Showing posts with label Nexus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nexus. Show all posts

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Trip To Toronto from Tel-Aviv, Israel

Hi.  Well this will be a bit of a different blog.  After about 14 months - I decided to try coming back to Toronto for a short trip.  I thought I would cover off all the things you need to do these days to travel from Israel to Toronto.  This will all probably change over the next few months - though hard to say exactly when.  Much of this will apply if you are coming from some other  country and arriving in Canada.

So here goes....

First of all - Air Canada is currently flying direct between Tel-Aviv and Toronto.  When I moved my reservation, they told me it was  once a week - but now it looks like twice a week.  The good news (from my point of view) is that they have changed the flight times.  They are now leaving Israel at 12:10 a.m. at night and arriving at 5:10 a.m.  I much prefer this over the 11:20 a.m. departure from Israel that they had been using for the past few years.  Travelling from Toronto to Israel, Air Canada is now leaving at about 9:30 p.m. and arriving in Israel 3:30 p.m. or so the next day.  This also preferable - though I didn't mind the  5:30 p.m. departure times.  I'd rather fly overnight  in general, especially if I am able to get an upgrade - which happens occasionally.

For people making new bookings and travelling from Canada to Israel - Air Canada is apparently offering insurance (including Covid coverage) with all reservations - and is allowing for flexible changes.  The tickets still seem to be moderately priced - and have not yet gone up to the traditional summer rates of $2,000+ per ticket - as far as I can see.  You should still be able to get a round trip ticket for between $850 and $1,200 Cdn. (As of the time I'm writing this - May 25-27, 2021).

As the travel date approaches, you must take a Covid-19 test at an acceptable provider within 72 hours of your flight departure time - which specifies your passport and flight information on the test in English.  So  I went last night (May 24, 2021) to the "Check2Fly" airport location, located at Terminal 3 of Ben Gurion Airport (in the  arrivals area, near Gate 2).  It costs 44 Shekels (about $18 CDN) for the "slow" test which is supposed to take up to 17 hours.  If you are in more of a rush, you can buy the 4 hour test, which has a higher fee.  You can either use the drive-through location at the airport (which we couldn't find due to lack of signage, despite circling the airport  twice) or the terminal location.  It took about 15 minutes to go through the line, get tested etc.,  My appointment was for 1:45 a.m. last night -  but we showed up at about 10 p.m.  (As typical Israelis, we didn't pay any attention to the actual appointment time).  No questions asked.  Just had to show proof of advance purchase and the other required documentation.  By 9 a.m. this morning, I had the results back - negative, thankfully.  (Not that I was expecting anything else, having received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, like most Israelis).  Incidentally, the "drive-through" is apparently located in the  "cargo exit area" as you are coming up to Terminal 3.  But it is very poorly marked and hard to find.

Next I had to download the Canadian government cellphone application called ArriveCan and fill it out with all of my information, my "quarantine plan" for the next two weeks, height, weight, vital signs, sexual orientation, etc., Okay some of this was not required but it was pretty comprehensive.  There is a website option as well - that you can find here.  Once that was completed, I received a confirmation email from the Canadian Government with a bar code  that I will have to show on entry into Canada.

The most painful part of all of this - I had to book a "GAA" ("Government Approved Accomodation") hotel.  This can only be booked using the Canadian government site link (or calling the particular hotel directly) and it is really quite a scam.  At a minimum, you have to book and pre-pay for 3 days - even though you are allowed to leave the hotel as soon as you receive a negative result from your Covid test on arrival in Canada.  No refund of any kind if you leave early - even though everyone knows that 90% of the people or more will test negative and be able to leave - especially those coming from Israel who have been vaccinated.  Moreover, some of the eligible hotels  have normal rates as low as $65 per night - but you must use the "GAA" rate and pay $350 a night.  I guess at least $100 to $150 of that per night is a direct political contribution from the Liberal Party of Canada to the Hotel Industry but I digress.  Okay, the rate includes 3 meals a day - but I am quite sure they are not serving $200-$250 worth of food - even at hotel rates.  And since such a high percentage of people will leave after only a day or two - it is like those coupon sellers that rely on people to buy the coupons and never actually use them.  

I should note that you can't use third party websites - such as expedia, travelocity etc., - so I was not able to use American Express Travel - which would have given me a $200 credit against the outrageous hotel fee.  I tried - but the Amex representative looked into it and told me there was no way to do it.

I phoned a bunch of these hotels and asked about Kosher food.  Even though the Government site says that they are required to provide it - most said that they couldn't.  Some said you could order it at your own expense and pay for it.  Others said they just couldn't accommodate it.   The Sheraton said that they would include the Kosher food - but I would have to pay an additional charge of $45 per day for "delivery."  The Marriott Hotel on Dixon Road said that you could arrange Kosher food at no extra cost- if you request it with 24 hours advance notice.  So I did.  We will see what happens.

Next is the Israeli Exit application....This must be filled in within 24 hours of the departure.  I guess I can't fill this one out until late tonight - so we will see what's on it.  

