I am a Canadian who works as a journalist in Canada and Mexico. On Sunday, March 29, I flew into Toronto’s Pearson International Airport from Mexico City on Air Canada, fully expecting a rigorous response on the part of the airline, my government, and my fellow travellers, to the threat of COVID-19.

Boy, was I wrong.

The first worrying sign was when lining up to check-in at Benito Juárez Airport in Mexico City. Two metres of social distancing might have been impractical – the line would have extended to who-knows-where – but to stand aside at one metre seemed reasonable. I did that.

“Hey, can you move it forward?” said a man behind me. He was among a cluster of six travelling Canadians. No masks. They were all in a pretty good mood.

I mentioned that I was trying at the very least to keep it to one arm’s length. He accepted that I wasn’t going to move forward, but didn’t pull back.

As the line snaked toward the check-in counter we all ended up bunched together, as if it were any other flight. I did my best to stand aside, coming in to nudge my luggage forward when necessary.

Before going through security, a Mexican official took my temperature. This was no casual effort. I stopped, and he put the temperature sensor directly at my forehead for some seconds.

Sadly, once I got to the departure lounge I was again in an alternate universe. The lounge was, understandably, almost empty. I took a seat. An elderly Canadian couple, no masks, sat directly opposite me, our knees almost touching. They were yakking about something inconsequential.

I moved, and from a distance watched as the passengers did what passengers do all over the world, though presumably not during a global pandemic: they stood in a crowd waiting for their zone to be announced. This, in a near-empty departure lounge.

"There was no instruction to depart from the plane one at a time, in an orderly matter. Instead, people stood up, bunched closed together. They reached over each other to get their bags from the overhead compartments."

I waited until my zone was almost boarded, and then rose to get on the plane. There was limited staggering. I was jammed on a gangplank with a small crowd, trying to keep my distance.

On the plane, it was the usual melee of people looking for overhead bins, falling over each other to get into their seats. I estimate that at most one third of the passengers had masks.

According to the CBC, Canadian airlines are now required to provide gloves, masks, wipes and sanitizer to employees. However, on my flight it appeared as though these workers may have been left to their own devices, given that each flight attendant had a different mask.

One attendant, in her second trimester, was wearing a paper mask identical to one I had purchased at a Mexican pharmacy. I was horrified. What on earth was a pregnant woman doing working an international flight with a flimsy mask and a plane full of non-compliant, potentially infectious passengers?

There was no in-flight service. Instead, we were handed little bottles of water, which I wiped down. I did not see one passenger – not one – using personalized hand sanitizer. I didn’t smell any, either.

Upon arrival, the attendants made an announcement in French, English and Spanish. This was not a recorded announcement, and could easily have been updated daily. In the announcement, passengers were told to report symptoms upon arrival, and also to inform authorities if they had been to China in the past two weeks.

That’s right. China. Just China. On March 29, months into a global pandemic where Europe is on its knees, and the United States has the highest infection rate in the world.

When we got to the gate and the seatbelt sign went off there was the usual scramble. I sat and watched, dumbstruck.

There was no instruction to depart from the plane one at a time, in an orderly matter. Instead, people stood up, bunched closed together. They reached over each other to get their bags from the overhead compartments.

Meanwhile, the flight crew hid at either end of the plane.

At this stage I was more stunned than panic-stricken. I simply couldn’t believe my eyes. I was feeling reassured, however, knowing that the Canadian government had now put strict measures in place for a 14-day quarantine.

In fact, I was looking forward to being read the riot act, knowing that my fellow travellers, any one of whom could be a super-spreader capable of killing dozens, and many of whom appeared to be unaware of the seriousness of the situation, would get a strict talking-to from government officials.

No such luck.

I was given a piece of paper as I exited a moving walkway, advising me of my mandatory self-isolation. I noticed that those passengers who were not on the walkway, or who were driven in a cart, were not given the sheets.

Why? Because there were only two people handing out the sheets, and they couldn’t cover off all the passengers.

I have a Nexus card, which allows me to pass through customs faster. It’s possible that other individuals were subject to at least some questioning.

But I can tell you this: no one took my address and contact information, as I was expecting. As well, judging by the speed that people were getting through, I’m confident that my fellow passengers were also not having their addresses, contact information and quarantine plans assessed.

I didn’t have my temperature taken upon arrival. I was wondering if I somehow missed it. What the hell was going on?

Pearson International Airport is a ghost town. There are plenty of personnel to conduct this very simple procedure. The Mexican authorities took my temperature; in fact, I had my temperature taken on a domestic flight within Mexico.

However, no foreign authority should be relied upon. Canada needs to temperature test all arriving passengers. This simple procedure should have been in place weeks ago. The fact that temperature testing is not a mandatory occurrence for international arrivals at this stage of a global pandemic is jaw-dropping.

