A Different Kind Of Layover In Montreal (YUL)

Filed Under: Travel

Note: I took this trip to be able to report back on what international travel is like nowadays, since it’s something a lot of people have questions about. If you do choose to travel, please make sure you take appropriate precautions, not just to protect yourself, but also to protect others. Also consider the risks and constantly changing rules surrounding travel, which can significantly complicate things. See the introduction post in this series for more background on the precautions we took, and the potential risks.

Traveling through airports nowadays can be surreal. From a passenger experience standpoint, it’s the best of times, and it’s the worst of times.

We had a roughly four hour layover in Montreal, connecting from Air Canada to Lufthansa. Upon arrival we found ourselves in the transborder arrivals hall, which was deserted, as there were very few flights arriving.

Montreal Airport transborder arrivals hall

Montreal Airport transborder arrivals hall

When we got to the immigration area, we told one of the officers there that we were connecting internationally. She asked us to have a seat for a moment, in case any other passengers were connecting.

In general Canada allows sterile transit, but only at select airports, and in terminals where the layout allows for this (otherwise it’s like the US, where you can’t transit without entering the country). No one else showed up, and a few minutes later she brought us into the transit facility.

We just had to scan our boarding passes, and then we found ourselves in the departures hall. There was no further security check.

It goes without saying that times have changed. In the past you’d expect to see an international terminal buzzing on a Friday afternoon in July, but that wasn’t the case. While we’ve seen the occasional picture of packed terminals amid the current pandemic, that’s usually not the case. The international terminal at YUL was deserted.

Forget six feet of distance between passengers — you could easily maintain 60 feet of distance from anyone else.

Montreal Airport international terminal

Montreal Airport international terminal

Montreal Airport international terminal

No lounges in the terminal were open, and no duty free shops were open. The only place in the terminal that was open was a restaurant right near the center of the terminal.

Montreal Airport international terminal restaurant

Montreal Airport international terminal restaurant

We walked around for a bit and did some plane spotting. As you’d expect, there were fewer planes than usual, with a handful of Air Canada wide bodies, a Qatar Airways 777, an Air France 787, and a Lufthansa A350.

Air Canada A330 Montreal Airport

Air Canada A330 Montreal Airport

Air France 787 Montreal Airport

Currently Lufthansa’s flight has quite a long turn in Montreal, as the plane sits on the ground for over six hours, so we saw our plane parked there from the time we arrived. The plane had Lufthansa’s new livery, which has grown on me quite a bit since it was introduced.

Lufthansa A350 Montreal Airport

Lufthansa A350 Montreal Airport

We just sat down in a gate area at the far end of the terminal, got some work done on our laptops, and watched a couple of TV shows. We didn’t see another soul that entire time. Before we knew it, our layover was over and it was time to fly to Munich.

Bottom line

In the past, layovers would be about trying to navigate through a maze of people and maximize your time in lounges (if you have access), while that’s no longer the case. At least in Montreal, all shops, lounges, and restaurants (with one exception), were closed.

What we did find was an open terminal that had more space for distancing than you’ll find in just about any other public setting nowadays. Our nearly four hour layover flew by since we could just sit at one end of the terminal where there were no other people and get work done.

Our flight to Munich wasn’t much busier than the terminal either…

  1. There is a reason that all of Canada has <5000 active cases.

    This loophole for transiting Americans has gotta go, hopefully soon.

  2. @Bob
    So I guess you don’t believe in social distancing? Who got close enough to Lucky to catch it, assuming he had it?
    I don’t know what loophole you’re talking about since they can’t enter the country.

  3. @ Bob — I totally respect if Canada (or any country) chooses to adjust its policy, but this is hardly a “loophole.” This is the published rule of the country, just as it is in so many countries. Qatar is allowing virtually anyone to transit the country, while virtually all foreigners can’t actually enter the country.

    Throughout this pandemic we’ve seen very few countries add transit restrictions, but rather restrictions have been almost entirely based around actually entering the country.

    Again, if counties want to change the law that’s totally fine, but please don’t pretend that this is a loophole, or that this is specific to Canada. This is the case in airports around the world.

  4. I am so not understanding the travel shaming… I travel for work and I travel for fun. If you don’t want to travel, please don’t… If you do, wear a mask and practice social distancing but enough with this holier than thou bullsh*t. This is a travel blog and clearly if you don’t like the content you should go to the Better Homes & Gardens website where you can harass them about staying in their home too much…

  5. @Mike – don’t worry, there won’t be a surge of Canadians wanting to visit America for a long, long time.

  6. @J Well said! This is a TRAVEL BLOG people. The man has to continue to TRAVEL for those who are interested in the state of travel right now. Enough with this BS!

