From Curb to Plane: Lorraine Simpson travels in a pandemic era

From Curb to Plane: Lorraine Simpson travels in a pandemic era

If there’s one thing I know, it is that all of us in the travel and tourism industry are looking forward to getting back to work. Although I am not expecting much of an income anytime soon, I feel that it is important to keep the dream alive and to keep pushing forward as we see countries opening up, improvements in health and safety being made, and clients thinking about traveling again.

While I wait for a return to some kind of normalcy, I am investing in my business, in marketing and PR, and in research to help others to get back into the travel business. Yesterday I hired a film production company to go with me from “curb to plane” at Pearson Airport in an effort to showcase all of the changes and improvements made to keep the traveler, as well as the staff, safe. The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic requires an extraordinary response with the health and safety of every passenger and employee as the driving force so the improvements made by the Toronto Pearson Airport Authority and Air Canada were designed to help keep everyone safer in these unprecedented times.

Arriving at the Airport

We started out our journey at the curb, arriving at the airport in a licensed vehicle that had been fitted with a plexiglass screen between the traveler and the driver. There is a small opening which you can lift for payment if you have not paid in advance. The cars are cleaned and sanitized and the safety of the passengers and the driver is of top importance. When you arrive or depart from the airport, it is important that you use only licensed vehicles and taxis as they have been checked for their safety protocols in light of the pandemic. At the curb we put on our face masks, which are now mandatory throughout the airport. I have masks available on my website, like the ones we are wearing in the photo above, locally made from just $10! They are very strict at the doors and you will be turned away by security if you do not have a face mask or covering. The entry doors to the airport have been re-purposed so that some doors are entry only and some doors are exit only to create social distancing and flow.

Something to note is that only travelers flying on the same day or employees on duty can enter the terminals, so be prepared to ‘kiss and ride’ – just like you do when you drop your kids off at school. No more long, slow goodbyes and secret small waves – it’s all about getting in and getting out quickly. On a good note, it’s small price to pay and these measures will reduce crowds and help reduce the spread of Covid-19. Inside the airport, there are signs all over the floor reminding of the physical distancing guidelines. The staff are also all wearing face masks at all times and there are over 400 hand sanitizing stations available to you throughout the airport.

Checking In

Our check-in for the Air Canada flight was seamless. We checked in online the night before on the computer where we could select our seats and print our boarding pass at home, or keep on our phones, depending on preference. Personally, I like to have my boarding pass on my phone in the “Wallet” app. I also decided to check a bag and although I did not print the baggage tag at home, you actually could do that if you wanted. Instead, I decided to wait until I got to the airport where I went to the touchless kiosk and scanned my boarding pass and instantly a bag tag was printed for me and I could place on my luggage. I then took my suitcase to the touchless scanning machines, placed it on to the luggage belt where it was scanned and taken down into the hold – easy! It was very fast, touchless, and user-friendly to navigate. They were also plenty of staff on hand if I had a problem.

Before going through security we decided to take a look at the new airport air quality monitoring station. This system monitors and controls the quality of the air within the airport in real-time. The airport has invested in the best filtration system to bring the quality of the air as high as any major hospital. The good news is you, as the consumer, can go right onto their website and check the air quality in real-time as well as learn much more about the technical specifications of their air filtration system and monitoring process. We got to take a look inside the monitoring station. I was very impressed at their level of commitment to keeping us safe, but my geeky son, Oscar, was fascinated by the technical details which were a little over my head.

New Safety Measures

Air Canada has brought in new measures to make it possible to have an entirely touchless experience from check-in right through security. First, on reaching security you are temperature checked, and this only took seconds. Then you scan your own boarding pass and are reminded to take out your laptops and any electronics and throw away any bottled beverages or liquids over 100ml. Once in the security zone, you place your bags into pre-sanitized bins, and when you go through you are asked to go to a secondary check where each officer uses a brand new pair of gloves for every customer. Each bin is then re-sanitized before being put back into use for the next passengers. The process was fast and convenient, and again a very welcome change that only improves the experience and did not in anyway slow us down.

Throughout the airport cleaning has been improved drastically, using an innovative 4-level approach to disinfection: Tersano, Oxivir, Ultra-Lyte, and Microbial/Probiotic, as recommended by a contracted industrial hygienist. Disinfection focuses on high traffic areas, including escalators, moving walkways, handrails, stairways, baggage carts, and kiosks. They even have automated floor cleaning robots!

