Our Experience Flying during the Coronavirus


Our Experience Flying during the CoronavirusFlying during the Coronavirus

July 9, 2020

Just a few days ago we flew Madrid – Paris – Montreal.

It was an interesting experience. And it wasn’t just the flying.

The experience started a day earlier when we took the train from Leon to Madrid. I had booked an overnight stay at the Melia Barajas, a 4 star hotel located next to Madrid’s Barajas Airport.

We took a taxi from the Chamartin train station. 20 minutes later we arrived at the hotel. The gate to the property was locked. The taxi driver rang the buzzer next to the door. And rang again. Finally a security guard came ambling out of the hotel. “We’re closed” he announced. I told him we had a reservation. He just shrugged “We’re closed”.

Luckily for us, right across the street there was an Ibis hotel. It was open and we booked a room for the night. The hotel was deadly quiet and we wondered if we were the only guests. Having travelled most of the day we were hungry. The hotel restaurant was closed but there was a McDonalds across the street which was fortunately open. I went to pick something up. Even the McDonalds was dead. I saw one other customer (who came in for a pickup) and 5 bored employees.

It was all a bit surreal. Like the Twilight Zone.

We had an early morning flight and went to bed early.



Barajas Airport – Madrid

We checked out at 3:30 am and took the taxi to Barajas’s Terminal 4 for our 6 am flight. Once there, we realized something was off. It was too quiet.

A security guard came over and told us that the terminal had been closed to everything but Air Europa flights. We had to go to Terminal 1 (despite my Air France itinerary telling us that departure was from Terminal 4).

So we had to find a taxi and accept the 20 Euro minimum fare to be driven 15 minutes to Terminal 1. Argg!

Terminal 1 was a lot busier, but that was in part because only a small part of the terminal was being used. While we were there, only 2 flights were checking in (Air France and a KLM flight to Amsterdam) and they had combined the check-in desks. There were 5 desks for the 2 flights. It took us 30 minutes to get up to the check in counters.

Similarly, after having gone through security, all passengers (for both flights) were shepherded into the same hall. It was standing room only as people waited for their flights.

Madrid Barajas during coronavirus

For all the talk of social distancing, there was NO social distancing at Barajas. Everything was very badly organized, with a strategy it seems to cluster passengers in a small area.

Note: it goes without saying that masks were mandatory. You had to wear a mask. You were also instructed to maintain 1 meter separation but nobody was respecting that and nobody was there to enforce it.

Just before boarding, people had their temperatures tested by scanners. I didn’t see anyone stopped from boarding.



Flying Madrid – Paris

Our Air France flight (an Airbus 320) from Madrid to Paris was filled to capacity. There was no empty middle seat. And while we were told that inflight service would be altered, we were still served beverages (water, orange juice, tea, coffee) which meant people took off their masks either during the whole time they were drinking or between sips.

Flying during the Coronavirus

It was an uneventful 1 hr, 35 minute flight and we arrived in Paris slightly before 8 am.



Charles de Gaulle – Paris

Unlike Barajas Airport in Madrid, Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport seemed to be operating as it always was. There were no closed off sections in the terminals we saw (we landed in Terminal 2F and walked to International Terminal 2E). We felt we had some room to breath. And unlike Barajas, Charles de Gaulle had fresh air and cooler temperatures. It makes a big difference when wearing a mask.

Charles de Gaulle, Paris during coronavirus

We killed over 7 hours in Charles de Gaulle waiting for our connecting flight to Montreal. Apart from every 2nd seat in the terminal being blocked from sitting (to keep distance between people) there really weren’t any indications of the Virus. A few restaurants were full and spacing was tight. Stores in the terminal (2E has a lot of fancy stores like Chanel and Dior) were open. The terminal became quite busy and (as mandated) everyone wore masks. Maintenance in the terminal was not good: garbage bins overflowed and toilets weren’t clean. You know personnel weren’t wiping down surfaces or taking any other Covid-19 preventative measures.