  7. @Ben You were able to land intoMunich bc you have DE passport> You say “We”. Did your travel companion use a US Passport to travel to Germany?

  8. @ AlliW — Americans are allowed to transit Germany enroute to a third country. No EU Passport required.

  9. hopefully we Europeans can travel to US soon. And yes social distancing should be enough in airports. In airplanes in premium cabins and in the back with enough distancing, face masks should be optional. (not when moving, boarding and so on) In combination with filters and air flow there is no risk.

  10. I’m an American, living in Canada.
    If it weren’t for my mother’s terminal illness and subsequent passing, there would be no reason at all why I would be in the States right now. In fact, I would have brought my mother up to Canada to stay with me, had she been healthy.
    Sure, we’ve got some of the same libertarian bs up here with anti-maskers, but for the most part, Canadians are wearing their masks; socially distancing; following rules; and listening to public health experts (who are the ones leading right now – the politicians are taking their cues, making their decisions, based on the guidance of medical and public health experts…something a certain American political party just can’t seem to wrap its head around…). The hospitals haven’t been overwhelmed and there’s been a very reassuring – even heartwarming – sense that we are all in this together, and that we will all get through it together. Very similar experience to what my colleagues in Thailand, France, Norway, Germany, the UAE, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand report. Oh, and look at their curves…

  11. @Bob-Other reasons Canada has fewer cases than the U.S.: It only has 10% of the population and only three major cities. It’s far less densely populated-that 10% is scattered over an area larger than the continental U.S. Less density=less viral spread.

  12. @JetAway
    So 10% of the population and 0.2% of active cases, yeah thats comparable.

    Looks like American butthurt that was referred to by someone when Americans were banned from the EU a while back is still hurting.

  13. Politicians blindly following “experts” into economic collapse – what a brilliant idea! Who elected these “experts”? How do I become one? The people who claimed masks didn’t work at the height of the epidemic, and at the end suddenly decide they’re vital? The people who claim Cuomo did a good job? The people who said aerosols didn’t matter? The “expert” with decades old incoherent Fortran code producing non-reproducible estimates? At best, these “experts” are giving an educated opinion.

    Now let’s wait for the politicians to throw these “experts” under the bus. Already happening in Holland and the UK.

  14. ‘@Bob-Other reasons Canada has fewer cases than the U.S.: It only has 10% of the population and only three major cities. It’s far less densely populated-that 10% is scattered over an area larger than the continental U.S. Less density=less viral spread.’

    @jetway, while it’s true that Canada has 10% of the population of the US and the country is bigger, most of the people live in a narrow band along the US border, and southern Ontario and Quebec, and the Vancouver area in BC are similar to adjacent areas of the US and just as susceptible to virus spread.

  15. @Jetaway – the metro GTA (greater Toronto Area) has about 5.9 million people…metro Phoenix has under 5 million…the GTA has had under 15,000 cases of COVID-19 while Maricopa County alone has had over 93,000 cases – and the GTA is more than five times smaller, in terms of area, and thus far more densely populated.

  16. @Pete – Canada’s economy is not collapsing. No one’s is – they are contracting, but the loss of human life, in my opinion, being mitigated, is far more important than the wealthiest 1% of Americans keeping their wealth while the vast majority of Americans STILL live paycheck to paycheck (before the virus, an estimated 78% of Americans lived paycheck to paycheck – but sure, the economy was doing GREAT for everyone!). Of course, it would be far easier to save lifes and help the economy rebound if there was a solid social safety net in the United States like there is Canada, France, Germany, South Korea, Denmark, Norway, Findland, Australia, and New Zealand…but sadly, the States doesn’t seem to value human lives as much as it does dollars. Also, you do realize that this virus is called “the novel coronoavirus” for a reason, right? Expecting scientists to know everything there is to know about effectively curbing its spread within three month’s time is simply impossible.

  17. @Pete, wow! Sounds like your beef is really with the politicians who you’ve elected to represent and therefore, decide for you. Or are you cheesed off because your politicians are dithering, refusing to make any decisions because they don’t have the mental acuity to choose a rational course of action much less the integrity and backbone to stand by them?

    But if you have a true difference of opinion with the experts, then bring some facts of your own to present, instead of just bullet points from “oppo-research” memos.

    You know what they say…. one shouldn’t bring a Q-Anon mug to a debate.

  18. Hi Lucky,

    can you share your sterile transit experience a little more? I have an upcoming trip (USA-YUL-Zurich) on a single ticket. Based on your experience, I should have no problem connecting at YUL without entering Canada, even if the second leg is with Swiss Air? Thanks!

  19. @Ralph4878

    There’s no need to even pretend like there is some trade-off between human lives and the economy. The fact is even countries that didn’t shutdown (like Sweden) are seeing their economies contract anyways, and the same is happening for US.

