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I travelled during COVID-19 — but I’m no Rod Phillips

Casual conversation with strangers at the airport won’t return anytime soon
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Take this as your sign to cancel any lingering vacation plans. RYAN CHOW/THE VARSITY
Take this as your sign to cancel any lingering vacation plans. RYAN CHOW/THE VARSITY

When Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips stepped down on account of his St. Barts vacation  — an escape from the Toronto COVID-19 restrictions imposed by his administration —  I applauded. 

I applauded again when I heard that Rod Baker — who’d chartered a plane to Yukon with his wife to pose as motel workers and get vaccinated — resigned as chief executive officer of Great Canadian Gaming Corp. 

All this applause, however, was followed by the inevitable silence and reflection that follows any great production. I couldn’t help but wonder: once every public figure named Rod is disgraced, will I be next? 

I have travelled on a few occasions over the last year. Nowhere exotic, I am sad to report. Perhaps I should have befriended the Ontario finance minister when I had the chance. Instead, I have gone back and forth between my apartment in Toronto and my parents’ house in Vancouver, for reasons I have judged to be necessary. 

Plane travel has changed drastically over the last 12 months. In March of 2020, I took my first pandemic flight home to Vancouver. That flight, upon reflection, was a public health nightmare.

Nobody wore masks because nobody thought they had to wear them. I had seen people wear masks on medical soap operas and thought they were only worn for dramatic effect. I wouldn’t have wanted to bring drama to the airplane in a time of crisis. Walking into an airport today, maskless, would be the eighth deadly sin.

My second pandemic flight occurred at the beginning of August when I moved into my apartment in Toronto. At the time, case numbers were quite low. It seemed that U of T might have some in-person courses. Here, I will pause to convey dramatic irony. 

Before this flight, I was given some sage advice. My friend had watched a TikTok — our generation’s equivalent of the New York Times combined with the Oxford English Dictionary —  that advised travellers not to use the plane bathroom. It seemed that several people were getting sick on flights because they removed their masks while in their cubicle of privacy. 

Luckily for me, this was not an issue. I am generally far too fearful of strangers to ask my seatmates to move so I can use the plane bathroom. Hopefully, you are braver than me in non-COVID-19 times. 

My third pandemic flight happened at the beginning of December when I flew home for the holidays. At the check-in of a mysteriously unnamed airline, I stood wearing my winter gloves and two masks. 

Once the self-check-in machine procured my luggage tag, I stuck it around the handle of my suitcase and proceeded to the drop-off. A man who worked for the mysteriously unnamed airline stopped me and said, “That was amazing. I have never seen a woman do that as effortlessly as you. If you want some entertainment, you should come by this check-in booth and watch women try to figure out those stickers.” 

Now that stickers are being applied by untrained fools, it seems people of my gender have shown their true deficiencies. I was proud to know my sticker sticking abilities were much superior to that of the average woman. 

The truth is, while airports used to be a place for social interactions of all kinds, people are now closed off while completing their travels. Travellers have no desire to strike up a conversation with their fellow passengers or airplane employees. Nobody says, “Here’s looking at you, kid” to you before you travel to the US with your fugitive husband, as they did in the good old days. Now, even your run-of-the-mill, sticker-related backhanded compliments come off as awkward. 

Maybe one day travelling will be normal again. Maybe one day we will sit on planes maskless, chatting about the weather. That day is not today, nor is it tomorrow. So if you are looking for a sign to tell you to cancel your St. Barts getaway, this is it.