After our morning adventure and once past security we were hungry, so went in search of food outlets open at the airport right now. Surprisingly, more were open than we expected, and I was delighted to see that my friend Massimo Capra’s restaurant, Boccone, was open. As food is not being served for short-haul flights, we were delighted to be able to pick up freshly prepared and wrapped Panini’s and pizzas that we could take with us on the plane and eat during our journey. On longer flights you can be served limited food; however, it is minimal and I do recommend you pick up food to take with you at the airport, once you clear security. Bringing food from home may be a risk as you may not be allowed to take it through security, depending on the contents, so buy food at the airport. Starbucks was open and so was Tim Hortons , as well as a few other restaurants where you could eat in. I was pleasantly surprised. Social distancing is taken into account and some tables are blocked off to allow space between customers. Some shops are open and so is duty-free. You are expected to follow the floor markers and the flow throughout the stores is the same as shops and retail outlets at malls. You are of course allowed to remove your mask to eat and drink and full-menus were offered at many of the food outlets within the airport. I personally enjoy spending a bit of time at the airport and I feel it is part of the enjoyment of travel, so if you are like me you will not be disappointed. Our Panini’s were delicious and a welcome refreshment after a very busy morning looking around Pearson Airport.

Lorraine getting on a plane!

Boarding the plane looked a little different, however it was not in anyway uncomfortable. Lines were a little more socially distant and you boarded the plane having scanned your own boarding pass and shown your passport. You are expected to remove your face covering to prove your identity. This was the only time you were asked to remove your face covering. On the plane seat assignment policies allow for more personal space in Economy Class.

Air Canada’s industry-leading cabin grooming standards have been enhanced with the introduction of electrostatic spraying of cabin interiors. They have additionally expanded the existing aircraft grooming procedures, which already incorporate the use of hospital-grade disinfectant and specialized techniques to maintain cabin cleanliness across its fleet. Forgive the geeky technical details here, but it’s important to note that it’s in conjunction with the High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) on the plane, which effectively captures 99.9% of particulates from recirculated air in the aircraft cabin. This includes microbial organisms, such as bacteria and viruses.  These filters are similar to those used in hospital rooms, and the air within the cabin is refreshed every 2-to-3 minutes for a total of 20-to-30 total air changes per hour.

Upon boarding we were handed a Clean Care Package that contained a bottle of water, a pair of disposable gloves, face mask, hand sanitizer, and some disposable cleaning wipes. This was all we were given during the plane ride, except for small bottles of water when we asked for drinks. Of course me being me – in business class I asked for my usual glass of champagne, only to be told nothing is being served at the moment. However, these are unprecedented times and I was just sincerely grateful to be on a plane and found the lack of alcoholic drinks to be a very small price to pay for the ability to fly again. On board the newly returned crew were equally happy to be back working again and seemed very glad to see us. They wore face masks and gloves at all times and changed their gloves every 30 minutes as required. I asked about food service on longer-haul flights and they said there is more service on board the long-haul flights. You are not expected to be walking around the cabin unnecessarily and not to congregate in crowds, but again this is easy and not at all an inconvenience to us as passengers. So far I had seen nothing whatsoever that would deter me from flying again as soon as possible.

The extra measures involved did not in anyway slow us down or inconvenience us. In fact the flow had been very well thought through and was seamless and mostly touchless. Yes, the future of travel is looking bright!

Cleaner. Better. Brighter. And Certainly Safer. 

Coming next

My next trip will be a long haul flight and I will be bringing you all the information you need to help you understand arrival procedures in different countries. Each country has its own arrival rules. At the moment we are allowed, as Canadians, to travel to roughly 20 countries without quarantine on arrival. However, please check out my article here for more information and links to each individual country so that you can better understand and check if there are any recent changes or updates they have made. Changes are coming thick and fast and even an article one day old is sometimes outdated.

Here are just a few ‘take aways’ from my discovery day at the airport and on my first flight since the pandemic.

  1. Take masks with you to the airport (at least two) and have them easily accessible when you arrive as you will have to wear them at all times.
  2. Follow the guidelines and rules within the airport and things will run very smoothly.
  3. Check your flight in advance to make sure it is running on time and that there are no new changes or advisories.
  4. Check in online and have your boarding pass sent to your phone
  5. Use the touchless scanners to get your printed baggage tag and use the touchless backdrop.
  6. Make sure your bags comply with the rules for carry-on. For example, have your laptop ready to be taken out and make sure you throw away any water bottles or bottles of liquid of more than 100 mils. Delaying this or forgetting to do this will only slow you down and mean secondary checks. If you are prepared in advance, this will be a much more seamless operation.
  7. Buy food at the airport that you would like to eat on board the plane as food will be limited, or not offered depending on the length of the flight.
  8. Be kind. Be courteous. Follow the rules without complaining. Be understanding and most of all be grateful that we are back in the air!

Lastly if you do not wish to wear a mask or you think that the rules are in anyway unnecessary or ridiculous, then we politely invite you not to fly until you feel that the rules meet your personal requirements.

Stay Safe. Stay Informed. Stay Positive.

Watch me on Breakfast TV live on Wednesday morning as I talk about our experiences yesterday.

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