Global Travel and Coronavirus

4 short months ago, this would have been the same old trip as usual. The same type of trip that millions of people around the world were taking every single day. How so much has changed since then. First, this trip was delayed and changed many times, initially due to the pandemic itself and need to stay home, but later because of the massive reductions in flights. We were originally booked to come at the end of April but cancelled that since it was during the height of the pandemic both at home and in Europe. In late March we changed the trip to the end of June, but then had to rebook multiple times due to many flight cancellations. A simple Calgary-London-Prague became Calgary-Montreal-Zurich-Prague then Calgary-Toronto-Zurich-Prague, then finally Calgary-Toronto-Frankfurt-Prague. Here’s our journey in photos and a few words.

Calgary Airport Departures Curbside – deserted
Calgary Airport Air Canada check-in area – deserted except for a few staff
The departure board shows all of the flights for the next 24 hours and it’s barely more than half full
By using Aeroplan points gained through credit cards and purchasing a top-up amount during a recent promotion, it was actually significantly cheaper to fly in business class rather than pay cash for an economy ticket plus all of the extra baggage fees. As you can see, the cabin is not very full. There were 87 people on this flight which was operated by a Boeing 787-9 with 298 seats.
Finally we’re up in the air. There was uncertainty at a few points along the way – the first hurdle of which was to get our boarding passes in Calgary. The massive amount of travel/entry restrictions around the world makes it not at all straightforward to travel to most places right now.
We were totally exhausted after a busy week at home.
Here’s what you get onboard instead of an amenity kit – a Clean Care kit containing a small water bottle, gloves, hand sanitizer, a mask, and alcohol wipes. These were provided to all passengers pre-departure.
Passengers in business class were offered a pre-packaged cold dinner box containing a chicken club wrap, quinoa salad, packaged almonds and a kit kat. And more alcohol wipes. There was no choice in food. I think on this flight (Calgary-Toronto) passengers in Economy got nothing.
Instead of port and something sweet for dessert, we get another bottle of water and more antiseptic wipes.
Arriving at Toronto Pearson Airport we find the terminal with few people and all shops and food outlets closed.
There are no more flights leaving this evening or late night.
Obligatory mask family selfie!!
We just had to take a photo with the penguin statue, of course
Toronto Pearson baggage pickup area – deserted
I am so thankful that we didn’t have to pick up our baggage for the overnight layover. We had 4 x 70 pound bags, a moving box, and a bike.
On Sunday afternoon we headed back to the airport. The check in area is of course, deserted. All of the active check-in desks were compressed into a single aisle.
The moving sidewalk only has 1 Elinka to transport.
The Tilted Spheres are devoid of people.
There were literally thousands of seats to choose from in the hammerhead area of Terminal 1. The closest people to us were over a hundred metres away.
A completely empty area of the international concourse.
There are only 3 international flights this afternoon/evening. The Zurich and Frankfurt flight gates were positioned at opposite ends of the hammerhead giving people lots of room to spread out.
We already knew what to expect, but the gate agent announced over the intercom that the food service in all cabins wss limited to prepackaged boxes with no choice in food and only water to drink. They encouraged people to buy takeout food at one of the few outlets that was open. They also made a point of mentioning that the duty free shop was open and sold alcohol but that it was unlawful to consume your own alcohol on board.
We’ve pushed back. Only parked planes in view. Not much movement other than the ramp agent handling our flight.
Even though the service is minimal, it’s always nice to sit in the front of the bus and have a comfortable seating area for a long flight. There are 147 people on this 400 seater Boeing 777-300ER.
Allow me to introduce “Gentleman”. He’s going to be my travelling buddy for the next year.
Here we have the Air Canada international business class dinner offering. I didn’t care for the potatoes but everything else was decent. It would have been really nice had wine been available. The cabin crew on both of our flights seemed to feel really bad they couldn’t offer anything else than water to drink. Clearly Air Canada (amongst several other airlines) have decided to toss a cost savings measure under the guise of safety. There’s almost no difference in handing out bottles of water than there would be to hand out canned soft drinks or individual serving bottles of wine. Open bar service and coffee/tea, sure, I can see the point but not for individually contained drinks.
Sadly, Elinka doesn’t like flying much these days, but she sees one benefit – unlimited screen time! Note the owl pillow – we had to bring our own pillows on board too.
Sunset over the North Atlantic.
Here’s me holding my amenity kit and our Service Director, Paul.
Breakfast offering. I’d be pi$$ed if I had paid the asking price for these flights. But as mentioned, it was a very good deal and the seat makes it all worth it.
Approaching Frankfurt Airport.
Passport Control area – deserted. No waiting time.
Hard to believe it’s Monday morning peak time in one of the global financial and travel hubs.
There are a lot more flights here than in North America.
It’s still pretty empty though. Usually this corridor would be full of people.
Thankfully the lounge is open and we can get some coffee and a little breakfast before our next flight. It was about 60% full. Other than the staff, only about 10% of people were wearing masks. They were mandatory in the rest of the airport; perhaps the lounge qualifies as a restaurant?
The food offer was more basic than one would usually expect but they had some nice pretzels. Sadly there was no mustard but this one with cream cheese, cucumber and radish was pretty good with an espresso.
We’re on our last, short hop over to Prague. Frankurt Airport is literally a parking lot for Lufthansa’s fleet of the world’s biggest planes Here we’ve got a Boeing 747-8 that’s not flown for over 3 months. Across the field there were many A380s and 747s parked all nicely in a row with nowhere to go.
Here’s the Boeing 777-300ER that brought us over from Toronto. Usually there would be dozens of aircraft coming and going from all over the world at this time of day, but the only other non-European aircraft I saw were 2 United planes.
Lufthansa is one of the airlines still providing a proper offering of food and beverage. It’s not the same as usual (no open bar service on the trolley, etc) but this is pretty good for a 50 minute flight. Had a nice fresh cup of coffee, too. Thankfully my return trip to Canada is on Lufthansa.
We’re approaching Prague Airport.
The Czech countryside just north of Prague.
We are the only aircraft arriving in Prague at this time of the morning.
All of the shops are closed.
This area of the Schengen terminal is dead. We had to go through an intra-Schengen passport control here in Prague which has been reinstated in many countries during the pandemic.
This furry little lady was on the flight from Frankfurt with us. I overheard the gate agent at Frankfurt telling the passenger that since she wouldn’t fit underneath (it was a small regional jet – Embraer) she would come and sit with them in the cabin. So cute!!!
All of our luggage made it! And since the flight was again 2/3 empty, no waiting time at all for the bags.
Coronavirus testing is mandatory for passengers on arrival in Czechia if you are coming from outside the EU, or from one of the orange / red countries within the EU. This station was just set up a couple of days ago at the airport. You could also do the test at the local hygiene station (health ministry), but we chose to do it here to get the last unpleasant part of our travel over and done with. It cost the equiavalent of 100 Canadian dollars per person. There was an express option to get your sample processed in 3 hours for about 400 dollars.
If you told me a year ago this is what was necessary to go visit family in 2020… never would have believed you!
After some tears – the test is pretty unplesaant for kids – Elinka and Tuci go for a ride on the toy train. All smiles now!
We’ve got our test results back late in the evening – all clear!!

