What is it like to fly during a pandemic? Borders are closed, flights have stopped, people are sparce…or so we thought.

COVID-19 has brought the world to its knees. The virus spreads fast and is deadly for many people in our societies. The news changes daily information about what is open and closed, what we are and are not allowed to do. Canada has taken a very conservative approach to fighting COVID-19, and in doing so have protected many of the most vulnerable in our society. Canada basically ceased to function for 3 months before provinces and territories began to introduce their phase reopening.

Thoughthe media has been publicizing the fact that the Canada-US border is closed, they are not telling us all the details. The rules around entry into Canada during the pandemic are very different then the rules surrounding entry into the United States. Canada is only allowing Canadian citizens, permanent residents and most recently immediately family members into Canada. The United States have limited many countries citizens as well as anyone who has transited through those specific countries in the last 14 days. The fact of the matter is the Canada-US border is still open as long as you do not cross by land.

We booked a flight from Toronto to Fort Wayne for July 14, connecting in Chicago. Limited flights out of Toronto airports make this process a little more research based to find out what airlines are running when, if at all. American Airlines still has had daily flights out of Toronto Pearson Airport to 3 US cities, Chicago, Charlotte and Washington DC.

Toronto Pearson Airport recommends arriving 4 hours prior to your flight with the current pandemic situation if you do fly. We arrived 4 hours prior to our flight and it took about 30 minutes to go from the departures drop off to sitting at our gate. Though the extra time may seem like a waste it is always a good idea to have extra time when you arrive at any airport.

Check-in can still be done online. Limited check-in counters are staffed when you arrive at Terminal 3. The automated baggage drop is being used for everyone traveling on a Transborder flight. Masks are required the entire time you are at Toronto Pearson Airport, a brief exception is made for you to eat and drink. Masks are mandatory and you will be removed from the airport if you do not wear one. Medical exceptions to the mask policy are made.

Once you are checked-in, proceed to security. They are swabbing bags and electronics prior to regular security. This is becoming more widely used as the years go on. Standard security procedures are being used. The Nexus security lane was closed, though we did not need it as there was only one other person at the security check when we arrived.

Customs was also a very quick and easy process. We were able to use Nexus lanes here, however we were the only people in the Customs line when we arrived. The border officer asked a few questions regarding our stay, including duration, purpose and when we were last in the United States. Standard questions for any traveler. We also had to produce a return ticket, which is also becoming standard for US customs over the last few years.

After clearing customs, we could proceed to our gate. Walking through the Duty-Free Shops and to our gate, there were barely any people around the Terminal. We have never seen Toronto Pearson Airport so empty in our lives and probably never will again. There were only 7 flights running between Toronto Pearson Airport and the United States that day. Most of the terminal was blocked off because of limited use of the entire Terminal. There was no where to get food in the Terminal unless you bought chips, chocolate or candy from the Duty-Free shop.

Prior to boarding our flight, we were required to complete a questionnaire regarding our health surrounding COVID-19. This form is handed out by the gate agents and is collected again when you scan your boarding pass. Everyone on our flight answered “no” to every question, meaning they are healthy, show no signs of COVID-19 and have not been in contact with anyone who has COVID-19, but we imagine if you answer “yes” you will be denied boarding. This form is mandatory and is set by the Canadian Transportation Agency of Canada.

Once you have boarded mask remain mandatory for the entire flight, with the exception of briefly eating and drinking.  No food and beverage are served on the flights to maintain distancing between passengers and flight attendants.

Thought many of the airlines began selling all the seats on their flights, social distancing was still being conducted on our flight from Toronto to Chicago. There were only 23 people on our flight making social distancing relatively easy, everyone was able to have an empty seat beside them. Other then the masks and no service, our flight was pretty well normal. Our domestic flight from Chicago to Fort Wayne was a different story. On that flight masks were mandatory, however, the flight was full. Maybe only 2 or 3 seats empty on the 36 seater aircraft. The elimination of social distancing on flights has caused concern for many throughout Canada causing a fear of flying.

Once you have landed in the United States, life seems very much back to normal, other than the consistent mask use and social distancing. The United States have taken a very different approach then Canada on how to fight COVID-19. Lots of people in the United States are still traveling with the Chicago airport being almost as busy as usual. Eateries are open and businesses are going about almost as normal.

Thought we made it to our final destination in one piece (and so did our checked suitcase amazingly), a concern still grows about if someone on either of our flights will eventually test positive for COVID-19. Until then we venture on to explore new destinations on our travels.