Learning the hard way: Flying in the age of COVID

Carmel Beach in Haifa, Israel, Photo by Barbara Moser

Flying in the age of COVID is not for the faint hearted. This we learned the hard way, when we arrived at the airport in Montreal a good two hours before our flight to Toronto, scheduled for noon.

We intended to be in Toronto for three hours before boarding our flight to Tel Aviv. We had our PCR test results with us and showed them to the agent along with proof of our three vaccines. She asked for our Israel entry form and we looked at each other and thought: “What entry form?”

“You have to fill it out before you board the plane to Toronto,” she said — rather sternly, I thought. “I’ll give you the link on your cellphone.”

I was immediately nervous. I asked her if I could fill it out in Toronto where we would have more time. She said no. Filling out something on my cellphone is not my cup of tea, especially under duress. I asked if I could do it on my laptop and she said okay. So I opened my laptop atop a stack of plastic bins across from the agent’s desk and began to open the website and fill in the blanks, first for me and then for Irwin, while Irwin paced nervously back and forth.

Irwin does not have a cellphone, but after this experience he is getting one. He has come to realize that travelling without one is impossible these days because of COVID. And I have realized that I am not as proficient as I could be on my iPhone. The idea of “getting an app” is scary. Now that shouldn’t be the case.

I began to fill out the form but nothing seemed easy. I was nervous. I was thirsty. I was so stressed and the minutes just ticked away as it wouldn’t accept my passport number (I was typing it on the wrong line) and I realized I didn’t know how to upload my proof of vaccination to the site, although they were on my desktop. I asked two agents for help but they both gave me dirty looks and said they couldn’t do it for me. Why not, I wondered.

After too much time, a younger agent saw my distress and offered to help. He did both forms for Irwin and me with all that was required but alas when he had finally finished, it was very close to boarding time. Since we hadn’t been allowed to check in, he ran off to see if he could still get us on the plane. He came back looking sad and said we would have to call Aeroplan from the airport to rebook our entire trip since we had missed the flight to Toronto.

Dejected, we found a phone and called Aeroplan, waiting about 45 minutes to get an agent. The agent was helpful and kind and told us she would try to get us on the same flights the next day but we would have to go home and come back, it would cost a huge number of additional points and more money and I remembered that we would have to redo our PCR test because it would be one day late for the results. Desperate, I asked if there were other flights that day and sure enough she said yes. She could book us at 6:50 p.m. on Air Canada to Brussels and from Brussels to Israel on Brussels Airline. Never heard of it, and now I know why. It’s kind of like a bus and you pay for everything, including 3 euro for a small bottle of water.

Brussels airport was teeming with unmasked passengers and we were told it was not mandatory to wear a mask inside the airport, increasing our nervousness. There was the large group of Ultra-Orthodox people who didn’t want to wear their masks on the flight to Israel even though the flight attendants bickered with them constantly about it.

Yet after paying an extra $100 each and a total of 15,000 points more, we landed at last at Ben Gurion.

Exhaustion doesn’t begin to describe it. We had to do a PCR test and wow do they do PCR tests in Israel. They make the PCR in Canada look like a joke. Here it’s two pokes in two nostrils and two swabs in the mouth, one on each side. We had to isolate for 24 hours at our hotel in Haifa but got the negative results in about 16 hours.

Oh yes, we had to fill out a COVID form for Brussels at the airport in Montreal even though we spent about half an hour there. Luckily, the agent helped us do it all and we thanked him profusely.

Lessons to be learned?

  • Get a cellphone and learn how to use it. Learn how to upload and download and sideload.
  • Learn how to photograph your documents so you can find them easily when asked for them.
  • Learn how to download apps for everything you need.
  • Learn how to manage your photos and email photos and send messages etc. etc. etc.
  • Get a decent cellphone plan. Fizz.ca works for me. Thing is you can’t talk to them on the phone anymore so you need someone to hook you up with then online.

As for our stay in Haifa, I will soon tell the story of our first two days here, which includes meeting a wild boar on a main street of Haifa, as we were walking to my cousin’s. 

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