I folded and refolded then packed and repacked until 11 p.m., getting irrationally frustrated because edges still had wrinkles and my stack of clothes looked uneven.
“Let me know if you need help,” my mom offered several times.
“It’s okay, this is probably my version of you ironing undies or buffing the hardwood floor when you’re pissed off,” I explained. “I mean, why do I even bother? I’m going to dump everything into the washing machine as soon as I get home! I’m just… stressed out, I suppose.”
Common sense packing skills don’t apply at the end of a trip to France, anyway. My backpack looks like an East India Company steamship sailing back to motherland with “luxury goods,” except Chinese silk and tea are French skincare and stationery in my case. The motto is “as long as it fits, it’s coming to Canada” and the result is a heavy, bulky backpack.
I buckled it with a sigh and completed the Air Transat online check-in process.
Flight TS601 was still on schedule. Realizing I was actually going back wasn’t a huge relief like in Chile a few months earlier. This wasn’t typical “leaving angst”—or maybe it was, heightened by the pandemic. I did miss Feng but strangely, I felt safer in France.
I turned off the light at 3 a.m. knowing I wouldn’t sleep long or well, a thousand of questions in mind and all of them impossible to answer.
Will the airport be empty and travellers subjected to extra screening or will it be packed with slow-moving queues of people standing one metre apart? Should I go earlier because of COVID-19 measures or show up later than usual to avoid wandering around a busy airport?
I was also nervous because technically, Canada discourages “non-essential trips”—would we get scolded for leaving the country? And was coming back a good idea, anyway? What if the EU closed its borders again? Was Canada the place where I wanted to be “stuck” during a second wave?
I hadn’t been this anxious about flying to Canada since the early 2000s when I was always afraid I would be denied entry as a visitor, a Working Holiday Visa holder or a permanent residence applicant.
At 2 a.m., I found something else to worry about, a practical detail I had overlooked. Apparently, it was no longer possible to pay cash on the bus to the airport and I only noticed it when double-checking the schedule online. Would I have time to buy tickets at the TAN office before our 10:10 a.m. airport bus? Would it even be open?
I dozed off promising myself to go first thing in the morning.
I woke up a minute before the alarm rang and I did a good job of pretending I had my shit together—I almost fooled myself. I rushed to the transit system office, bought two tickets, ran back home, made sure Mark had a t-shirt and pants on and the tablet was charged.
We said goodbye to my mom and left as quickly as possible, the best trick I know to avoid bursting into tears.
“Mark, can you walk faster?”
“No, not with my backpack. They have airports in France? Huh. Funny. I didn’t know, mommy.”
“Seriously? Where did you think we arrived in France a few weeks ago? Do you remember when we swam across the Atlantic, like, never?”
“We took the train last time.”
“From the airport. We took the train from the airport. Look, can I explain life another time? I need to focus.”
The bus dropped us off at 10:37 a.m. and I answered my own question—the airport was pretty quiet.
There were only two passengers ahead of us at the Air Transat check-in counter. Normally, the queue spans the length of the terminal.
Our temperature was taken but the rest of the process was the same as usual.
“Reminds me of flying right after 9/11,” I noted.
The Air Transat employee gave me a blank look and I realized she must have been in her tweens during the few weeks when we assumed planes would end up crashing into the Eiffel Tower, the Forbidden City or Big Ben.
“Right… so, try to be at the boarding gate at 11:35 a.m. There are very few passengers so we may have a chance to leave early.”
The pandemic turning planes into chicken buses that leave whenever? Sure, why not?
It was a small aircraft, not the kind you expect for a transatlantic flight—two rows of three seats. Unlike the Montreal-Paris flight, there was plenty of room.
Behind us were two overwhelmed parents with three kids—“two—STOP KICKING!—four—ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! and six years old! IF YOU THROW IT AGAIN, I’M GONNA GET MAD!” This is probably the only time when I thought physical distancing should be a minimum of twenty metres between passengers.
The flight was boringly predictable. If you’re travelling with Air Transat during the pandemic, note that you’ll get a tiny sandwich, a bottle of water and maybe a snack (mini can of Pringles and Kit-Kat bar for us). There are no more soft drinks, coffee or tea, hot meals, pillows, blankets, etc. The choice of movies is very, very limited, probably because release dates were delayed. Proper boarding and deplaning process is enforced and passengers do respect it.
As for the mask, you have to keep it on at the airport (at least in France and in Canada) and during the flight. Kids over the age of two must wear a mask as well, which I find pretty unrealistic—the youngest ones behind us didn’t and no one minded. It’s also perfectly fine and accepted to take it off when drinking or eating (… duh!). On the downside, I discovered that sleeping with a mask is an awful experience—it felt like I was suffocating and I kept on waking up gasping for air.
Entering Canada turned out to be pretty straightforward. I filled out the “Coronavirus form” (basically giving contact info) and used the primary inspection self-service kiosk, then brought the receipt to a border officer. No, she didn’t yell at us for travelling during the pandemic.
We didn’t wait long for the bags. Montreal-Trudeau International Airport was completely empty and sparkling clean. I had to call Feng to find him since access to arrivals is restricted.
Yes, we hugged.
And just like that, another chapter of “life in Canada” started.