’Speed bumps’ accompany current international trek

I’ve just embarked on my second international trip post COVID-19.

Given all the new challenges due to the pandemic, and perhaps the airline’s needs to make up for lost revenues, I’m wondering if we’ll see a resurgence in the use of travel agents. I say this for the simple fact, that as an experienced traveller, I had a number of speed bumps on this trip so far. I’ll share so that you can be aware of these possibilities for when you are ready to travel again.

Firstly, COVID testing and vaccination proof requirements vary by country, and navigating these rough waters may in and of themselves warrant a professional’s touch. I booked my own flights and had a number of issues.

For example, even though the website told me that I only needed proof of vaccination for Athens, Greece, when we arrived at Toronto airport, my daughter and I (and two other travel groups within earshot) were told that we needed a negative antigen test as well as we were connecting through the United States. There is a testing facility in another location at Pearson airport, but as per a previous column, and for expediency, I had packed two Switch Health test kits, which we’d planned on using in Athens before our cruise.

(Also did you know that most countries, airlines, and cruises will only accept proof of vaccination that was within 270 days of your travel? It is only because of the booster that we were not subject to the 270-day requirement.)

Now that we needed a negative test to check in for the flight, we took up residence on the airport bathroom floor to complete our tests. We were happy to produce two negative tests, allowing us to continue on our journey. Other friends travelling to Greece found direct flights from Toronto. I’m sure a travel agent would have found them for me as well, but using an online travel brokerage, the connection through Philadelphia was the most cost effective.

The silver lining is that we got to try cheese steaks in the airport. The downside is that I learned just how cheap American Airlines had become. They charged us each $75 for one checked bag each to Europe, marking my first long haul international flight (that I remember) without a free checked bag.

Also, the agent didn’t sit us together on the Toronto Philly flight, nor did she check us in for the Athens flight (which later caused more problems).

We were then sent to an automated baggage drop station. We scanned our boarding cards, placed our bags on the belt, and had them rejected at three separate stations.  If the agent had checked us through to Athens in the beginning, the automated bag drop would have worked.

Then we waited in the queue to clear customs for over an hour, because my daughter’s Nexus card had expired during COVID and we hadn’t noticed until it was too late. As per usual, there was no line up for NEXUS travellers.

To further recoup pandemic lost revenues, to sit together on the flight to Athens, it cost an additional $256US.

The new COVID vaccination proof and negative test requirements alone are a reason to make sure a professional has you covered (and to ensure you have the right insurances in place). Thinking about the additional cost of the checked bags and premium seat selection, I feel like a travel agent would have gotten us a direct flight from Canada, or ensured that the fare we did buy included the extras that we required. COVID might just quell online discount seekers like myself and help the re-emergence of travel agents for smooth sailing (and flying).

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