Still, Charles de Gaulle was a much more comfortable experience than Madrid’s Barajas airport.



Flying Paris – Montreal

Getting on the Paris – Montreal flight, we saw several passengers turned away at boarding. A lot of people don’t know that there are serious restrictions on who can fly to Canada right now. If you’re not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident you have to have a special reason (See this article on Who can Enter Canada).

Again, we had our temperatures scanned before boarding.

I mentioned in last week’s post that there are much fewer flight options right now when flying internationally. Considering that, I expected this flight to be full. It was actually the opposite of that – I would say that about 35% of seats were occupied. There were full rows that had nobody in them (this was a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner with a capacity of 300 people).

Dreamliner Paris to Montreal

I’ve never been on a plane as empty as this one.

It meant the plane was very comfortable and we could stretch out.

On this flight we were served meals and the hostesses were generous with the champagne and wine. Again, we took off our masks while we did this. We felt comfortable doing that considering the few people on the plane.



Arriving in Montreal

On the plane they had given passengers a 1-page form. The most important thing is to note where you will be isolating during the mandatory 14 days of self-isolation.

When going through immigration, the officers will examine that form and give you a detailed briefing of the requirements of the 14 day self-isolation and will ask you how you have organized yourself. It’s important, for example, to have groceries delivered to you and to not go out for any reason (and yes: I’ve heard that officers will come to your door and check that you are home). In our case we had pre-arranged to have both groceries sent to us (by Metro which has an excellent online ordering system) as well as wine (using the SAQ’s also excellent system).

Because of all this extra detail, the immigration process took a bit longer than usual. But otherwise it went smoothly and with no issue.

We picked up our baggage and exited to a near vacant arrivals lounge. I’ve never seen the airport in Montreal this empty.



Summing up our Feelings about Flying during this time

These are special, weird times and we didn’t really know what to expect. Our thoughts? Honestly, we didn’t see many special Covid-19 measures and when we did they weren’t enforced. That surprised us a bit. I think it’s really up to individual people. Obviously, the most important thing is to wear a mask. We also had some gel with us that we would use to clean our hands every once in a while.

We’re now in mandatory self-isolation. We’ll let you know in about 2 weeks if the above safety measures were enough to keep us safe.

Apart from all the above, I personally was happy to have flown again. Our last flight was February 1st, the day we had arrived in Spain. We didn’t expect to be in lockdown over 3 months and I was itching to get moving again. Having said that, the experience accentuated that things are not normal and won’t be for a while. 


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Flying during the Coronavirus
Flying during the Coronavirus
Flying during the Coronavirus
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  1. Gosh!
    It was stressful just reading about it. Eek!
    I won’t be flying or travelling abroad this year as reports have not been encouraging so we’re doing staycations in Germany for 2020.

    In fact, we just returned from a beach holiday on the small island of Rügen on the German Baltic Sea. It rained every day but it was very nice as the crowds were sparse and we spent most of the time in the outdoors.

    ‘Very glad that you guys arrived in Montreal safely. You must have been quite relieved!

    1. Thank you Victoria. I think what you’re doing is very wise. I think people should be staying close to home this year…if anything because you never know if a place is going to go back into lockdown and you get stuck somewhere far from home..

      No matter what, isn’t travel fun when there’s less tourists?

  2. it feels surreal just reading it Frank. Sounds like places are closed down i didnt realise were in lockdown. normality is not going to be returning any time soon. Here we are back in lockdown after cases spiked. just Victoria, just really Melbourne actually and it seems to have come from one hotel which was used to isolate people because isolation wasnt working in peoples homes. people complain all the time but we were so close to getting rid of it in Australia and now we are not close at all. still, compared to say florida its nothing i guess, 200-300 cases a day compared with 15,000+ but effective treatment and or a vaccine is the only way it seems life could possibly start to return to some sort of normal. sigh.

