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

“Don’t stress out! People are nicer when you’re travelling with a kid,” Feng advised the night before the trip back to Canada.

“Don’t think so,” I replied. “This is 2021, kids are unvaccinated zombies, remember?”

I was right—unvaccinated zombies were not exactly welcome in Montreal.

Let’s rewind…

Nantes to Charles de Gaulle airport

We didn’t get much sleep. The alarms (plural, I was afraid to miss the train) rang at 6:30 a.m., which is definitely not my typical wake up time. Mind you, Mark isn’t a morning person either.

“We’re just gonna grab the backpack and go,” I explained him the night before. “No teary goodbyes because… well, there’s no point, trust me. Then we’re gonna walk to the train station, find the train and our seats, and get another three hours of sleep—remind me to set my alarm again because the train goes all the way to Strasbourg, we have to get off at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. We’ll feel better once we get there. Leaving is the hardest thing, but we’re gonna be fine.”

My mom got up with us, she was getting ready for work. Unlike in July, when I flew to Canada to pick up Mark, I insisted to go to the train station without her. Saying goodbye is just too painful. My relatives are forever banned from train stations and airports.

And so Mark and I left. I suspect my mom watched us crossing the street from the balcony, two silhouettes with heavy backpacks and “Canada” hoodies.

I didn’t turn around to check—I was already on the verge of crying.

It was still dark outside and streets were empty. We spent the thirty-minute walk watching the sun rise, not talking much.

The train was packed, the worst kind of packed—families and restless toddlers. We tried our best to catch on sleep but it was almost impossible to doze off.

Sunrise at Nantes' train station
Sunrise at Nantes’ train station
Boarding the Nantes-Charles de Gaulle aiport train
Boarding the Nantes-Charles de Gaulle aiport train

Charles de Gaulle airport

We arrived right on time at 11:10 a.m. We walked to Terminal A where passengers were already queuing at the Air Canada counter. I bought a coffee and a hot chocolate to keep us busy but the queue moved faster than expected, even with a mandatory stop at the self-serve kiosk to print out luggage tags.

The check-in process for boarding passes was very fast and straightforward. I just showed our PCR test results and my proof of vaccination on my phone, plus passports.

We hung out for a while at the terminal before going through security. It was less crowded than usual because only travellers can step inside now—you have to show your boarding pass or another proof of travel before entering, so your twenty relatives and friends must say goodbye outside the terminal.

Everything was pretty smooth from security to border control where we got our exit stamp.

We ended up waiting for the flight at the very narrow and crowded Terminal A—I like terminal B better.

I overheard Air Canada employees listing all the passengers who weren’t going to fly, after all—“family of four… no PCR test. Family of three… no PCR test. Two passengers…”

Bottom line is, get your PCR test. Yes, even if you’re fully vaccinated. Otherwise, you’ll be denied boarding—yes, for real.

In the Air Canada check-in queue at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris
In the Air Canada check-in queue at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris
In the Air Canada check-in queue at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris
In the Air Canada check-in queue at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris
Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris
Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris
Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris
Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris
Passport control, Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris
Passport control, Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris

Flight AC871 to Montreal

Even though we were missing a few passengers, the plane was pretty full—our four-seat row was—mostly French/Canadian families going home. There were also many French student permit holders, apparently they were given the green light even though Canadian borders were still closed.

Mark binge-watched Harry Potter and I slept for most of the trip.

If you’re flying with Air Canada these days, bring your own food. Seriously, it’s getting worse and worse. I was glad I had packed sandwiches for us.

AC871 to Montreal
AC871 to Montreal

Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport

I wasn’t sure what to expect upon arrival. As far as I knew, the latest rules were:

  • Vaccinated travellers must show a negative PCR test result and acceptable proof of vaccination (two doses, approved vaccine only), no quarantine required.
  • Unvaccinated kids under 12 (who are not eligible to get vaccinated) must show a negative PCR test result and don’t have to quarantine at home but cannot attend school for 14 days.

I was okay with both requirements. When we left Canada, kids were required to quarantine at home, so we had planned to come back two weeks before school anyway.

The plane landed on time and all passengers rushed to border control.

I realized it wouldn’t go as planned when the queue started forming upstairs, long before the actual queue for a chat with a CBSA agent.

Thirty minutes later, we were finally able to go downstairs and join another massive queue.

“Deux doses? This way!” airport staff barked in perfect “franglais.” “No kids! Vaccinated travellers only!”

Since the Paris-Montreal flight is typically packed with families, everybody ended up in the “other” queue, the long one, soon joined by travellers who had received vaccines not approved by Health Canada and unvaccinated travellers.

We were still at the same spot an hour later. “I’m that close to abandon my kids and join the fast queue of vaccinated travellers,” a mom joked behind me. No shit. It was tempting. But mostly, passengers were pissed off because absolutely no one wants to be stuck in a long queue with young kids who cannot get vaccinated—I mean, what was Canada going to do, send them in federal quarantine facility alone?

Kids and occasionally their parents were leaving the queue to find the closest bathroom, face masks worn since Paris felt gross and everybody was getting very grumpy.

It took us 2.5 hours to get to a CBSA agent. This is ridiculous considering that borders are still closed to foreign travellers and that the airport wasn’t exactly busy. Welcome to Canada, eh.

The process was very quick once it was our turn. Proof of vaccination, PCR test results, lower mask and show passports… and that was it. The agent explicitly told me I didn’t have to quarantine and reminded me Mark should stay away from school or camp for 14 days.

Our backpacks were waiting for us in a corner of the airport along with a mountain of unclaimed luggage. First time in a while I don’t have to wait in front of the carousel for it to show up.

I was dreading having to queue for the arrival PCR test. It’s no longer mandatory but random for vaccinated travellers. As for kids, no idea. Rules seemed inconsistent—mandatory testing upon arrival and eight days later, only one of the two tests or no test at all.

Mark and I were lucky—we were waived through.

Feng was waiting for us at arrivals. Phew, what a trip…

Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport
Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport
Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport
Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport
Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport
Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport
On the road to Ottawa
On the road to Ottawa
On the road to Ottawa
On the road to Ottawa
On the road to Ottawa
On the road to Ottawa
Finally home...
Finally home…
This Jason Bourne moment when to activate your Canadian phone, you reach to your dictionary when you taped the SIM card and a paper clip to the cover
This Jason Bourne moment when to activate your Canadian phone, you reach to your dictionary where you taped the SIM card and a paper clip to the cover

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