Amy Kaler By: Amy Kaler
Professor, Department of Sociology
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03 Oct 2020 : In Transit

As I write this, I'm on a layover at Pearson Airport in Toronto - first trip by air since March 13. I have never seen an airport with so few people in motion. I had time on my hands so I walked around Terminal 1 (domestic) and Terminal 3 (international). Domestic traffic looked to be down about ninety percent from what I remember as normal, and international travel looked like it was down about eighty percent. The only line I saw was a pinch-point funneling people towards the international check-in desks, controlled by two security staff with temperature guns. There were many fewer bodies than normal, but the airport didn't feel depopulated. The empty spaces were filled up by the intangible and invisible knowledge of why they were empty - there's a virus out there, everybody who can stay home is doing so, and why aren't you?

I was excruciatingly aware of other travellers, far out of proportion to their numbers. My internal vigilance, always high in liminal transit spaces, was ratcheted up by the proliferation of face coverings, shields, visors, respirators and gloves, by the warning signs spelling out what two meters physical distance looked like, and by the black-masked security guards checking boarding passes to ensure that only those whose flights were leaving in the next twenty-four hours could enter the terminal.

Covid was in the air like a miasma. Anybody might be infected. I would not have been surprised if other travellers began glowing green or emitting a faint sulphurous odor. My consciousness of these few scattered other bodies in the airport was such that when I boarded the inter-terminal train to go to my hotel, and realized that there was no one else in the compartment, the shock and relief of being truly alone was far deeper than the transition from lightly-populated to unpopulated space in normal times would have warranted.

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