First of all, Israel is still generally closed to "tourists" right now - other than certain group tours. So in order to come to Israel, you either need an Israeli passport, a work visa, or an advance authorization from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior - for example to visit a parent, child or other close relative. I am really not sure about all of the requirements for non-Israeli visitors - so you would have to look that up. I'm also not sure when this might change. Israel has seen a recent surge in the Delta variant of Covid-19, which has even infected some people who had been vaccinated. So there is some real concern about the need to take proper measures to contain it.
I chose to fly Air Canada. I usually fly Star Alliance since I can collect and use the Aeroplan points. I don't think El Al has resumed direct flights to Toronto in any event, so Air Canada was the only option for a direct flight. The prices were still "reasonable" by comparison to other years. You could get a round trip flight for between $850 and $1,100 Cdn. which is still fairly low for this time of year due, of course, to the current situation. The flights have been leaving at about 8 p.m. which means they arrive in Israel about 1:30 p.m. local time. I actually like that timing quite a bit. Over the past few years - Air Canada had been leaving Toronto at 5:30 p.m. and arriving in Israel at about 11 a.m. I didn't mind that timing - but the return flights were leaving Israel at about noon - and getting in to Toronto at 6 p.m. EST. I really dislike those all day flights especially since the flight from Israel to Toronto, against the wind, can take close to 12 hours if not longer sometimes.
|Inside FHS Labs|
test. These seem to range in price from about $159 plus tax to about $300. I used FHS labs. I was able to book it on line for 8 a.m. two days before my flight. The cost was $159 plus tax - about $180 total. FHS was prompt, quick and easy and the results came quickly as promised. I would happily recommend using them unless you can find something much cheaper. No one was there early on a Sunday morning as you can see from the photo.
Next came the Israeli government's "permission" form. Within 24 hours of a flight to Israel, you have to fill in and submit an online form called a "Request to Entry Form." I have included the link in case you need it. Here you have to provide personal details - passport information etc., You also have to indicate which countries you have visited while out of Israel and whether you have any symptoms. Of course you also have to acknowledge that you can face severe fines for answering falsely. Once you fill in the form and submit it online - you get a response back from the Israeli government fairly quickly. You must print out the "approval" and bring it to the airport. You will need it on check in at the counter in Canada and then again in Israel when you land.
I also had to book an arrival Covid test through the Israeli company Check2Fly - which administers these tests in Israel at the airport. It is cheaper to book in advance and you avoid extra line-ups. I think it was 80 Shequels (about $32 Cdn). Much more reasonable than the cost of leaving Canada - but I have heard that Israel is planning on increasing the costs shortly. So I booked the test and printed that out and had that with me for the airport as well. I think Check2Fly also has an app that you can install on your phone.
Then I checked in with Air Canada. There was another form to complete before checking in - a health attestation - that I didn't have any symptoms, wasn't with someone who had Covid etc., This form didn't take too long but I completed that and then I was finally ready for the regular check in process.
The online check in was then simply the normal process.
On flight day, I was worried that things would take longer than usual so I got to the airport fairly early. As it turns out, it wasn't that crowded. I guess there aren't that many people flying, which makes sense in the circumstances. I normally go to the priority check-in counter because of my Aeroplan status - which is at the front end of the terminal. This time, I was offered the services of the concierge. The concierge was super friendly. He went through all of the different paperwork and requirements, checked everything and then told me I could leave everything with him. He gave me the baggage tags and wished me a good flight. That was the easiest and most helpful check-in I have had in years. Sorry that I don't have the concierge's name but he was terrific.
Since the flight load is so much smaller these days, all of the security for international and domestic flights is being done in the same place. This means that once you get through security, you have about a twenty minute walk over to the international departures section. There are shuttles for people who need them. This area is normally closed off but they have set up a path to go from one area to the other. The international lounge is also closed - but you can use the domestic lounge if you have access. The lounge is operating on an "order-only" basis meaning you have to ask for food items and they provide them to you directly to ensure that you aren't picking up food items that have been touched by hundreds of other lounge-goers. There wasn't much of a selection. I just had a bottle of water and caught up on some emails. I had to leave the lounge early enough to allow for the 20 minute walk over the international gates.
Boarding was pretty standard and on-time and I was off for my 10 1/2 hour flight to Israel. Fortunately, I was able to get an upgrade and sit in Business Class. Most of the business class services have been depleted these days due to Covid. There is much less food, a smaller selection of drinks, fewer snacks etc., But of course the main attraction of the Business Class section on Air Canada for this type of flight (on a 787) is that the seats fold back completely to beds. You are provided with a newly cleaned sheet and blanket in a sealed, inspected bag along with a special sealed bag of personal and cleaning supplies. In non-Covid times, the staff members come around and set up your sheet and blanket etc., These days, you are on your own but it is still all the same stuff once you get it out of the sealed plastic bag.
|Frozen Kosher Food|
I picked out one movie and watched "Across the Universe" a vehicle for Beatles music from a few years ago. I enjoyed it. Tried to sleep after that and next thing I knew, it was time for breakfast.
The breakfast was a bit strange. It was an omelette but made with chick peas in a cumin sauce. I guess the caterer figured that since we are on the way to Israel, we might as well start eating Mideastern spices early on. I don't think I have ever had a cumin-chick pea omelette in Israel - the breakfast food is usually more influenced by Greek or Italian flavours. Mushrooms, tomatoes and feta? Sure. Chick peas? Not usually. The "cold" part of the meal was either stale or frozen so I stayed away from it. Air Canada is not serving real milk with the breakfast coffee due to Covid (don't ask...). I'm not really sure how that is related and I didn't really feel like ingesting some of that non-dairy creamer. So the coffee was going to have to wait until after I landed.
|Israel from Above|
After that, it was off to collect luggage, which was also quite normal. Once I had collected my bags, and walked through the Green customs line-up (nothing to declare, of course), I then had to get in line for a Covid test. There was line-up for those who hadn't yet paid and a much shorter line up for those who had. I really didn't have to wait more than 5 minutes and probably even less than that. My test was administered, I was given a wrist band to wear while in the airport and that was that. I was free to go. My test results came the next day, and thankfully, I was negative once again.
It was quite a bit easier to arrive in Israel than it was to arrive in Toronto and frankly, the process made much more sense.
|Montreal Hockey Fans|
And so I was back in Israel - just in time to get up in the middle of the night a few times and watch the Montreal Canadiens miraculously defeat the heavily favoured Las Vegas Golden Knights - for the Habs' first berth in a Stanley Cup final since 1993. I am very excited about that - which will mean a definitely crazy sleep pattern over the next two weeks (or until the series ends). Tonight is game one - about 3 a.m. Israel time.
That's about it for now - no politics in this article - perhaps I'll write some more soon. Wishing everyone the best of health.