I'm back.  I completed this form.  I tried to complete it 24 hours before the flight, as requested.  The flight is scheduled for 12:20 a.m.  But the website is apparently not set up with a live time function - so it would not allow me to complete the form on the 26th (early a.m.) for a flight leaving on the 27th early a.m.  In any case, this form asks for ID, contact information and declearations relating to your health - specifically that you are not currently diagnosed as a covid-19 patient, have not been in isolation over the past 2 weeks and have do not have symptoms.  It also asks you to agree that you understand that it is a criminal offence to make misrepresentations on the form.  Once you have completed it - you submit it online and  it sends you  back an authorization form and number that can be presented at the Israeli airport.  The form is available in English, Hebrew and several other languages.

Flight Day:

Checked  to see that the flight was in time - it is.  Current recommendation is to arrive at the airport four hours (*gasp*) ahead of the flight time.  Judging from the line-ups we saw on Monday night - when I came for the Covid test - this sounded like it might be needed.  So I showed up at 8:30 p.m. for a 12:30 a.m. flight.  Not a soul around.   Okay there were a handful of people but not many.

First stop was an outside checkpoint - before you can be let into the terminal.  This was a stop to check passports, covid tests and tickets.  It was quick - and they are giving passengers a  green bracelet to show that you can now wander around in the terminal.  Like entering an amusement park - including the three hour waits for some of the rides.

Becauase there were so few people, I zipped through the Israeli security line up, the baggage check line-up and passport control (which is now all automated).  By 9:00 p.m., I was through everything and ready to visit the deserted duty free shops.  Many of them were closed but of course the main duty free with alcohol  and perfume etc., was open.  Not many shoppers.  I guess since it has been a slow year, they decided to increase the prices.  There were very few decent sales, very high prices and a limited selection.  I still picked up a  gift for someone - since I found something that you can't find at the LCBO in Toronto but the price wasn't earth shattering.

I wandered through the terminal a bit but I would say that quite a high percentage of stores were closed.  The clothing stores, gift boutiques and a range of other shops were all closed.  The book store was open -  Steimatzky's - so I browsed a bit there.  Of course the Chabad Lubavitch stand was set up and active - trying to encourage Jewish men to come and  put on tefillin - in exchange, perhaps, for a small donation and maybe a reserved spot in the heavenly afterlife.  I didn't stop to chat with these folks so I guess I will have to continue to worry about the current trajectory of my soul.  Hopefully there is still time.

The Flight

My flight was on time as scheduled.  I arrived at the gate.  There were quite a small number of people waiting to board compared to the usual crowd.  Air Canada decided to do away with priority boarding and opted for the Israel "free for all" style boarding  process.  It wasn't so bad since there were only a small number of people.  I  overheard one crew member saying that there were 100 passgengers.

I managed to get an upgrade so I was sitting in business class, which is always nice.  The seats fold back completely into beds.  Unlike  the usual business class trip - there was no offer of fresh orange juice or champagne.  In fact, the alcohol for the entire trip was limited to only wine and beer.  They didn't even have  milk for  coffee if you wanted it.  I usually earn at least half of the cost of the fare by sampling the various wines, having a whisky and perhaps a cognac or two.  But no such luck this flight. I had a bit of wine with dinner but it was nothing memorable.

Everything was double wrapped in plastic with a certified clean stamp on it - including the blankets, the pillows, the travel kit, etc.,  So I unpacked everything and set up my "bed" to prepare for a  nice snooze.

The flight was uneventful,  smooth and only 11 hours long (in the air).  I remember the older planes taking closer to 13 hours to fly from Tel-Aviv to Toronto so this was quite nice.  

I had to deal with a crying, shrieking baby - who interrupted  everyone's  sleep.  I  guess their parents were  opting for the "let her cry herself  out" approach -  even if that meant disrupting the  sleep of the rest of the plane.   Once she finally calmed  down, an alarm  clock went off from someone's  phone a few seats over.  He couldn't be bothered to wake up and shut  it  off.   Seems like it buzzed forever. Finally he decided to  attend to it.  Most of the time, business class  is  fairly serene but today's  flight was certainly an exception.

I ordered the Kosher meal service.  About an hour or so into the flight, I was presented with a big box, hermetically sealed with the culinary offerings.  It was a chicken dish with some vegetables.  Not bad actually.  There was a fruit plate on the side with pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe and apple.   A small piece of chocolate cake, a salad and a dinner roll (which I stayed away from) were all on the plate as well.   Nothing  like the fancy meals that  are usually served in business class but it was fine.  If you are thinking of travelling business class primarily to experience the food - maybe wait until things are back to normal.

Arrival In Canada

We arrived early at about 5:10 a.m.  It seems like they landed the plane at the furthest possible gate from civilization - I guess to give everyone a bit of exercise after the 12  1/2  hours on the plane (including boarding, taxiing etc.,).  

