Note: The following information is very specific to my personal experience of planning travel to Toronto and flying via an indirect route, based on an end-to-end, single-airline itinerary with Etihad. You may have a different experience based on the airline, the route, the number of layovers, and your destination city. Remember, international travel guidelines are always changing so, be sure to do your own due diligence and do not rely on this post as a single source of truth.
Process as of: November 2021
Airline: Etihad – Business Class
Travel route: Mumbai – Abu Dhabi – Toronto
Passengers and status: I’m a returning Permanent Resident (PR) and travelling with my mother who is on a visitor visa. This is her first visit to Canada. We stated our purpose of travel as Family Reunification. Both of us are Indian passport holders.
For detailed instructions of Etihad’s travel requirements, you can refer to their COVID hub—which is regularly updated; I followed all instructions outlined there. Below is an overview of things I did pre-travel:
1. Air Tickets Booking
Currently, there are two ways to fly to Canada from India:
- Direct route: You travel from your home city to Delhi and then board a direct flight to Canada. Direct flights are only offered by Air India and Air Canada. Travelling by this direct route requires an RT-PCR test to be taken at Delhi airport. See the airport website for more details about booking this PCR test. For detailed travel requirements by government of Canada, see the travel advice from Transport Canada.
- Indirect route: You travel via a third country where you must do the RT-PCR test before boarding a flight to Canada. While you can plan your trip through various cities internationally, if you have your entire itinerary booked with Etihad, there’s an option to do the PCR test in transit at Abu Dhabi, without leaving the airport.
I chose to fly Etihad mainly because I found the in-transit RT-PCR offering to be very convenient and hassle-free. However, note that this route is one of the more expensive options to travel to Canada. So, if budget is an important criterion for you, it may be worthwhile to book another route or a direct flight from Delhi.
Airfares: For North American routes, flying internationally during summer (June, July and August), winter (November, December and January) and spring break (March-April) is typically expensive. You may get a good deal if you book a few months in advance. While I was booking my trip, some economy tickets on Air India and Air Canada were the same price as business class tickets on Etihad—this was another reason why I chose to fly Business. So, be sure to evaluate all your options before you book.
I booked directly via the Etihad website a month before my travel date. I was tracking airfares for a few flights for almost two months before I locked down on this itinerary (EY205 / EY141).
Tip: If possible, book your tickets directly with the airline instead of an agent or through third-party sites offering cheaper/discounted airfares. Travel during recent times is full of uncertainty, and if you ever have to cancel or rebook your flight for another date, it will be an easier process if your booking was direct with the airline.
2. RT-PCR Test
Passengers transiting through Abu Dhabi are required to take an RT-PCR test in their home city from an ICMR approved laboratory within 72 hours of their first flight to Abu Dhabi.
For my travel beginning on Nov 12 at 2:50 am IST, I took the test at Dr. Jariwala Laboratory at 11:30 am on Nov 9 and received the results within 5 hours. My test result came with a QR code (which is mandatory for international travel) and included my passport number (not essential, but good to have). It costs INR 600 (~CAD 10) per test. Etihad does not require physical copies of the test report; a digital copy is fine. But it’s better to print a copy for good measure.
Tip: If you plan on booking your PCR test at this lab, you can get same-day results provided you give your sample before 12 noon.
If Dubai or Abu Dhabi is your final destination, meaning, you intend to clear immigration and step outside the airport – even for a few hours, you need to take two PCR tests: first, 48 hours before your flight from home city and second, 6 hours before your flight, at the airport. The test to be taken 6 hours before is NOT required if you’re just transiting through Abu Dhabi for a few hours. However, the requirements for Dubai are slightly different, so it would be best to check the Emirates website or the Dubai airport website for the latest information. Additionally, you may also be required to download and register on some specific UAE government apps.
3. ArriveCAN App
All individuals entering Canada are required to fill the ArriveCAN app. You can fill in the details in the app and generate your code anytime within 72 hours of your landing time at the first port of entry in Canada.
I did that at 12:30 pm IST on Nov 10 (my landing time in Toronto was 4:30 pm ET on Nov 12). While filling the app, you will have to upload your vaccination certificate if you’re vaccinated. RT-PCR results are not required to generate the code; you just have to answer whether you took the test. In case of travel via Abu Dhabi with Etihad, you will be answering YES for a future test. Be sure to fill in the details on the app correctly and generate your code before you check-in at the airport; it is required before issuing the boarding pass.
4. Vaccination records and getting ‘Verified to Fly’
It is not mandatory to be vaccinated to travel to Canada (more details on the CIC site), but it is certainly recommended for smooth travels.
Etihad asks you to upload your vaccination certificate for their ‘Verified to Fly’ program – it helps you fast-track your check-in process at the airport. To register for it, you will need your PCR test result and vaccination certificate. This is an optional service and is available free of cost. I am fully vaccinated in Canada with Pfizer and my mother is fully vaccinated with Covishield; both are approved vaccines in Canada, so we didn’t have any issue. I registered for this program in the afternoon on Nov 10 and received confirmation on Nov 11, approximately six hours before check-in time.
