Flying During Covid - AC 15 Flight Report 1st Leg
(Toronto - Seoul - Hong Kong)
11 November 2021

As with my inbound flight, flying during the pandemic is unpredictable. My return flight back to Hong Kong got cancelled and changed multiple times, causing a lot of stress and phone calls to rebook my itinerary. The complications arise from the Hong Kong side, where the government's COVID-zero strategy means one of the strictest quarantines in the world even for fully-vaccinated passengers. Foreigners are still pretty much shut out while residents coming in are subject to up to 21 days quarantine in a designated hotel. Contrast to Canada, which has opened its borders with no quarantine needed for fully-vaccinated visitors and citizens.

There is a list of designated quarantine hotels that we can book, which range from a super-expensive 5 star hotel to cheap inns where a 14-night stay will likely end in a mental breakdown. There aren't too many choices for the middle range group, but luckily I was able to secure a room early on. But things will get chaotic as Air Canada changed my itinerary in the lead-up to my departure.

I was originally booked on AC15 in early September, the direct flight from Toronto to Hong Kong. Air Canada then added a stop en route in Seoul for a crew change to avoid the crew from staying in Hong Kong and being tested for COVID. However, that entire route was cancelled and I was rerouted through Vancouver on AC7 by late September, resulting in 1 day's delay. Luckily, my quarantine hotel had availability so that was an easy change. I also chose a longer transit in Vancouver so I could leave the airport and dinner with my ex-colleague who recently relocated back to Canada.

Things took a sudden turn for the worse in mid-October when there were 2 passengers with issues on AC7 on arrival in Hong Kong. The official protocol was to suspend the entire route for 2 weeks from October 16-29, meaning my return would be cancelled. While this was blasted on the news and my friends were busy messaging me of the news, Air Canada didn't cancel my flight until the next week. In the meantime, I had researched alternative routings to see if I could proactively cancel and rebook, since cancellations are free anyway.

AC15 was eventually re-opened for booking and I could redeem a seat a few days after my original AC7 flight. However, my quarantine hotel was out of availability by then and a few others in my budget range were also full. The first open date available was November 12th, so even though there were plenty of seats to redeem before that, I had to settle for November 11 to leave Canada.

To enter Hong Kong, I have to produce a PCR test, proof of accredition for that laboratory, hotel booking for my quarantine period, QR code from my health declaration, and vaccination record. Expecting a lot of paperwork to check at the airport, I set off early to reach Terminal 1 at 9:40pm, well ahead of the 12:20am departure time. Taking the escalators from the bus stop, I emerged at an empty domestic check-in section and attempted to use the kiosk to print my boarding pass and bag tag. An error came up so I then searched for the international check-in counter.

International check-in was in row 4 and there was a much bigger crowd around. Staff directed passengers to separate sections for the 2 late night flights to Asia - Hong Kong and Shanghai. A long line snaked out of both, and it took an hour for me to get processed.

Neighbouring aisles were empty though.

Staff were meticulous to check my documents using a paper checklist and then proceed to check your bag in the old manual way. I was quite organized with my folder to speed up the process but there were older passengers who didn't know how to get the QR code so had to fumble with the airport wifi to get that going. I had heard some passengers actually input the details on arrival in Hong Kong but I suppose Air Canada is taking no chances after the Vancouver fiasco to require it for check-in.

After sending my big suitcase off, I was directed to a 2nd line where my documents were checked again. There were 2 agents working there and the wait was shorter this time. By then, it was just an hour before departure and there were still a few people waiting in line to check in. I guess at this late hour, they don't need to enforce the 90 minute bag drop cut-off anymore. That agent told me the gate staff would take that completed checklist so not to lose it. It was stapled to my boarding pass.

International departures now use the domestic security gate (follow the D gate entrance). There was no line there and I was air-side quickly. Then it was a long, long walk across the connection doors to the international pier, with very limited escalators to help break that journey.

I suppose because of COVID and the low flight volumes, they repurposed the corridors to bundle the security lines together, which was why the walk was so long to reach the gate.

We were the last international flight out for the night.

We passsed above the F pier for transborder flights to the United States, which was empty at this late hour.

The international E pier was pretty much empty and the restaurants were closing. Some didn't look like they were even open to begin with. In fact, the Hong Kong flight was the last one out for the night. By the time I arrived, the Shanghai gate was empty and they moved my flight to an adjacent gate and started to board zone 4. There was only a small crowd.

As I was gate checked, I confirmed with the friendly agent that I would be the only one in my row tonight, so I could make a DIY economy class flat-bed for the long red-eye to Korea.

The flight was surprisingly not empty. It was nowhere near full in Economy although Premium Economy looked busy. Out back, each section of 3 seats would likely have someone there and the crew kept the last middle sections empty for their rest area. We settled in for a bit and heard the luggage load downstairs, departing 16 minutes late.

I also browsed the menu for the 2 meals. I wasn't hungry at midnight but would probably eat light for the first meal since breakfast would be quite a distance away.

The flight deck had announced we would head over to the de-icing bay for an inspection, but ended up leaving without a spray. By then it was 12:50am and we took off 6 minutes after.

Dinner was served after we took off but the pork noodle tasted horrible.

With a row to myself, I used the 3 blankets and pillows to create a DIY lie-flat bed. I was a bit too tall for 3 seats so had to crunch a little, while getting he middle seatbelt to wrap around me in a sleeping position was a bit trickey. Nevertheless, I was on and off sleeping for most of the 13.5 hour flight. It wasn't a deep sleep but at least I had a decent amount of shut-eye for a 10 hour block. I didn't even bother to peek out to see if there were northern lights as we flew over Yellowknife and Alaska.

I did wake up to use the lavatory every now and then, and luckily with Economy not full, I never had to wait long to use even though one of the lavatories at the back seemed to be locked off all the time. I helped myself to drinks and pretzels in the rear galley as well.

The 2nd meal was served an hour before landing, which tasted a lot better although the same bread roll returned.

Our flight path did not follow the polar route around the North Pole. Instead, we tracked north and passed Nome before exiting North America.

We started to descend to land when we reached Korea's east coast. We touched down half hour later at 4:33am, pulling into a gate next to another Air Canada aircraft.

Similar to the outbound, all passengers have to stay onboard during the crew change.

While the food was not too good, I was quite comfortable resting in my row of 3 seats, and I didn't feel dry flying in the Dreamliner compared to other aircraft. After 10 hours of on and off sleep, I was ready to wake up to start my Asia morning on the next relatively short leg to Hong Kong. At least I wasn't tired of the long flight yet.

The next leg to Hong Kong | Flight Reports Main

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