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THE LONG WAY HOME: A candid account of long haul travel in Covid times

Trevor Clarke and his fiancé Jordan Hamilton completed work contracts in New Zealand this spring, and share the story of their long journey home to Canada, during a global pandemic. On the day of departure, New Zealand reported no new cases in the community and 72 hours later when they touched down in Toronto, Ontario reported 3,778 new cases. Clarke suggested that the further they travelled from Auckland, the looser the Covid protocols seemed to be. Here’s his first hand account.

Auckland April 28, 2021: We took a Covid test at a ‘Travel Specific’ Covid testing clinic, a day before departure from Auckland, which offers immediate processing, and got our ‘negative’ results in ten hours via email, with a PDF Covid receipt and letter of confirmation from the clinic.

April 29, 2021: At the Auckland airport, we had to show our test results and the status of the ArriveCan app., which was put in place by the Canadian government, to track travel details and show proof of the hotel quarantine booking upon arrival in Canada.

Our flight was pretty full. The trans-Tasman bubble was currently in use, allowing Kiwis and Aussies to travel freely between New Zealand and Australia without quarantine.

Our plane suffered a flat tire on the tarmac so we returned to the loading bay, and as Australian law does not allow planes to depart after 11PM we had to overnight in Sydney. This meant we missed our subsequent flight to Toronto, and we would need current Covid tests.

We took a shuttle bus to a hotel with a police escort, arriving at 2:30AM. We were processed at a checkpoint, and taken to our rooms one family at a time by a police officer. Floors were monitored by hotel staff and police.

April 30, 2021: In the morning we were given a Covid test at our hotel room door, and checked out in the afternoon, once again escorted by a police officer and hotel staff member.

Our flight on Etihad was pretty full, but Jordan and I managed to find seats that were not directly behind other travellers. Flight attendants wore full PPE (mask, face shield and medical gown).

Abu Dhabi Airport

In Abu Dhabi, we were escorted by airport staff to a Covid test centre, followed by staff who cleaned the floors we were walking on. At the airport hotel we were surprised to find no police escort or Covid checkpoint, and we learned the hotel was open to other travellers as well. Our meal was to be consumed in the hotel restaurant, where staff brought us items from the buffet station. We chose to order room service for dinner.

Abu Dhabi April 30, 2021: Checking in at Abu Dhabi airport for our flight to Toronto was the most uncomfortable experience of my life. There was no social distancing at all. We were let in to a tunnel to wait by the gate where people were crammed inside with little ventilation.

The flight was packed and we were told at boarding to stay in our designated seats. Passengers were trying to move to the back of the plane where there were some empty seats being reserved, if necessary, to separate passengers showing signs of Covid.

Toronto April 30, 2021: Landing in Toronto was like being on another planet compared to our departure from Auckland. At customs the officers repeatedly removed themselves from their stations to remind passengers to move back, respect social distance protocol and wait until their turn. Jordan had her negative results from the Covid test, but I could only show proof of taking mine as the results had not yet been received. All travel details were input on the ArriveCan app.

Once we picked up our luggage we walked to the testing centre, where we were told results would take at least 72 hours and were given an “at-home” test kit to use on Day 8 of quarantine.

We took a full shuttle to the quarantine hotel, and were disturbed to see a passenger who had been dropped off at the hotel before us had her family waiting for her at the hotel. We watched them hug each other and then help the woman take in her luggage.

Our hotel told us we could leave the building whenever we wanted, as long as we wore a mask, and our floor also accommodated non-quarantine guests. Even prior to us setting foot in the hotel, my mom was allowed to enter our room and drop off a care-package. To be fair, the woman could infiltrate The Royal Canadian Mint if she had a banana loaf to deliver. (Ed. Note: Trevor’s mother is well known travel industry executive Kim Clarke, and to know Kim is to understand completely that there would be no stopping her.)

One afternoon, we noticed commotion in the hallway and when I looked through the peep-hole, I saw a quarantined guest bringing people into their room. With no screening at reception, people were coming and going as they wished. It was a joke.

May 3, 2021: On Day 3 of hotel quarantine, we were waiting for test results, and Canadian Health Services instructed us to contact the hotel’s Covid officer. It was no surprise that the hotel did not have one, but the receptionist kindly allowed us to stay until 5:00PM in order to wait for our results. We could have walked out, with no one being the wiser, but Jordan and I had come so far and we were programmed to following the rules.

We got our negative results around 2:00PM, and headed to Crystal Beach where we were set up with a camper trailer on Jordan’s family’s property for the remaining 11 days of our quarantine.

Quarantine quarters at Crystal Beach

On Day 8 we were to log back in to a Health Services Canada app for our self-administered Covid tests that were placed in packaging provided, to be immediately mailed for processing. Done.

Now that it is all over, the thing I take away from the journey is the inconsistency of safety protocols in different countries. We felt safe in Sydney but vulnerable on some of our flights. More than anything, Toronto, was an absolute free-for-all and social distancing was not enforced.

A Covid test staff member at Pearson summed it up for me, “Nobody knows what is going on or how to handle this problem.”

 

First published at Travel Industry Today

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