    1. At least they seem on top of it where you are Andy. Sucks to be locked down again after having reopened.
      I was shocked to hear in your last comment that Australians won’t be travelling internationally until 2021. Wow.

  3. I’ll be flying inside Europe tomorrow, Wizzair doesn’t block the middle seat either but I have a strategy: will be the last one who enters the plane, if the row is not empty, I will sit somewhere else. :)))

  4. HI, so nice to read that you were finally released from ‘house arrest”. Must have been nice to be in familiar territory at times like these. Very discouraging to find that we have to be stuck what will seem forever. Make the best of being in possibly a civilized world. What will you do when you get back to Spain though?
    I am still angry at the “behavior” of Lufthansa, refusing to refund my ticket and uncooperative whatsoever. Same unknown with my Israel group trip plan, which the new date in Oct will most likely not happen. Anyway, our area that had minimum covid effect, is now one of highest effected. Very scary for us…and I am still working with people. Glad you and Lissette are well. Wine will cure the soul…ha..ha.

    1. Hi Sara! Yes, we were released from house arrest to be under a new form of house arrest in Canada. But yes, we are in the civilized world and have been ordering in food, booze, pizza, Indian food…Lissette now my new barber and don’t know if I’ll ever get my hair cut by anyone else again. Anyway, have a Newsletter coming up where I’ll cover a range of items.

      You should be angry at Lufthansa. EU rules have always stipulated that the airlines have to refund customers within 7 days. On top of everything, Lufthansa is the German flag carrier, partially owned by the government, and has just received a massive bailout by the German government. See here. A condition should have been to refund customers who had their plans cancelled by the airline.

      It’s pretty scary what’s going on with the airlines. Without government bailouts, airlines like Lufthansa, Air France and KLM would go under. Incredible. And in just a few months time. I think it took us flying to fully realize just how bad it is for them right now.

      Take care Sara and Moishe!

  5. Glad to hear you both arrived back in Canada safe and sound despite the hiccups. Travelling has got so much harder, more expensive and unpredictable since COVID-19. Maybe long stays and self-driving will become more popular for people who still wish to travel. It’s appalling how some airlines and airports manage social distancing. When we flew from London to Split on Wizz Air a couple of weeks ago, Wizz Air did their random seat assignment for people who don’t want to pay for seat selection. Although the plane was only half full, I got assigned a middle seat with people on both sides of me! Considering quite a number of rows were empty, it showed the airline didn’t work on their social distancing at all.

    1. You’re right, that is sloppy. I hope you got to move though?
      Self-driving will definitely be the way of the future. Maybe more road trips like the old days where you stick the kids in the back seat and do an allnighter to get somewhere. I remember that from my childhood years, including from my years living in Africa.
      Not too many tourists in Croatia right now? Usually this time of year it’s overflowing…

      1. Yes I moved to the row behind me after takeoff and it turned out to be an Exit Row – disguised blessing 🙂 This week we have seen visitors on Hvar increasing steadily by day, plus more foreign number plates and new yachts every day as well. But it’s nowhere crowded. It actually has that nice balance of buzzing but pleasant at the same time.

  6. Hi Frank, with the world in, ‘life’s a bitch and then you die mode’, it must have been very nice to get a whole set of seats to stretch out on and sleep across the pond. The 787 has those really flat seats and no gap between (like a bed) – quite comfy they are.

    At least you only have 2 weeks restriction – bit different than Leon.

    1. True about the flat seats Ted, but they’re also the hardest plane seats we’ve encountered. Very hard on the coxis! We felt it for a couple of days.
      Otherwise a beautiful plane.

  7. Great to hear from you and what the travel was like. So glad the long fight was spacious. Hope you enjoy being back in Canada, quarantine and all.. And after your lock up in Spain this should be a breeze! May you stay well!

