Sunday, June 23, 2024

Travel in the Covid era requires a whole new level of patience

Travel at the best of times can be stressful, depending on how many obstacles or challenges you face along the way. But as I was to find out, travel during a worldwide pandemic is in a whole other class of crazy.

As I wrote in December, for Canadian snowbirds it’s better to isolate from Covid in a warm climate, so returning south for the winter was a no-brainer for me. Although I did receive pushback from some people and concern from others, I felt the benefit of getting there would outweigh the risks.

I chose Aeroméxico as my airline, partly because I have always liked their service and safety record and partly because friends had been reporting numerous cancellations by Canadian airlines Air Canada and WestJet. I also figured that since Aeroméxico is Mexican owned and operated, who better to get me to my winter home.

I arrived at the airport in Toronto at the ungodly hour of 4:30 a.m. Luckily, Highway 400 was completely devoid of snow and it was a straight shot to the airport an hour away. By the time the snowstorm predicted to hit later in the day showed up, I would be long gone. Or so I thought.

The airport itself was fairly quiet, and in less than an hour I had passed through check-in and security. Boarding too was right on time, but it was a full plane, which concerned me a little as I was under the impression that middle seats were left open. However, except for the family who could not seem to get the concept of mask over both nose and mouth and had to be reminded repeatedly, people complied with the rules.

Passengers wait to board at Toronto Pearson International Airport.
Passengers wait to board at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

Knowing I was armed with hand sanitizer, fresh masks, a shield, and wipes, I did my best to relax as we taxied away from the terminal, knowing that in a few hours I would be nice and warm. Ah, the best-laid plans.

We sat on the tarmac for 20 minutes when the pilot announced the need to return to the terminal, a red engine light the culprit. My seat companions and I remarked that at least they found an issue while we were still on the ground and not cruising at 36,000 feet. As patiently as we could, we waited, receiving 15-minute updates from the pilot as to what was going on.

At about the one-hour mark I started to get a little anxious where normally something like this would not bother me in the least. But it was, after all, in the time of Covid and the plane was full and, well, you get the picture.

Finally, at a little past the two-hour mark, the pilot informed us we needed to return to the terminal and disembark. Truthfully, I was a little relieved – some of the members of the “I-don’t-want-to-cover-my- nose” family were seated in front of me and I was getting a little perturbed.

Once inside the terminal people tried to distance themselves from each other as we waited for further news. Another hour passed, and we were handed food vouchers at a cafe but told to stay close by. An additional hour after that, the ticket personnel informed us that the flight was canceled because the replacement part we needed had not yet arrived. However, the flight was rescheduled to 7:20 the next morning.

The crowd went wild!

After a flight cancellation, Aeroméxico gave passengers a free hotel stay.
After a flight cancellation, Aeroméxico gave passengers a free hotel stay.

Several people began to shout as the poor staff tried their best to convey their apologies. Frankly, I was shocked. What happened to all that Canadian politeness we pride ourselves on? And obviously, there was nothing that could be done as this was the only plane Aeroméxico had at the airport at that time. I felt deeply sorry for the employees of the airline but not surprised as I have seen and heard about the lack of patience and manners people seem to have since Covid struck.

Again, we lined up to receive a new boarding pass as well as a letter that gave instructions as to how to claim an additional $1,000 compensation. I was incredulous and had to ask twice: Hotel? Food? AND 1,000 bucks? Which would go into your bank account? (I found out later it is standard with this airline if a flight is delayed a certain number of hours.)

One downside was that because they did not know what hotel would be accepting us for the night, we would have to come back in another hour to stand in line once more for our voucher. Based on my experience with line-ups thus far, I knew that would take at least another two hours. Then a shuttle would take us there which probably meant another hour at the very least. By then it would be close to 6 p.m. The second downside was we would have to take our luggage.

It all sounded like my idea of hell — did I mention we are in the middle of a pandemic? — and I realized I was technically ahead of the game financially. I did the only thing a sensible and practical woman could do.

After picking up my luggage I walked through the terminal to the luxurious Sheraton/Marriott attached to it and booked a room for the night, ordered room service (ridiculously priced) and fell asleep on crisp and clean white sheets.

Bright and early the next morning, feeling rested and filled with optimism, I headed for the terminal. I was greeted with an incredibly long line of people in front of me and I wondered why I had not had the foresight to just wait. At 5 a.m. Aeroméxico announced that the flight would not board at 7:20 as promised because the plane could not be fixed due to a faulty replacement part. There would, however, be another one later in the day as soon as a plane coming from Mexico arrived.

Masked and shielded and ready to fly.
The author, masked and shielded and ready to fly.

More anger from several people. We were instructed to return in six hours’ time. It also meant that the majority of us would miss our connecting flight in Mexico City.

I immediately called the hotel and was prepared to beg for my room back. It was no problem at all, they told me, and I was able to social distance once again in safety. Five hours later, after a nap, I was back in the terminal to an even bigger line-up it seemed. Definitely slower because this time the computers were down.

By now my line-up mates and I were getting a little giddy and semi-friendships were being formed.

Finally, at 2:30 p.m. (an hour late) the plane took off. I made a point of telling the woman who checked me in how appreciative I was of her and the rest of the employees who had to deal with such a stressful situation completely out of their control. Looking back, I wonder if that is why I managed to get a whole row to myself all the way to Mexico City.

Once I arrived in Mexico things went smoothly. This time I did not have to pick up all of my luggage as it would go straight to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo. My voucher for the hotel was issued quickly as we left customs. In under an hour, I was at the Camino Real. I have stayed in the hotel before, and I noticed that here too all protocols were strictly kept.

After good food, more room service for wine I richly deserved (this time at a ridiculously low price), and I was ready for the last leg of the journey the next morning.

I am now in self-imposed isolation for 10 days as I had a negative Covid-19 test a few days prior to leaving Canada. But there a few things I learned or had reiterated for me as a traveler along the way.

  1. Try to keep your emotions and frustrations in check when dealing with anyone in the airline or hospitality industry. It is not their fault that delays happen, so do not use them as a personal punching bag.
  2. Although it is not necessary to self-isolate in Mexico, do it anyway. It is the right thing to do. And if you have a delayed schedule it should be a no-brainer. And perhaps if all you have is a two-week window and not five to six months as I am fortunate to have, this might be the year to forgo a vacation. Just a thought.
  3. Always wear your mask even when walking down the streets as it is mandatory, at least in Zihuatanejo. But do it regardless of where you are or whether others are not. Do not be one of those people who immediately rip their masks off upon arrival at the airport as I saw one couple do who were on the same flight as I was. Please be safe and keep others safe too.
  4. If I am lucky to have avoided getting Covid-19 on this trip, I am convinced I had an angel to watch over me.

Buen viaje!

The writer divides her time between Canada and Zihuatanejo.

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