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Nantes-Paris-Montreal-Ottawa – Yet Another Pandemic Flight (part I)

Nothing says “welcome home” like another PCR test. Mark was dreading it but it was the least of my worries—I just felt overwhelmed by the whole pre-trip process and travel’s ever-changing rules.

Because it wasn’t just the PCR test. I also had to complete the ArriveCAN submission, check in with Air Canada and get our digital boarding passes, investigate the latest entry requirements and hope nothing would change or go wrong along the way. To top it off, we had to take the 8:02 a.m. train to Charles de Gaulle airport—Canadian borders are still closed, there are no convenient low-cost Air Transat direct flights from Nantes to Montreal.

I knew it would be a long and tiring trip.

Meanwhile, my mailbox was filling up with all kinds of vaguely unpleasant reminders, rules and updates. The SNCF felt the need to inform me that our train was still scheduled as planned (… thank you?) but that luggage should be properly labelled, vaccine passport was mandatory and for Christ’s sake, bags shouldn’t be left unattended. Then Air Canada emailed me “information to help me prepare for my upcoming trip” as if I was going to sail solo across the Atlantic—the message was rather confusing with tons of links and “if this, then that.”

My mailbox before the trip
My mailbox before the trip

Once again, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

It used to be such a straightforward trip…

Pre-departure PCR test

I booked our PCR tests with Doctolib—France’s most popular healthcare online booking platform—at the same lab I used in July. I was afraid it would be difficult to get an appointment since France is experiencing a “test rush” with non-vaccinated people looking for a negative result to access many public places, but rapid antigen testing in pharmacy is preferred, so plenty of options left for a five-minute PCR test.

The test is free (until mid-October, or so the government said) for French citizens, including those living abroad. I just had to insist that Mark was French as well—and he is, even though he doesn’t have a French passport—even though he was born in Canada.

Our respective 10-second swab was the same unpleasant experience as usual. This was my sixth test, all of them required to travel and half of them done after getting my two doses. Sigh…

Results were emailed only six hours later—both negative, and Mark was very relieved. I added them to the fancy TousAntiCovid app hoping it would be good enough once in Canada. Printing the PDF file was tricky for some reason because of password protection.

ArriveCAN app

Completing the ArriveCAN submission is now mandatory. I discovered yet another version of the app. This time, I had to upload my proof of vaccination for both doses and answer a bunch of questions regarding quarantine plans even though we could both skip quarantine.

I was emailed a receipt—check your spam folder, that’s where mine ended up at first.   


I packed Mark’s bag, then mine, chatting with my mom who was admiring how rational the process was. “So… seven t-shirts, seven undies, seven… yes, let me introduce you to what I do best—packing and leaving!” I joked.

Mark’s bag would be a carry-on since Air Canada insists on charging $70 for every piece of checked luggage so I had to remember to pack all liquids in my backpack.

“Actually, why do we do that, mommy? How can shampoo and toothpaste be dangerous in a plane?”

“It wasn’t always like this… the whole security theatre was introduced in the wake of 9/11, terrorism and all that.”

“Terrorism? Wait, what’s that thing?”

“Don’t worry about it. You’re the COVID generation.”

Two hours later—this is how long packing takes when you have to find Mark’s undies, plus the precious souvenirs that are somewhere but where, exactly?—we did the usual “let’s step on the scale with and without backpacks” routine. Turns out our respective weights are perfect for easy subtraction. Mark is 40 kg, 46 kg with his backpack on. I’m 60 kg, my backpack was 17 kg.

“Is that okay?” my mom wondered.

“Oh yeah, pure curiosity. Maximum weight is 23 kg I think. My backpack is never this heavy otherwise I can’t carry it for long. Put the scale away, I think Mark is trying to weigh the cat…”

We had an amazingly normal last evening, mostly because my mom, Mark and I agreed to pretend it was just like any other night. I tried to focus on the upcoming steps and Mark was sent to bed early although I know he wasn’t sleeping and he was as conflicted as I was—we were looking forward to seeing Feng but we were sad to leave for various reasons.

COVID test result
COVID test result
ArriveCAN receipt
ArriveCAN receipt
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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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