As you can see, air travel is a lot different than what we’re used to. The empty airports with everything shuttered and aircraft parked is really sad to see and quite surreal. It’s also still quite difficult to travel across borders. If we weren’t prepared, we could have had real problems completing this journey. We went to the airport 4 hours early in Calgary as that’s where we would be verified for the entire journey and have our boarding passes issued. Initially the check in agent thought that we would have a problem transiting Germany since only Blanka holds an EU passport, but then I pointed out that transit restrictions were not applicable to family members of citizens of EU member states, and after a quick call from him to the Air Canada travel office to authorize our check-in, we were on our way. We encountered some others who weren’t so lucky – at the gate in Toronto, boarding the flight to Frankfurt, there was a couple in the other lane who got the nasty beep and pulled aside when their boarding passes were scanned. I’m not sure of all the details, but from what I overheard, they were heading to Italy and had permanent residence there, but weren’t EU citizens. That created a problem for them to transit Germany. Airlines are very cautious to let you on board if there could be issues at the other end, as if you’re denied entry, the airline has to take you back on their own dime and also pay a fine for allowing you on board when they should have known better. As we passed our document checks, the gate agent was making phone calls to the travel office and asking the couple to pull out all of their documentation. I guess it didn’t end well. Just before scheduled departure time the captain came on the intercom and stated that our departure would be delayed by about 15 minutes as bags were being offload for a couple of people who wouldn’t be joining us on the flight after all.

Another comment – we felt very safe the entire time we spent in the aircraft and airports. Mask wearing is mandatory in most places, cleaning staff are visibly sanitizing common areas of airports, and there is hand sanitizer everywhere.

I hope things get back to some sort of normal soon.

One thought on “Global Travel and Coronavirus

  1. Wow, what a trip, hope you enjoyed it all the same. I have to Travel to Sarnia Ontarion in the next couple of months and i am wondering what it will be like. Regards Anthony Oxlade

    Like

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