bag was super heavy with books and I was saying to my body “Please don’t give out!” Someone was sitting under where I was putting the bag and I didn’t want to hit him with it. I couldn’t have handled it then. It worked out though and my Mom asked if I was okay. I said I thought I was going to throw up. I didn’t, but still.
I was able to enjoy the views though. There was snow on the mountains and in Calgary! I noticed on the interactive flight map that we were about 30km from Banff, so now if someone asks me if I have been to Banff, I can honestly say the closest I have been so far is 30km! Someday though! 🤞
YYC is a lovely airport! Mum said it reminded her of Oakland airport in the 1970s. I’m used to massive airports like Heathrow, so it’s nice to see a smaller and more personal international airport like YYC. I noticed that the plane approached the airport from the north and didn’t fly directly over the city. Ever since moving here, I have noticed that it’s rare to see planes flying over, but then it depends on which part of the city you’re in.
Mum noticed Timmies right by the gate where we got off! It was cool, but we were exhausted and just wanted (and needed) to get to our new home ASAP. Someday though! After I got money and called the landlord from the airport phone, we got on Uber. It was 2° out with snow on the ground. It was a crisp cold, not the bone biting cold that I had to endure in London. I stepped out of the airport and thought, “I could live here!”
Mum and I were exhausted in every sense of the word and were asleep by 8 pm. By morning, I checked my messages and my best girlfriends from my university had sent me messages and I started crying because I suddenly missed them and I’m so worried about them being in the US! I can’t explain the bonds I have with my best friends from university but friends at women’s colleges are something special. I called them and just had to talk and have a cry about what happened. I encouraged my friends to share my story with others because this seems like a reality for US expats.
Well, that’s my story of moving and flying during COVID. It wasn’t easy, but it was so worth it!