Bags packed, masks on and COVID-19 tests in hand — travelers heading to sunny destinations for March break at Toronto Pearson International Airport Friday were anticipating a stress-free journey, despite health measures.

“It’s our first time actually enjoying vacation after the pandemic hit,” said Wilson Dos Santos, who was traveling with his wife and two children, heading to Orlando, Florida.

“Going to a warm place and having a break from the winter time, we are so looking forward to this trip,” he said.

Arriving hours early to the airport, some March break travelers at Pearson said they felt confident and relieved to be leaving the country after two years of spring break travel seasons that were severely disrupted by COVID-19.

In March 2020, chaos was the theme of spring break as the pandemic worsened, countries closed their borders and schools announced their first closures. And in 2021, the province postponed March break and cases emerged during a third wave of the virus driven by the Delta variant.

Many at the airport were fairly anticipating a worry-free travel experience for the first time since the pandemic started, hoping the 2022 break would be different.

But even though hospitalizations have declined in Ontario and in many parts of the US, and vaccine mandates are being lifted, concerns remain that restrictions may be easing too fast in Ontario.

Airlines still reeling from the pandemic have not yet returned to full capacity. Airlines such as WestJet have cut the number of flights a day by 20 per cent this month, as demand isn’t yet back to pre-pandemic heights.

Pearson alerted travelers this week that Friday was expected to be the busiest travel day of the pandemic, with about 85,000 people set to pass through the airport. But that’s far lower than in 2019, when 145,000 came and went from the airport on the Friday before March break.

Dos Santos said the only slight hiccup for their family was booking a rapid test before their flight to Florida. He said some tests were cheaper than others, and that he wished they were more accessible.

“There is this big discrepancy among the clinics doing the test… we ended up closing in at $40 each per test,” he said.

“It was kind of difficult to even get a spot for the rapid test… locations were all full.” said Stella, Dos Santos’s daughter who is in Grade 12.

Travelers Grace LeBlanc, Adeline Geng and Joelle Lecours, all studying to be chiropractors, arrived at the airport four hours before their flight to Miami for spring break.

Laughing, the girls said they weren’t able to check in their bags because they arrived so early. But they thought it was better to be overly prepared — they booked their rapid tests a month in advance and recommend other travelers do the same.

Now that’s done, they are ready to enjoy their trip.

“We’re going to the bar tonight, that’s all our plans for the entire week,” said LeBlanc.

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