Covid Chronicles: Escape from Europe – The Final Days

It was an unbelievable adventure, and one we'd rather not repeat.

Nearly empty train coach from Seville to Granada
Nearly empty train coach from Seville to Granada

It was only Saturday, three days ago, that we left on the last train out of Seville to Granada. As we arrived in Granada we learned that the Spanish government was cutting train service by more than 50%... the next day.


It was only Sunday, two days ago, that we managed to get on a plane in Granada and connect in Barcelona to make it to Paris, with our luggage arriving with us. (Says a lot about the functionality of the airport luggage handling system. A lot of something good.)


Late Sunday night we were met by our driver, Rui, and drove from deserted Terminal 3 of CDG to the nearly-as-deserted terminal 2E, home of Air France. There we managed to change our departure from Paris – which had been scheduled for Friday – to the next day, Monday. Thank goodness we had been flying at the Sky Priority level; this allowed us to enter the short line-up, with better service.

Nearly empty departure area M at CDG

Monday, only yesterday, we left Paris by Air France from CDG headed to Toronto, only a few hours before a complete lockdown came into effect in Paris, forcing all hotels to close.

CDG airport cafes closed and barricaded
CDG airport cafes closed and barricaded

With so many flights cancelled, there was an eerie feeling inside Charles de Gaulle, with most of the departure gates abandoned and all shops services shuttered. We ended up flying economy, but the flight was better than we feared; we sat amongst friendly Canadians with whom we established a sense of camaraderie at what seemed like a sort of end of days. Think of the crowd at Rick's Place.


Last Transfer in Toronto

It was when we arrived in Toronto that it all (nearly) fell apart. After touching down we were held on the plane for over two hours, receiving only occasional information updates. (Most of which turned out to be wildly incorrect.) Finally, we were allowed to enter the immigration arrivals hall, where a controlled chaos reigned. Endless lines, massive crowds, too few staff. But, still, we were Canadians, so we carried on calmly, waited our turn, shuffled along the line, and complained not at all.


In what ended up being a miracle of timing and good fortune, our flight from Toronto to Vancouver was "delayed" and Air France had automatically re-booked us on a later Westjet flight, for 10:20 PM. (What was happening was that Westjet was cancelling a number of flights and combining those passengers into a later flight to the same destination.) It was already 9 PM by the time we disembarked to join the Mother of All Immigration lines, so we thought the chances of leaving Toronto that night were slim. But, with calm Canadian customs efficiency, the line started to pick up pace. We eventually got up to the customs window, signed a declaration for the nice official affirming that we would self-isolate for 14 days, grabbed our luggage at the carrousel, and found a helpful person at the Westjet desk who tagged our luggage, just short of 10 PM.


"We'll never see those bags again," we groused, unCanadianly, as we tossed our luggage on the belt, "but maybe, just maybe, we can reach the departure gate in time."


There was a delay at the security gate, not because of lines, but because they ran out of the goddamned plastic trays. Mark's belt triggered the goddamned red buzzing light. Next, his boots triggered the goddamned light. "I'm only wearing slippers next time," Mark humorously grumbled through clenched teeth.


Where the bloody hell was gate B18? It was, and we swear this is true, the absolute farthest-away point from the immigration line-up. Nothing in the airport was more distant! Any farther and you'd be in the Fraser River.


Wait! Don't close the loading door!


Slipping through the loading door and into the airway ramp at the last moment, we turned around to see who was behind us as we dragged ourselves onto the decidedly lesser-class cabin of Westjet. The photo tells the story: we were the Last Travellers from Toronto.

It was 3 AM, after a zillion travel hours (rounding up), when we unpacked our PJs and got ready to lay our tired heads on the fluffy pillows at the Fairmount Airport hotel in Vancouver. But, before collapsing in bed we took the time to book our son Alexandre a flight from his university campus in Kelowna. He'll arrive home Thursday evening,


Postscript

The Vancouver airport on Tuesday
International check-in desks at the Vancouver airport

Like Paris and like Toronto, the Vancouver airport was essentially deserted as we rolled our luggage from the Fairmont, past the international check-in desks, to catch an early Tuesday afternoon flight. The small, two-propeller plan was completely full for the short hop across the water to Vancouver Island. As we settled into our cramped seats, we overheard other travellers exchanging harrowing stories of adventures in getting home.


The flight was on time and we made it to the island airport safely. We made it, but our luggage didn't. In a final irony, Westjet had managed to lose our luggage during this last, 18-minute flight.


–Diane & Mark


photographs copyright Mark Craft