At Mumbai Airport
Transit hotel stay
Since I live far from Mumbai airport and was travelling with my mom who suffers from Parkinson’s, I thought it would be a good idea to book a room at Hotel Niranta—a transit hotel located within the airport. You can only book a room here if you have an onward flight from Mumbai within 48 hours.
Getting to the hotel: If you’re driving to this hotel, it’s located at Arrivals P4, Gate #2. You will have to park on P5 as there’s no parking on P4 and neither can you drive by for curbside drop-off.
Tip: Check if you have any credit card points you can utilize for your booking. I managed to use my points and stay for free.
Stay experience: The rooms are spacious and well-kept—excellent for a short stay to freshen up and board your flight. Room service is available. We checked in to the hotel at about 3:30 pm and stayed until 10:30 pm (7 hours). Took a nap, freshened up, had dinner and headed out to Etihad’s check-in counter which is about a 5-10 minute walk from the hotel.
Getting to the check-in counters: You have to switch elevators twice on different floors to get to the check-in counters. Ask around and security will guide you. The hotel offers a private wheelchair service for INR 1,050—from hotel to aircraft. Porter services are also available for INR 750. Both these services need to be booked in advance else, may not be available when you need them.
Check-in, security, and immigration
We took one hour to complete check-in, security, and immigration—this was primarily because we had separate queues for business class. I learned that the dedicated security and immigration queue for business and first-class travellers at Mumbai airport opened very recently (it was closed during the pandemic). When I glanced over at the lines for Economy passengers, it seemed like it could take over an hour or maybe even 2 hours to clear security and immigration.
As business class passengers have access to the lounge, we waited here until it was time for our flight. Have to say that many individuals in the lounge were roaming about without masks. Some continued in this manner until they boarded the aircraft.
Boarding the airplane
Boarding took longer than expected and that resulted in takeoff delay. Got to know from the wheelchair assistant that Mumbai airport has scheduled daily cleanup of the runway from 3:15 to 3:45 AM. Our flight was scheduled for 2:50 AM and due to the delay, it was past 3:15. Hence, we could only take off at 4:25 AM, a delay of over one hour and 30 minutes.
As a result of this delay, our transit time at Abu Dhabi—which was six hours and 50 minutes—was now reduced to approximately five hours and 20 minutes. This was still sufficient time to get the PCR test done.
In-flight BOM to AUH
The in-flight business class experience was great. The aircraft had one of Etihad’s latest Business Studio so everything seemed very fancy.
At Abu Dhabi Airport
Once you alight at Abu Dhabi, you will have to go through security screening again. No documents or passport is required here. This process is the same as pre-COVID travel.
The overall experience at Abu Dhabi airport wasn’t great; things felt a bit unorganized and chaotic. The delayed arrival didn’t help either. There was a very long wait for wheelchairs. People who needed wheelchair assistance were asked to be seated in a crowded waiting hall and they prioritized everyone based on flight timings.
Since they were not providing an estimated wait time for wheelchairs, my mom and I decided to walk to the PCR test area. These tests are conducted at Gates 28 and 29. There’s no signage there indicating that it’s the testing area; just follow the directions to these gates and you’ll be fine.
Upon arriving at gates 28 and 29, you have to go to one of the counters and ensure your name is on the list for PCR testing and then wait until passport collection. Once the passports are collected, they are tagged with an ID for your PCR test results and then you will be called to take the test. Passports are returned after the sample is collected.
Even though my mom and I were some of the very last people to take the test, we received our results in less than two hours, well before boarding time.
The lounge experience at Abu Dhabi was great, no complaints. We could grab some food, relax, and refresh before our boarding. The staff was kind enough and proactive to arrange wheelchair assistance for my mom.
Boarding the airplane
Prior to boarding, they will check your ArriveCAN receipt, negative PCR test result taken at Abu Dhabi airport, passport, and your PR card or valid visa for Canada.
As business class passengers our boarding experience was very smooth; my mom and I were the first ones to board the plane. It was a full flight and the boarding area seemed overcrowded with passengers.
Our flight took off approximately 30 minutes past the scheduled departure time.
In-flight AUH to YYZ
The in-flight experience from Abu Dhabi to Toronto was great. Although this aircraft was an older one, I found it to be much more comfortable than their newer Business Studios. Service was well spaced out, leaving plenty of time to catch up on sleep.
ARRIVAL AT TORONTO
Our flight landed 45 minutes late (5:15 PM ET, instead of 4:30 PM). We were then asked to wait for 15 more minutes as there was a passenger on our plane who needed medical assistance.
The experience at Toronto airport was great. Wheelchair assistance was pre-arranged and well-coordinated; we didn’t have any trouble at all. Just remember that when you arrive at peak hours (in the afternoon and evening), it can take a bit longer to go through immigration.
Immigration was smooth – the CBSA officer did not ask my mom any questions. We only had to show the ArriveCAN receipts, and I answered the standard landing declaration questions.
We were able to complete all formalities and collect our baggage in about one hour 30 minutes. We exited the airport at about 7:15 pm ET.
This marks the end of a 40+ hour journey for me and my mom. I hope this post provides some insight into what to expect while travelling to Canada from India.