Every moment is an opportunity lost, and an unacceptable risk to Canadians. The Canadian government, at the critical juncture when people are coming home, has the opportunity – and the responsibility – to impress upon them the importance of the 14-day quarantine. The assertion of the legal requirements would be a powerful detriment to a cohort of Canadians that, as my own eyes can attest, are not behaving in a manner that would suggest an understanding of the seriousness of the situation.

The result of the slack approach, I can guarantee, is that more Canadians will be put at risk. Some will get sick, or even die.

I was quite confident that I didn’t have COVID-19 upon boarding my flight in Mexico City, having been in self-isolation for two weeks previous

Now, thanks to the inaction on the part of Air Canada, my government and my fellow Canadians, I’m not so sure.

This sounds like business as usual. Maybe the private airport company has some responsibility along with the airline company, in this case Air Canada. The travel industry has to step up. It’s time to earn your bailout money.

Business as usual is long past. This would be a time when Air Canada should be warned, or fined for not doing what the Canadian government has advised should be done.

As far as bailout money, not a sent should go to the company.

Thanks to the passenger who reported this and to the National Observer for printing same.
Suggestion "Send a personal copy of this article to the Prime Minister and each opposition leader." Time for action and not motherhood words.

This is very discouraging to say the least...It would have been so easy to enforce physical distancing and temperature tests at least when you arrived in Canada. I know that playing the blame game at this point is not helpful, but “listen up” airport authorities and Canadian airlines....sharpen your protocols immediately...there is no excuse for continuing a sloppy, inadequate response at this point in the crisis. Maybe a month ago, but definitely not on March 29th!
This is what your are expected to do!!!

I agree. And am furious that the government is now bringing in more people from Africa, Pakistan, Poland, Hungary without checking passenger’s temperature before boarding, or having a public health official on board, or ensuring the passengers have addresses and homes to go to in Canada and finally, ensuring they remain at home for the ‘self quarantine’.
I am appalled and somewhat frightened.

I must add that traveling by commercial airline cannot be organized in such a way that separation can be maintained. In fact air travel is notorious for cramped seating, etc. What has been reported herein is disturbing to me but travelling by air anywhere right now is a reckless act in and of itself.

You're right. There really is no way to make air travel perfectly safe. I dreaded the trip, and considered staying in Mexico. How on earth do you enforce two metres on a commercial flight that's 90%+ full? But what did sadden me was that the government and the airline missed an opportunity to press home the point of how serious the pandemic is. I really didn't understand the behaviour of my fellow passengers, some of whom were on their feet, without masks, and talking over seat rests. After we landed, the flight crew thanked us for our understanding, given the restricted service due to Covid-19. As I deplaned I passed an attendant and said, with mask on and chin in chest: "Thank you for being a front-line worker". All I heard was a hollow laugh.

I think you missed the point. The article is about the possible spread of the Covid virus by passengers arriving to Canada because our government is not monitoring the traffic.

I can understand the lack of distancing when getting on and off the plane. What is the point if you are about to be, or have just been, crammed together in a crowded aircraft? The procedure on arrival disturbs me very much. Every person should be at least interviewed and sign an acknowledgement that they will self isolate. And their address should be recorded and followed up by local authorities. It sounds like the Department of Transport and the Department of health have fumbled the ball on the ten yard line. There is no point in the Prime Minister admonishing us to "go home and stay home" if one of the most vulnerable points in our shield is ignored or treated with half measures.

Yes, this is the larger point. It was an opportunity missed. A CBSA officer could have looked each of us in the eye, and told us how important the 14 day quarantine was. We had already exposed ourselves. Our social duty now was to make sure we didn't endanger others.

Thank you for putting this article together. Today in the Globe Eric Atkins has an article ‘158 International Flights...’.
I hope our readers also write to the Globe and to their MP insisting intelligent protocols be put into place.

Yes, of course. It is appalling. The Canadian government must ensure passengers are healthy before boarding and monitor the boarding with physical distance at the airport, even in Mexico. Have Health professionals in the plane to address everyone re deplaning and obtain addresses to ensure self quarantine is observed.

We are all missing the point, here. There are only 4 airports in Canada accepting international flights. Do you believe that the Federal Government can't round up, say 16 infrared thermometers to equip 4 Border Services officers at each airport to screen the handful of passengers arriving? There is some insurmountable logistical hurdle that prevents this? Our country couldn't forsee this happening? Dr Tam doesn't know what she is doing?

Who benefits when a minority government rules by decree while citizens hide indoors?

Has the Charter of Rights and Freedoms ceased to exist?

Yes!!! Exactly. What the hell is going on?

This is horrifying. It's disheartening. We are in our 70's, haven't travelled outside BC in over a year. We know of locals on the Sunshine Coast who came back from Hawaii, and walked around the neighbourhood chatting with people, and refused to self-isolate. I do hope the author remains well. Thanks for writing about your experience. Lawsuits would not suffice to make up for the damage our Airlines and Governments have allowed.