    This is literally choosing between having your economy contract for a few weeks, vs having your economy contract for months + people dying + a much longer shutdown period + getting restricted from international travel.

    The handling of the coronavirus virus should’ve never been a political issue, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum.

  20. @David it seems to me that you and Ralph would actually agree more than you disagree. I think the only political views Ralph is incorporating into his argument is not about the coronavirus response, but rather the inequalities that existed in the U.S. beforehand that would normally complicate a public health emergency without the added gaslighting, absent leadership and divisive behavior that we also are experiencing now.

    And in that vein, that is why I find myself so disappointed in not just Lucky’s trip to Bodrum, but with a majority of peoples’ travels I witness now. As an airline employee, I was a bit worried at first about my company and industry, but took relief in a “wait and see” approach, and did everything I could to slow the spread. The optimistic industry outlooks published in late spring and news of airlines ramping up flights for autumn really gave me hope.

    But those outlooks are now cutback, and United airlines looks to be so prescient in predicting that Americans would fail to break this first wave’s curve. Increasing cases and deaths in the Sun Belt will cause our country to linger in the throes of his virus until the second wave hits. And those re-assessed outlooks mean I’m more likely to be furloughed.

    So yes, I am now angry. I see irresponsible and frankly, selfish, behavior such as unnecessary travel, rallies, COVID parties, etc. and wonder how someone can place the exercise of their rights above the health and rights of others. My faith in this country and fellow Americans is shaken by the “Me first, me best” attitude that pervades daily events. Sure, not everyone is acting against the better interest. But it seems that MORE people are behaving that way now than they might have in previous wartime eras, or times of national distress. The compass of each of ours ideas of being “American” seems pointed more inward now than ever; “ask not, what can my country do for me, but how can I get as much as I want because I want it.”

    We had an early warning when the virus racked up tens of thousands of deaths in WA, CA, NY, NJ, and New England. It seems clear now that the lack of true action in other areas of the country have caused this re-increase of the curve (again, infectious disease experts and statisticians say this is NOT the second wave). These new cases are creating costs, debts, fear, and death that should have been needless. But maybe they were needed so we might finally learn the lesson.

    I won’t go more into a macro scale, so since you all are here because you like travel, let me ask Americans this…. why do you think any responsible, conscientious country would open their borders to us when we pose such viral risk to the safety of their citizens? And what are you willing to do in order to achieve a unified goal of being able to redeem all your miles and travel in fabulous style again?

  21. It is not travel shaming but a reasonable question to ask if nonessential international travel is a wise idea when the US numbers are all trending the wrong direction fast. One is taking a risk for self and for others during a global emergency. We don’t care what you do for yourself. But the decision has an impact on much larger community, including people who have preexisting conditions who can’t choose.

  22. @Rob

    Yes, I most likely share much of Ralph’s sentiment and probably could’ve expressed myself better. I don’t mean to disagree with him, but rather trying to point out that we don’t even need to engage in the false pretense that the anti-shutdown and anti-mask crowd like to assume. Their assumption of having to choose between lives or the economy is just not backed up by facts. The economy is absolutely going to take a hit everywhere, the only choice anyone has in the matter is how long that hit will last.

    I am sad to hear that you will likely be affected by the selfish act of a minority (I’m still an optimist) of Americans, and sincerely hope the recent newly active infections (and Trump finally putting on a mask) will convince enough Americans to make a difference soon.

  23. These comments are painful! This is a travel blog. F**k off to CNN if you want to blabber on about politics.

    I’m sure I speak for many here.

  24. @J well said. It is getting very painful and boring to see comments that are so off context to the specific article topic here. The operators of this site should be reminding people to stay on topic as the editors of Executive Traveller do with their site.

  25. @Rob
    I simply fully agree. I do hope the best for your future and the future of so many others in a very similar position.

    Your words about the “Me first, me best” resonate very well to me. Unfortunately this is not just the US. Maybe the only exception are some Asian countries. I could see that first hand late February in Hong Kong. Very disciplined. Masks. Everyone .. well except for the “white” tourists. I knew Europe, the US would not follow. Different values obviously. Most people in Europe will not wear a mask if they are not obliged to. Same probably in the US. Until maybe someone close gets sick and possibly dies. In most cases total lack of true empathy. This is well reflected in some comments here.

    Sad to see how the initial reaction/communication from experts (in Europe, in the US), i.e. to deny the obvious benefits of wearing masks, is hitting back. Whatever the real motivation back then was (maybe effectively securing FFP2 or N95 masks for health care workers?) this provided self-centric people a fantastic opportunity to not wear the so uncomfortable masks. Even justifying them when making fun out of people wearing masks (I speak out of experience). From some comments above I see this is used as a very poor justification and a fantastic opportunity to now blame these experts advocating for people to wear masks. Despite the obvious. Despite the facts. Kindergarten. Sad.

