As I was telling him the saga of my need to return to Canada before the border closed, my cab driver from Edmonton airport to my house said, “Your country called you home.” I thought that was a pleasing way to think of it.
I had originally planned to return in May but when COVID-19 changed everyone’s plans, I cancelled that flight and booked another one. Yesterday, Air Canada cancelled that flight and I began to fear I had left it too late to get back. When I went online to try to book a different flight, the system dumped me out. The wait time on the phone was two hours and I couldn’t bear the thought of that, so a few hours later I tried the website again. This time I was able to book a flight.
Just to be absolutely sure I was going to get on a plane, I got to San Jose airport three hours before the flight. The place was almost empty. I have never seen it so devoid of people. Store clerks were pacing the floors, looking very bored.
The check-in was easy and the screening for Coronavirus turned out to be simply the counter agent asking me a few questions about my health and my travels. That was it. I had even managed to pack my bag so that it weighed 49 lbs–one pound below the limit! Damn, I’m good.
As I was leaving the counter I heard the agent ask the next person “Do you have a Canadian passport? You can’t get on this plane without a Canadian passport.” It felt like a moment from one of those dystopian sci-fi movies.
As I waited for my flight while wearing latex gloves and a dust mask, I bought a sandwich to eat on the plane and watched CNN’s never-ending cascade of misery. At first, there were only two of us waiting for the plane but nearer the time of departure a few more folks arrived. I think in the end there were 15 of us on the plane.
The flight to Vancouver was just over two hours, and I wasn’t really hungry. I did eat half of the sandwich, though. They weren’t offering the usual food and drink service because of the virus, but we were given small bottles of water.
When we arrived in Vancouver, I mistakenly thought the boarding time on my boarding card was the departure time, and I was a bit panicked that I might not make it. After a long walk through the airport, people with connecting flights were ushered to an area where a computer asked us the same questions we had been asked at check-in.
In addition, we were asked the usual questions about how many goods we were bringing back and whether or not we had any meat or fish or whatever else it is they ask about. I said “No” to everything. It wasn’t until I had seen the passport control person and walked through the double doors to freedom that I realized I had lied. I still had half a turkey sandwich in my bag. Ooops.
After that, I was directed to an outside area where I was told to get on a bus that would take me to the domestic flights terminal. By this time, it was only ten minutes before the time on my boarding card and I was in a bit of a tizz.
When we got to the terminal I found, on the second attempt, the location of my departure gate on the information board. It said the plane to Edmonton was boarding. You should have seen me running down the hallway as fast as I could! That’s not very fast, more of a sprightly waddle than a run, but it seemed to be the necessary thing to do at the time.
At the gate, I ran to the doorway leading to the plane and was stopped by a man who looked very cross that I had done so without checking in with him first. I breathlessly told him that this was my plane and I didn’t want to miss it. I asked if he had closed the gate. He said, twice, “We haven’t begun boarding yet.” Oh. Phew. That gave me time to go to the loo and also to ditch the offending sandwich.
The flight to Edmonton left early (which is unusual) and was an uneventful short trip. Finding the carousel at Edmonton which was displaying the luggage from my plane was not easy, and in the end I found it quite by chance because I recognized some of the passengers who were standing about looking for their cases.
After that, it was just a matter of going outside and finding a cab and the pleasant driver who thought it was a good thing that my country called me home. I felt welcomed.