At the beginning of February, I had the opportunity to experience travel in the Omicron wave of COVID. On a trip to Las Vegas, I was able to experience the current state of restrictions, requirements, and travel anxieties. While this is just based on my recent experience, hopefully, this article can alleviate stress and clarify uncertainties that students at MacEwan University might have if they are travelling — especially internationally — in the near future.
The first thing you need to get on an airplane goes without saying: a passport. However, if, like me, yours has reached its termination during a relatively long airplane dry spell, you’re going to need to renew it. Upon speaking with an officer at the Passport Office here in Edmonton, I learned that their services currently will not take in-person requests unless applicants are travelling in five weeks or less; so make sure to allocate proper time. Otherwise, you must mail in your request. Additionally, you need to book an official rapid antigen test for COVID, which can be done at most pharmacies and is required no more than 24 hours before travel time. To enter the United States, an antigen test will do, but a PCR test is required to re-enter Canada. My PCR was purchased for roughly $170 USD from a Las Vegas clinic called Reviv. In addition, proof of vaccination is also required to travel on any airliner exiting or entering the country.
Upon arriving at the airport, all travel documents, proof of vaccination, and proof of a negative COVID test are required. Compared to my previous pre-COVID trips, I noticed Edmonton International Airport (EIA) was quite barren and inactive in terms of both travellers and personnel. However, I still felt quite comfortable regarding their safety precautions. Going through customs was still a familiar experience. Shoes off, laptops and electronics out, awkwardly taking yourself apart and putting yourself back together. Still, happy travellers and patient airport staff made a pleasant experience on the Canadian end of things.
If you want to dine and booze post-international customs, the only option is the last remaining Chili’s in Edmonton, and the menu possibilities are decent but limited. There is a Starbucks; however, to my misfortune, they closed at 2:30 p.m. right before I had the chance to order a cold brew for the plane. Thus, a bottled Frappuccino, as well as beer from Chili’s, would have to suffice in assisting me with the paper of 1,000 words I hoped to write at 30,000 feet above sea level.
It appeared to be all standard travel fare from boarding the plane until touchdown.
Masks must always be worn while on the plane, and unlike most public spaces, this rule is strictly adhered to. Mouth-only or insufficient covering will be addressed by flight staff.
After touchdown, my travel party and I had to exit the plane quickly and dart across the McCarran Airport. The Vegas airport was filled with quite a lot of people and while we were able to space out, restaurants were quite densely filled and would be even more so during our return trip. Personally, I felt more comfortable in the comparatively more desolate EIA.
The state of Nevada enforces the U.S. federal mask mandate and is mainly adhered to by the Casino-goers of the Vegas strip; however, I was not asked for proof of vaccination until I had to pass through U.S. Customs again.
On the first morning of a three-day trip, we went to Reviv, the clinic where I had my PCR testing for Canadian re-entry done. In addition to one of the more affordable PCR testing locations (our first appointment elsewhere was priced at $270 USD), Reviv operates an interesting business model that primarily advertises IV drip therapy to cure infamous Las Vegas hangovers. A flabbergasting realization of the Las Vegas party culture, I thought. The staff was pleasant, and testing was thorough, quick, but still expensive. Results were received the following afternoon.
If you make it this far, the final piece of anxiety comes at either of the airports, where it is possible to be selected for random testing. If you test positive in Las Vegas at any time, 10 days of mandatory isolation and a negative PCR test are required to re-enter Canada. If you test positive after a touchdown in Canada or any random positive test is detected from other travellers on your flight, mandatory isolation is required until a negative test or 14 days. The Arrive Canada mobile app is required, according to the Government of Canada’s webpage, for travel in assisting re-entry. Filling it out requires all information about vaccines, testing, and possible isolation plans (if needed). Upon completion, the app prints a timely receipt that was checked at LAS and YEG airports.
All in all, this experience was dripping wet with anxieties from start to finish; possibilities of cancellation, isolation, and being stranded in a foreign country can never be entirely ruled out, and all travellers should prepare for this reality. That being said, my experience was a pleasant one and I left the EIA glad that the ample resources and testing provided by our security ensure that our borders keep us safe.
Image credits: Liam Newbiggining