Travelweek's Director of Business Development & Content Strategy, Annie Cicvaric, onboard Air Canada's Toronto-Montreal flight on July 16, 2020

Ready for takeoff:  A look at flying during COVID-19

TORONTO — As I reminisce about my last vacation and my last work-related trip, I realize how quickly five months had passed.

For some of us that may not seem like a long time at all, but for me, it feels like a lifetime.

Although we all love to complain about the endless line-ups at security, the frustration of facing out-of-order declaration machines and trying to identify our Uber drivers among a sea of look-alike vehicles curbside, there is something to be said about the familiarity of it all, the chaos, the sense of normal.

Yesterday I had a sense of normal, or rather, the new normal, as I travelled with a travel industry media group on a return flight from Toronto to Montreal hosted by Air Canada.

I felt a sense of excitement and anticipation as I was dropped off in the morning for my soon-to-be first flight during COVID.

The airport was eerily quiet with very few people walking about. Only travellers are permitted inside in the terminal.

Mask wearing is mandatory and social distancing is encouraged with signage placed everywhere as a constant reminder. As I approached the security gate my temperature was quickly taken and hand sanitizer was readily available.

With plenty of time to spare, I meandered around the terminal taking note of the handful of retailers and eateries open. This was a departure from the usual hustle and bustle and lengthy line-ups associated with Canada’s busiest airport.

Glancing up at the flight boards I was surprised to see a multitude of flight departures to cities all over the world. Are people flying during COVID? I don’t know but it was all very promising to see.

The group meeting point was at Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge where we were offered hot beverages of choice along with an option of hearty or healthy breakfast totes. The lounge itself recently reopened after some considerable changes made to accommodate new COVID safety protocols. We were among the lucky few to be counted as the first guests since the renovations.

We had the pleasure of hearing from an impressive line-up of speakers, including representatives from Air Canada, GTAA and government officials each sharing updates about their new elevated health and safety precautions.

The messaging was becoming abundantly clear to us, given all the layering measures currently in place: an end-to-end safe travel experience can be achieved. We can still travel. It will just look different.

Air Canada has implemented many initiatives to keep its airplanes safe and ensure a smooth and seamless experience. The airline’s Clean Care+ program, touchless processes, eco-filters that refresh the cabin air every 2-3 minutes, temperature checks and electrostatic sprayers that disinfect surfaces are just a few of the contributing factors I learned about in making this carrier the leader in squeaky clean flights.

Boarding the brand-new A220 aircraft, I was greeted by a masked and gloved flight attendant who assured me she was smiling, as I videotaped the cabin area.

Each of us was presented with a Clean Care+ package. The clear zip-lock came equipped with flight essentials: plastic gloves, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and a mask. Although I came prepared with my own, it was very reassuring just in case anything was forgotten at home.

During our smooth and quiet flight to Montreal, we were provided a delicious Signature Class meal prepared by Chef Antonio Park, all packaged and served with single-use products.

Upon arriving in Montreal, we were warmly greeted and escorted to the Montreal Airport Marriott In-Terminal Hotel. Again, we had the pleasure of listening to several guest speakers who navigated through the changes and enhancements of a customer journey from beginning to end.

Tourism Montreal President and CEO, Yves Lalumiere, spoke about Montreal and the refocus for next year. “Montreal is missing its festivals this year. We have 100 festivals annually, more than any other city in North America,” he said. There was even some light-hearted banter thrown in of a tri-bubble between Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal.  Lalumiere’s analogy, “It’s okay to cheat on your city, it can be a threesome” certainly got everyone smiling.

While air travel grapples with the realities of the new normal, I look forward to once again hearing foreign languages spoken in the airport and a vibrant return to pre-COVID travel levels.

The challenge for the travel industry now lies in building consumer confidence and restarting travel in a thoughtful and measured way. As I walk outside looking for my curbside Uber, I have a sense of calm, and a bounce in my step.


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