After the marathon hike to the customs area, I headed over to the Nexus lineup to check  in.  Normally, when you arrive with Nexus - you simply hand over the completed form and away you go.   This  time - I had to face the extensive questioning from the customs agent.  I had to show my proof of test taken in Israel, my hotel reservation and my confirmation that I had filled out all of the information using the ArriveCan app.  Since I had all of my ducks in order, I really wasn't hassled that  much.  The usual questions about  how long I had been out of the country, purpose of travel, how many bags I was bringing etc.,  But I was released reasonably quickly.

I should note that as I was  standing in line - I could overhear a few people who were exercising their right to "civil disobedience."  One person insisted  he was not going to stay in the mandatory quarantine hotel or even agree to be checked for Covid.  After a short shouting match, the officer called over a supervisor - who told him that he would be fined.  He said fine - or "fine away," I suppose.  There are a number of Facebook postings where people are claiming that  Canadian judges  will throw out  these fines if you challenge them as violations of Charter rights.  I have no idea whether that is correct (especially since the Charter includes section 1 which allows the government to prove that the steps are necessary - and the government may get some slack when there is a global pandamic.)  In any case, I am not about to find out.  I think they have upped the fines to $5,000 and I am simply not interested in paying that.  Frankly, I don't see why the government even offers that as an option.  In my view, if someone doesn't want to be tested - they should be sent to the government's two week mandatory quarantine hotel if they are a Canadian citizen and fined - an amount high enough to cover the  two week cost.   If they are not a citizen - and refuse to take a test, they should be put on a plane and sent back to wherever they came from.

Another person stated that they had not downloaded the "ArriveCan" app and were not going to use  it.  Another shouting  match with an officer - who asked "why did you decide you just don't have to comply with the rules?"  No intelligible answer that  I could  discern.

Just after customs, there was a big slow moving line-up.  It looked like everyone was stopping there but it turns out this was only for people who did  not have a proper Covid test to show the authorities.  Not sure how they left the country without one - but fortunately, I did not have to wait in this line.  A  bunch of people mistakenly started waiting there - until they were told they did not have to unless they had been sent there.

Off to pick up the luggage -  which was just the usual process, as was leaving the arrivals hall.

But as soon  as you leave the arrivals hall, you are directed to another area for your Covid  testing, run by ""  I had pre-loaded the Switch app (as suggested on Canadian government sites) so I did not have to wait long here.  Had to go to one desk to check my passport.  They handed me a sealed kit and asked me to make sure that the sticker matched the kit and my ID.   Then it was down another hall to actually have the test done - a nasal swab only (unlike the Israeli tests which include nasal and throat swabs).  After that, I was given a kit with instructions for the  second test on Day 8.

Free to go?  Not yet.   Now I was directed to the various  hotel shuttle lineups.   I should note that  Toronto International  Airport does feel like a bit of a prison.   The various exit doors are closed and there are guards everywhere.  I went to wait for the Marriott shuttle - and hung around there for about half hour until it  came at 6:30 a.m.

Check in  at the Marriott was reasonably easy, though I wouldn't say that anyone was particularly friendly.  I had the feeling that they know they are scamming everyone by taking more than $1,000 for a three day say (probably almost three times their normal rate) and I suspect many of them even feel guilty about it.  They can hide  behind the government  and claim that it is a "government approved rate."  Doesn't make anyone feel any better but  I guess the Hotel employees can claim that they are not responsible.

They had a room ready for me and by 7 a.m. I was in my designated cell - sorry room - until I receive my negative test results, inshallah.  Apparently there are designated times when you can leave the room for exercise.  If you are a smoker, you can call down to pre-arrange a security-accompanied smoke break.  Not an issue for me - but in case you were  wondering.

I had pre-ordered Kosher food.  This was one of the few hotels which offered it - at no extra cost - even though the government of Canada web site stated that it would be available at all of the hotels.  Halal and vegetarian  - yes - at most hotels -  but Kosher - no.  Here is the first Kosher breakfast - it actually arrived hot... from Urban Kosher (under COR in case you are concerned about the hashgacha level).

That's about it.  I included lots of detail for those people who are thinking of doing this.  I suppose the main government purpose is to discourage travel as much as possible to limit the possible spread.  I don't really have a problem  with that purpose given the situation that  Canada has been in.  But this whole hotel program seems like a political boondoggle.   Especially the fact that  all of the hotels are charging a fully prepaid, non-refundable, exorbitant fee, even while knowing that most people  will leave after a day or two.

In any case, once I am cleared with a negative test - I will be  able  to go on to the second part of my isolation for the remaining time.   I will have to do a second test on Day 8 - which will be Thursday June 3, 2021.  Should be released on June 9th, assuming all goes well.  So hopefully I can see some friends and family members, whether  outside or at a nearby supermarket - after June 9th.

On the way back to Israel, all Israelis and Foreign Nationals must complete an "Inbound Passenger Clearance Form" which can  be found here.  But I guess I won't need that one or write about it until my trip back, whenever that will be.

Best of health and best regards to everyone.