Flying Home, Staying Put and the Power of Kindness

I hope that sharing the jarring experience of my travel during COVID-19 will open eyes to the scale of the current situation, the contrast in attitudes between Americans and Canadians—and remind everyone the important power of kindness in these trying times.

flying home
Sharing the jarring experience of COVID-19 travel shows the scale of the current situation and the contrast in attitudes between Americans and Canadians. (Caribb / Flickr)

This month, after making the difficult decision to leave the U.S. and return home to Canada amidst a global pandemic, my husband and I flew from Los Angeles to Toronto.

After working for what seemed like a decade on the U.S. election, I was burnt out and desperately wanted to see my family, as well as enjoy the comfort of home. I’m sure many can relate to that sensation now, no matter where you are or what 2020 has thrown at you. I know I am extremely fortunate to be in the position to return home, across borders, despite the chaos.

I hope that sharing the jarring experience of my travel during COVID-19 will open eyes to the scale of the current situation, the contrast in attitudes between Americans and Canadians—and remind everyone the important power of kindness in these politically divisive and trying times.


Having lived in Los Angeles for many years now, I had never felt such a strong urge to seriously get the fuck out of Dodge. As my husband and I enjoyed a U.S. Thanksgiving together in Santa Monica, a series of messages began rolling in—from friends, individually innocent enough, but annoying and exhausting as the trend continued. Each and every one was telling me about some large gathering being hosted by someone they knew: a Thanksgiving dinner with 25 people, indoors; a wedding with over 50 people; friends eating outside with people not in their household; and they all wanted to know, “Can you believe it?”

These texts were my tipping point. I’d had enough. As Thanksgiving approached, I decided to head back to Canada. I needed a change of scenery, and even welcomed the mandatory 14-day quarantine upon my arrival.

I am a scientist, and I only told a few friends in California about my travels to Canada, expecting to hear some pushback about my plans to fly between two cities in lockdown. To my surprise, every single person I told had the exact same response: Can they come with me? Somehow magically fit into my luggage? Every. Single. One.

On my way to Canada, I flew from Los Angeles to Charlotte, then Charlotte to Toronto—and these two flights and experiences could not have been more different.

On the Los Angeles to Charlotte flight, many people were visibly annoyed to be told to wear masks. Many took their masks off for a majority of the flight, which was severely discomforting in such a small, closed space. My seat being 1D, I had a front row view of the interactions between flight attendants and passengers. I saw the looks of disgust and frustration on the faces of the flight attendants. Our eye contact was of acknowledgement. I could see and feel their pain, and I truly felt horrible for them.

The man in the seat across the aisle from me, 1C was getting drunk with his seat partner in 1A as they discussed Porsche auctions and conspiracy theories about COVID-19. They both had come to the conclusion that one had to have an underlying issue to die from COVID-19. Both were flying to visit their mothers who were each in their 90’s. No quarantine, no masks, and to my disgust, no shoes or socks on one of them. Sigh. They were so loud, even as I listened to Iggy Pop on full-blast on my iPhone, I could hear them. Eventually, one put his bare feet in the aisle.

As our flight disembarked, we were directed to respect social distancing and exit the aircraft row by row. I waited to see if the obnoxious men would let the only woman in the row leave before them—but no. The barefoot neanderthal was just a rude bull in a china shop: He actually hit me with his carry-on as he left. Clearly, he couldn’t care less about anyone around him. He apologized, but I just shook my head, loudly retorting, “I am used to misogynists; I should have expected this.” The two flight attendants in first class giggled and thanked me as I left. I wish I could have done more.


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Walking around the Charlotte airport was a very different experience than walking around LAX. At LAX, I didn’t see one person without a mask. In Charlotte, it was the opposite, and nearly half of the people around us in the airport were casually mask-free. Groups were huddled at bars and they were partying. Since Los Angeles hasn’t had indoor dining since March, this was horrifying to me. I thought about my friends who have restaurants throughout LA County and have had to lay off their staff right before Thanksgiving. And my friends who work in retail and wake up every day wondering if they have a job to go to, worrying all day long about their health. I can’t even begin to imagine that stress.

Now, it is worth mentioning that my husband is a U.S. citizen and the only way he could travel to Canada is because he is my family. He was questioned at every turn throughout our travels, asked time and time again how he thought he was getting into Canada. I found myself leaping to his defense like a bouncer at a nightclub, yelling like some declaration or like a town crier on Twitter: “Yes, he is with me! He is fine. So, are we all good here? Are we good to go and travel onwards?” (We don’t have the same last name.)

As I approached the gate of my flight to Toronto, I saw masks, shields, gloves and temperature checks, and I could easily observe who was Canadian and who wasn’t. As we boarded the flight to Toronto, everyone was patient—I mean, unbelievably patient, to the point that there was a woman who couldn’t get her tennis racket on the bulkhead and we all waited in line for about 20 minutes while this happened. No one complained; most offered to help her—at the same airport full of indignant travelers refusing to wear masks.

Right now, I am so thankful to take a breath and enjoy the view of the beautiful skyline of downtown Toronto, in my Roots sweatshirt and vintage Beaver Canoe top. I can’t tell you how much I have missed this city, this country. I don’t know a lot, but I do know that I am a proud Canadian.

While writing this article, I received a call from the Government of Canada checking in on me and ensuring that I was, in fact, in quarantine, following the law as put forward by the Quarantine Act. It was a brief, five-minute call. He asked about my symptoms and reminded me to use the ArriveCan app, which is on my phone to track my health and any possible COVID-19 related symptoms while in quarantine—which, as I mentioned, is 14 days.

At the end of the call, he thanked me for following the rules and helping to slow the spread of the coronavirus. He also sent his best wishes for anyone I know who is suffering from this virus or has passed away.

I have to admit: This got me choked up. I know many people who are currently suffering from COVID-19, and some have passed away. I was genuinely moved. As a friend mentioned to me recently, a lot of kindness has been left out of the news during this global pandemic, and his small gesture of kindness warmed my grinch-sized heart.

I wonder if this type of personal interaction, these words of sincere care and concern for me as a Canadian citizen from my government, would make any difference in the United States. I can sense the extent to which Americans are feeling left behind by their government, and can see the toxic impact of divisive politics on society. It is so difficult to stay positive and kind when it seems the rest of the world has gone mad, and the news only perpetuates the spread of hate and despair.

But please, remember, there is so much more kindness out there than you’ll ever hear about, and it may just be that—kindness—that is the ultimate antidote to overcoming this pandemic.

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About

Elena Christopoulos is a Commissioner in the City of Santa Monica and has over 20 years of experience as a sustainability and political consultant. She has managed over 40 successful political campaigns throughout the world and it is her goal to get more women into politics. She splits her time between Toronto and Santa Monica and can be found surfing on most days. She is a Queen’s University scientist and most recently appointed to serve on the Queen’s University Alumni Association. She is currently under quarantine in Toronto, Canada.