    Obviously some governments are managing the crisis better than others. In Europe Angela Merkel in Germany is doing a fantastic job. Certainly not an easy task. Too much for weak and unfit governments obviously.

    Now back to Ben’s travels I believe that what really matters is to comply and over-comply with all security and precautionary measures. I truly believe that if everyone would do so (and/or be in a position to do so) wherever we are the virus would be kept under reasonable control… well unless it further evolves to be even more contagious and dangerous of course.

    The big issue is that a) most people in “developed” western countries don’t spontaneously and consistently take the appropriate precautions and b) mass transportation makes it difficult to force the social distancing measures (not even talking about economic reasoning)

    But the “Me first, me best” is the true foundation of the chaos when facing pandemic. Unlike natural disasters we can’t see viruses… and what we do not see is hard to believe or can be easily denied. Until a loved one dies… or until we get sick…and maybe die.

    Sorry just getting way too old obviously. Blabbering as Mark would probably say 😉

  26. People who politicize covid are idiots. The only other country that has this level of politics on this is Brazil. Hmmm
    People thinking that this is all some how a personal decision are also idiots because the consequences are far ranging. From the health of Healthcare workers and essential workers to the financial toll because as long as the numbers are high there is no restarting the economy. The fact that Italy, Tokyo, Hong Kong, hell all asian and European graphs are way down south compared to the us should already be a slap to our faces that we’re doing everything wrong because we can’t get over how self important we are. We can’t even put a damn mask on. How useless are we?

  27. I do have to say that Canada’s travel ban seems petty and based on paranoia. Infection rates in the absolute sense are low and vary by region on both sides of the border.

    What really gives it away is that the travel ban sits ON TOP of the quarantine requirement. That shows that the travel ban portion is mainly political pandering and not science-based.

    Going back to the travel report, I think we can consider Lucky as a “front line” worker conducting an “essential” task to keep the rest of us stay-at-home folks sane during this time. Also, I find Lucky’s blogs about industry trends to be lacking depth and insight – however, trip reports are his forté. So kindly stay in that lane, and bring us more please. Thank you!

  28. While I don’t know why Ben is travelling, I see him as sort of an industry reporter. Thank you for giving us a glimpse of what’s travelling like today, and what the travelling experience as we know it may never be the same again. Be safe

    I am surprised (not surprised) to see so many dumb Americans who still think the pandemic is a joke on this blog. Thought you would be well travelled enough to know better in an international scale. It’s not about American vs Canadian it’s about doing the right thing with the rest of the world. Stop calling Canadian petty, or paranoid. Do reflect your ignorance and short sightedness, and watch the morbidity in US climbs and the consequence.

    I love US and hope to visit soon, without the idiots waking up it’s disheartening to see US turn into such mess.

  29. @Erick’s understanding and empathy have reminded me that yes, Lucky and Ford were over-prepared, and in a way over-responsible. And, if only for this moment, I can say that their travel was (Self-, or some other way) justified, then job well done.

    But as much as they knew, and as much as they may know, there are tens of thousands of people out there far less travel-literate just “going to go.” There are probably a hundred thousand behind each of those that want, and would venture out.

    And from what I’ve read on this forum the past days, the articles/posts and comments, there is only a minority willing to stand up and be an example of sacrifice for the greater good as opposed to rationalizing your own selfish actions for your own shallow gains.

    Again, I am a front line worker, and I see people like you all every day I report to work. I do my job to get where you think you need/make it clear you want to be. I’d just like to hear for once that more people are taking a responsible approach to how you endanger my life.

  30. @Rob, sadly and from experience I can only tell you are right… and that is precisely what would definitely need to change. Not only to fight the virus….

  31. @ David – I’m not pretending that there is some trade-off between human lives and the economy – I was responding to someone else who was suggesting that, imo. I agree with you, wholeheartedly. That being said, this virus/masks/locking down has been politicized, and to not call out the folks who have done so feels irresponsible.

  32. Hi Ben! Quick question: can American enter immigration at Canada only to check-in again for another flight? In the case the flight is not a connection but two different flights. Is it possible today? Because I know that you can transit in some European countries without entering the country (go through customs) but I want to know if Canada allows to enter only to leave check-in in another flight. Thank you! And also do you happen to know of any testing site that gives covid 19 results in 72 hours?

  33. Surprising that there was no second layer of security because in most other areas even though you don’t leave the secured area or you leave for a couple of minutes there is another security check. Also, I guess you’re not American as Americans are not allowed in Europe.

  34. @ iamhere,
    Ben was transiting in Europe, not arriving. In this fact Turkey isn’t Europe neither Schengen so no problem.

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