Our rollercoaster ride to a family Christmas

Last minute surprises are the unwelcome add-ons of this COVID-19 pandemic, especially when travel is involved. Any journey is rife with potential hazards, but our recent experience proves international flights are particularly challenging in terms of uncertainty, disappointment and unexpected changes. All this by way of explanation for why there is no December 2021 print issue of The Current, as well as the absence of reporting on yesterday’s extensive power outages in the Valley.

Thanks to Covid, Valley residents who would usually spend winters in warmer climes have relearned the skills of snow shovelling and winter driving due to border closures. Users of smart phones have become adept with the QR version of vaccination certificates and test results. Even those stay-at-home residents who do not have international travel requirements to deal with have had to adjust as parents and employers learn to assess family members daily for work and school to ensure everyone is good to go.

The Paul family is scattered across several Canadian provinces and various countries. Valley friends are no doubt sick to the teeth hearing us moan about travel restrictions that have prevented us from visiting our children and families in the UK, not least the fact that the pandemic has prevented us from meeting our two youngest grandchildren. So having missed a total of two weddings and two births since early 2020, we gathered our resolve and mustered all possible research skills as we — for the fourth time in eighteen months — re-booked our flights to the UK so we could spend Christmas with our children and their families. We had been cancelled by the airlines, deferred out of caution, re-booked when we felt optimistic, or otherwise held our tickets to the last minute in case the coast seemed “clear” – whatever that means during a pandemic! On each occasion, Christine Walker ,of Copper Creek Kennels in Bancroft, patiently accommodated our repeated on again/off again bookings for canine family member, Casey, who loves to “go to camp” with her when we are away. This time, luck was with all of us.

An important part of our trip planning happened last spring when, along with many Valley seniors, we received first one and then a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Sadly our flight date was too early for us to be eligible for third dose booster shots, but we obtained our official Ontario QR double-vaxed certificates and printed off paper copies — just in case. Protection from coronavirus doesn’t guarantee that we would not contract influenza so, having missed the flu clinic at the Barry’s Bay Legion in November, we obtained our flu doses at Golden Lake pharmacy.

Pandemic travel requires research and preparation

Throughout 2021 we had monitored the international scene and signed up for COVID-19 alerts from the United Kingdom government website. But Omicron, the latest Variant of Concern, caused additional changes for entry requirements in both Canada and the UK.

Ensuring we knew how to complete the necessary forms (yes, this is government, so red tape is inevitably involved!) and what type of COVID-19 test results to obtain, we prepared months ahead of time. And then the rules changed.

We went back online to alter the type of tests we needed upon arrival in the UK. We checked and double-checked the contact tracing and isolation requirements. And then the rules changed again.

We discovered the UK wanted incoming passengers to produce a negative result from a pre-boarding lateral flow test conducted within 48 hours of arrival. This new rule was to take effect at 4 a.m. the morning we were due to land at Gatwick; in other words, while we were in mid-air. To be on the safe side, we booked tests in Toronto and left Barry’s Bay early enough to be able show proof of the test results.

Having allowed extra time at Toronto Pearson airport, we discovered the check-in line was quite short. We only needed to show our vaccination certificates and UK passenger locator form (should contact-tracing become necessary). Waiting to board, we found ourselves behind two young British students attending Canadian universities. One of them said he had been required to pay more than $3,000 for Covid tests in the past eighteen months. The actual flight was uneventful, the only difference from pre-pandemic trips being that we had to wear our face masks throughout.

At London Gatwick, we received the best surprise gift of all! From leaving the cabin, through e-passport control, luggage collection and meeting our taxi, was done in just twenty minutes – a personal best. This is, however, a sorry comment on travel industry woes, as many passengers have cancelled flights due to the uncertainties of Covid regulations. We have never seen Gatwick so deserted. Bizarrely, no one in the UK asked to see our new pre-flight test results, or to check our passenger locator forms. The same applied to the results of our Day 2 PCR tests conducted in London. At top: A deserted London Gatwick airport. Photo getsurrey.

The Current continues online publication throughout December and — pandemic travel restrictions permitting — we will return to carry on business as usual in early 2022. Until then, if we are abnormally slow in some reporting we hope you’ll excuse us because it’s Family First! Meanwhile for all our readers who plan family visits during the holiday season, we wish you safe and equally uneventful journeys.


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