Now that most Canadians are vaccinated and travel restrictions are loosening, what is it actually like to fly within Canada? I just returned from a trip across the country, so I can tell you what to expect.
Right before the pandemic hit, I had moved to Ontario with my husband and daughter, away from all our family and friends in BC. It was the worst possible time to make this move. We missed our family and friends and decided to plan a visit this summer once everyone was fully vaccinated. We returned home yesterday after a fantastic 10-day trip to Vancouver and Powell River and can share our travel experiences with you.
We were careful to book tickets that were fully refundable for any reason up to the day of our flights. Even though things appeared to be improving and travel restrictions were loosening this spring, we’ve learned over the past year and a half that the situation can change at any time. On a positive note, prices were much lower than normal when we booked our flights in June and we paid about half of what we would typically pay for summer flights.
For each flight we checked in online 24 hours before departure and had to complete a COVID-19 screening declaration that included typical questions about exposure and symptoms. Failure to answer these questions truthfully could result in up to a $5000 fine, so we took our time to make sure we read all the instructions carefully.
At the Airport
For the first leg of our trip we flew from Toronto to Vancouver on Air Canada. Our flight departed from Terminal 1 at Pearson Airport, which services domestic and international departures. It appeared things were mostly back to normal and the airport seemed almost as busy as we remembered it. The security lineups were light, and it took us less than ten minutes to get through. Almost all businesses and restaurants were open but operating with reduced capacity and distancing in place. We were pleasantly surprised that travellers seemed to be on their best behaviour; The only time we saw people without masks was when they were eating. Lining up to board the flight went smoothly as gate staff were quite strict about not allowing people to queue in the boarding area until their boarding group was called. When boarding you needed to pull down your mask when presenting your ID and boarding pass to the gate agent.
For the second leg of the trip we flew to Powell River on Pacific Coastal out of the YVR South Terminal. We were surprised that many people were not wearing masks in the waiting area despite many signs saying it was mandatory to keep your mask on at all times. We generally found less mask wearing in BC compared to Ontario, maybe because we have been under such strict lockdown measures in Ontario?
For our return trip we did everything in the opposite direction and it all seemed similar.
On the Plane
On our Air Canada flights, the flight attendants handed out packages with disposable masks, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and bottles of water to each passenger after takeoff. Beverage service proceeded normally, and food was available to purchase on these flights. Alcoholic beverages were not available in economy class, but I did notice people in business class had wine so perhaps it was available. The cabin seemed cleaner than normal, but we still gave our seats a thorough wipe down with sanitizing wipes. Our Pacific Coastal flights were on tiny planes with only 20 people on each flight, but everyone kept their mask on for the duration. All four flights were fairly full.
Taxis, ride shares, and transit all appeared to be operating as normal at both international airports. The shuttle bus was operating between the YVR Main Terminal and South Terminal every 15 minutes and we used it with no issues.
Proof of Vaccination
While we did not need to show proof of vaccination to travel between Ontario and BC, some provinces do require it for entry, so check carefully before planning any trips. There are also many tour companies, hotels, and attractions that require it. We brought our certificates of vaccination with us just in case we needed them.
Overall our travel experience wasn’t too different from pre-COVID travel, with the exception of wearing masks and being more mindful of personal space and hygiene. There have been a lot of flight delays and cancellations lately due to the forest fires across BC, airline staffing shortages, and summer storms but we were very lucky as all our flights departed on time or close to their scheduled time. We didn’t need to go through customs as we stayed within Canada, but there have been reports of major delays due to new testing requirements and staffing issues. In fact, one of our flights was delayed by 20 mins because we were waiting for 40 passengers who were stuck in customs. We travelled with carry-on baggage only, so I can’t report back on the speed of baggage handling these days.
If you’re planning for an upcoming trip, just make sure you pack some extra patience, buy insurance, and stay safe.
Written by: Pam Jensen