Global Travel News

GETTING THERE AND BACK: The Good, The Bad and The Whatever

Finally! After 18 months of travelless (I know it’s not a word – but it should be) living ordained by the pandemic – finally, finally came the opportunity, the inevitability, the sort-of-necessity to travel. Not just to hop in the car and head to Mississauga or Kendell to visit friends. A real trip – on a plane.

We have a house in Gulfport, Florida which can be accessed by air through several American gateways the most convenient being St. Petersburg -Clearwater (PIE) or Tampa International (TPA). Air Canada has regular flights to Tampa so that was the choice.

We were a bit nervous about seating on board – and being beside non-masked (during meals) or unvaccinated passengers.

To circumvent that we decided to use my Amex points to book a Rouge Premium class. We then reserved a Shoppers Drug Rapid Antigen test for $40 each. The test procedure was flawless and we had results in 10 min. Once we had our test results we could ‘check in’.

So, here’s where it got tricky – we got our boarding passes on line only to find out that although in premium class – we were not seated together.

A two hour hold with AC ended up with the reservation agent explaining there was no ticket number associated with our booking and that the seats were cancelled. The message: “Do not go to the airport. Call your agent.”

That precipitated a second two hours on hold with American Express, and a lot of conversation with a promise of a call back once it was sorted. To Amex Travel’s credit, they did call back about two hours later (two hours seems to be the telephone norm for these things- we were timing). Anyway, they confirmed that we were in fact on the flight, with new seats but still not seated together.

It was now 17.00 Saturday before our 10 .00 flight Sunday. So okay, we’ll sit beside some stranger and possibly take our first major exposure risk.

We travel with carry-on baggage only. Took an early morning cab to Union Station (cab drivers will never accept that you know the best route to where you want to go … but don’t get me started)

Note the divider between the seats

I continue to sing the praises of the UP Express from Union Station to Pearson International Airport to anyone who wants to listen. This is the way to go. Right now the seats are all separated by plastic/plexiglass dividers – there were not that many on board and sure enough we were there at Terminal 1 in 25 minutes.

Ten minutes later we were at the US departures area and in line – a long line. The time 7.10. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 10.00.

The security people were all there but they had not opened. US Customs and Immigration arrived around 7.55, security opened immediately and we were through the ‘shoes off/computer out’ bit by 8.15. All looking good.


But now came the not-that-much-fun part…waiting in the queues to clear US Customs and Immigration – at least 25 long rows of not-that-well-distanced folk. The tension was palpable, people were agitated and upset not unsurprisingly afraid they would miss their flights.

Everyone was masked, though some had pulled them below their noses – 6ft between people was non-existent as you not only had passengers ahead and behind you but at each elbow as well, as you maneuvered the maze of lines. The flight was at 10.00…. the tension was ramping up. Airline staff checking the lines to see how many people from individual flights were still not processed but were not pulling anyone out of line and moving them ahead of others. They did try to reassure concerned/angry/ belligerent people that the airlines were aware of the issue.

Frankly it was chaos. Everyone was checking their cells every 5 min for flight updates. We got our first delay notice at our actual departure time of 10.00 – the new ETD was 10:40.

Would we make it? Fingers crossed. We finally cleared, though to exacerbate the situation. Vicki managed to get a customs agent in training who took 10 minutes (working with his supervisor) who explained each step of the process before giving  the okay – though he didn’t check her COVID docs. My non trainee was pretty quick – but he did take a look at all the necessary medical documents.

Then came a run to the very last gate we could possibly have been positioned at – not helped in the least by large signs, “You are 10 minutes from your gate”. “You are 7 minutes from your gate”. My language as to what they could do with that gate is not be repeated. We made it – the last pax to board.

Not everybody did. Wheels were up at 10:50 and somehow luck was with us, as one of the seats belonging to an abandoned passenger made it possible for us to sit together. I don’t believe we were even thinking about it after the stress and the run – but the flight attendant suggested it when we came on board and it was ‘yes, thank you’

The service and big seat comfort with no unfamiliar seat mates was well worth the point splurge.

And, just a word about Air Canada and Rouge flight attendants. I listen to a lot of complaints and criticism about them. I can honestly say I have never – never – in years of flying on a regular basis had anything but pleasant, friendly staff and good service. And I should point out that, with few exceptions, I generally fly economy. So, had to say that.

Arrival in Tampa was smooth and easy – no bags so no line ups at Arrivals. The car rental (Enterprise) was quick and flawless.

Arrival, yeah!

Now there was time to worry about booking our PCR Covid travel test to return home (in two weeks).

We had heard about free and/or cheap Drug Store testing – forget it. Nothing is free or cheap, the drug store testing is primarily for residents to determine if they have Covid, or have had Covid, but not for travel with the certification and paperwork required to enter Canada.

Many people/ friends/ readers told us we could get tested easily at almost any drug store but getting an appointment for a RT- PCR medically certified test was not in the cards for us. We keep hearing from people who say they received this test at no cost at local drug stores but we could find no evidence of this working. There are Florida Travel testing centre pop ups and clinics in every major city and area. There’s an assortment of options available at various prices depending on the result delivery time.

Flying on a Sunday or Monday you’re at a disadvantage because of weekend closures for test results. You can get tested but no lab results are available after 4 PM Saturday until Monday morning. With just a 72 hour window and wanting our results before heading to the airport we didn’t feel comfortable with the no guarantee 24-48 hour test delivery for US $150 and went with the primo guaranteed delivery, 2 hour result of US $300. (See price list and delivery times below.)

It’s pricey yes, but worth the comfort of no bungles. We highly suggest proper and thorough research for return testing as there’s a lot of misinformation and risks associated for taking the 1-2 days test result.

Some foreigners have apparently had some luck with drug store travel testing – but personally we would not advise counting on that.

The return flight was delayed. ETD was 14.00. we left closer to 17.00. We were given $15 food vouchers by Air Canada some passengers fussed about that but some passengers fuss about anything. (Just as an aside Starbucks doesn’t take the vouchers).

The ArriveCAN app is easy to download and use – and it works. We had heard horror stories about delays at Canada Customs for arriving passengers at Pearson. We did not encounter any of that. There was no extended wait on the plane – just a minor issue with the bridge which was quickly sorted, so it was about 45 minutes in total from stepping out of the plane door to stepping on to the UP Express for the return home.

Toronto

A bit of advice. I wouldn’t buy scotch at TPA. A bottle of reasonably pricy Single Malt I had bought the day before at my local liquor store in St.Pete. was almost $30 more at Duty Free.

Here’s some information if you our family is planning a US trip:

• No cost to patient – Diagnostic COVID-19 PCR Test (result generally in 2+ Days, not for travel)
• $129 – Rapid Antigen COVID-19 Test (result generally sent in 1 hour)
• $150 – Expedited PCR COVID-19 Test (result generally sent within 1-2 days by 11:59 PM PDT excluding Sundays)
• $299 – Rapid PCR COVID-19 Test (Result generally sent in 2 hours)
• $319 – Respiratory Pathogen Panel (Result Generally in 1-3 Days)
• $75 – Rapid ANTIBODY COVID-19 Test (result generally sent within 1 hour)

https://www.covidclinic.org/st-petersburg/

First published at Travel Industry Today

First published at TravelNewsHub.com – Global Travel News

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