  8. Oh good. I’ve been hoping you’d update soon as I’ve been thinking about the two of you. After three months of lock down in Spain, two weeks in a nice apartment with delivery service will be a breeze. You got this. Once you’re out and about again it will be interesting to hear how you feel about being back in Canada.

    Never say never, but we’ve resolved not to fly until there is a vaccine. Ha! I say that but we couldn’t fly to Europe or Canada even if we wanted to because you know… well, you know.

    So glad that you made the journey reasonably unscathed and most importantly, landed safely.

    1. We came back to a heat wave Patti, 33C with humidity that takes it over 40 C (that’s 100 F). Few people realize how hot Montreal gets in the summer. But Montreal is always a vibrant place this time of year…and we’ll probably be here long enough to see Autumn which is the most beautiful season. Yes, about delivery! We ordered Indian food on our first night back, it’s something we always look forward to.

      You’re not crazy Patti, going through this we turned to each other and said “if it’s going to be like this then it’s not worth it”. The absolute worse is wearing that mask while waiting in a hot terminal. Add it up, we wore masks for 20 straight hours. I hate wearing a mask, I often felt I couldn’t breathe. Just not a great experience.

      1. I meant to ask… how was the train experience from Leon to Madrid. We’ve taken that train, but I’m wondering what, if any, precautions were in place?

  9. Interesting to hear your experience and although things are far from normal, at least you got back to Montreal safely. I don’t think I we will be flying anywhere for the next few months, but we are planning to travel to Italy by motorhome in September. I think the trend in the UK at the moment is that most people are staying closer to home. Certainly all my friends and family have decided that traveling abroad for a holiday this year, is too risky, too difficult, too expensive. I hope your quarantine goes well and you can start moving forward with your plans.

    1. I’m hearing more and more of the same Gilda: people who won’t be flying anywhere.
      We hope to get our non-lucrative Visa and to fly back to Spain, hopefully in October. But otherwise we won’t be flying either…
      Thanks for your kind wishes Gilda.

  10. Interesting experience, I think nobody and nothing is ready to travel 100% safe, there are not enough people to enforce regulations and worse and scary there are not enough people to keep areas clean and disinfected. I am dreaming of traveling again but the world is not ready yet to do it safely, who knows when we will fill comfortable traveling (getting in a plane) again. Hope this quarantine passes faster for you than it really is.

    1. Thanks Carlos. I know you’re a big traveller as well – must be putting a dent in your lifestyle.
      You would think that if you threw enough money into maintenance that they could keep places disinfected. Honestly I just didn’t see it. But like you say, there’s only so much they can do. One infected person sneezing can undo all the cleaning within seconds.
      2 weeks not too bad. We just received our delivery of 12 bottles of wine today so we’ll be ok 🙂

  11. Thanks for the post. It was interesting reading how the situation is inside the airports and on the planes right now, it seems so annoying flying at the moment tho with all the measures in place, such drastic changes from just a few months ago. It’s the new 9/11 it seems, i’m guessing they’ll start charging a Covid-19 fee soon to keep up with the airport/planes maintenance/cleaning etc just like they did with the September 11th Security Fee, but hopefully a vaccine will come soon enough.

    About the quarantine measures, I heard from a friend of a friend that they called him to make sure he was home during the 14 day period, that was no noise in the background etc (like he was out and about) etc, sometimes they called him twice a day.

    Welcome back to Canada!

    1. Thank you for the comment Felipe.
      I don’t think the present can be maintained or that people will want to travel in these conditions. I know that if this is the way it’s going to be going forward we’re going to reevaluate our own lifestyle. And you know the airlines can’t be flying with 35% capacity, they’re losing tons. Just today I heard that United Airlines will slash 50% of their workforce if things don’t get better by the fall.
      Thanks for the phone tip. We actually gave them our friend’s tel # as we don’t have a Canadian phone number. But I’ve also heard they make random dropins at your address. We’re not planning to leave the apartment at all 🙂

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