August 16, 2009

Airport Blues - You Can't Miss It

After Balisage 2009, I took a taxi to the Montreal airport because I didn't leave in time for the shuttle. (True Confession: I didn't want to schlep 3 bags to another hotel to catch the shuttle.) Arrived 2.5 hours early, so I sat in the ticketing area and had a leisurely "bag" lunch courtesy of the conference caterers (if you can call Mediterranean pasta, Caesar salad and cheesecake cup a "bag" lunch -- thanks, Linda and Chris!). When I went to check in, I found out my plane was delayed an hour and would not meet up with my Philadelphia connection, so I was looking at arriving 2 hours later -- at 10 pm and it was only 2 pm! Not at all what I wanted, so they booked me on a flight to Toronto which was leaving in less than an hour. The catch was I'd have to reclaim my bags in Toronto and go through US Customs in the 1.25 hours between the 2 flights. Although risky (never been to the Toronto airport), it would get me home around 7 pm which sounded great.

Security check in Montreal was going really slowly. Didn't think I'd make the 3 pm flight. They wanted all my neatly packed electronic in see-thru pouches removed. What a pain! Trip to Toronto wasn't bad with 3-seats per aisle. Was able to read "Duel" by Richard Matheson, a gripping short story about road rage (and more). And then the fun began.

Here I am in (one of) Toronto's airports looking for my checked baggage. Getting off the plane, they told me "you can't miss it". Well, I beg to differ! Perhaps that's true when you pass it every day but not when you walk into a huge open area with signs everywhere and people hustling in every direction! I went completely through the area and started down another hallway and then stopped to ask a porter who didn't speak much English (thankfully, enough though). So I re-traced my steps and found the small sign that said "Baggage for US Customs" or something like that. Fortunately found my bag without much difficulty. Then I came to the long line for customs 20 seconds too late to miss a gaggle of at least 30 Japanese tourists who all proceeded to crowd in front of me. (There was a second security check somewhere in Toronto.)

Then I'm told my gate for the connection is on the other side of the airport and I need to catch a shuttle; this is just 15 minutes before boarding time. I'm given directions to get to the shuttle (down these stairs, turn left, go down another flight of stairs, then outside -- you can't miss it ;-). I manage to find it just a minute before it was ready to leave. The large shuttle is moving at what seems like a fast clip, making wide swings that almost send me flying with my laptop and medical device. It dawns on me that I can't recall the exact gate number (which wasn't written on my ticket) and I'm not sure if the shuttle makes multiple stops but there was no way to ask the driver who was behind glass. When we arrive at the stop, everyone got off so I figured it was one stop fits all, so I got off. I found a departure/arrival screen and found my flight. I have just enough time to buy bottled water since by now I am dehydrated from rushing around. I arrive at my gate in time to find out my seat wasn't exactly assigned so I had to take a window seat next to a woman who was fatter than me and seemed annoyed that she had to get up so I could scrunch myself into the small prop plane space. She refused to let me share the arm rest and had this blanket (!) on her lap which kept flapping onto my leg. Very uncomfortable!

I had planned to read the original version of "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" also by Matheson (later re-worked for the original Twilight Zone with a young and handsome William Shatner and then the TZ movie). Thought it would be cool to read it on a plane. Turns out my window seat was right near the propeller just like the main character in the the story. As we prepared for take off, the stewardess announced we'd be cruising at 21,000 feet. How cool! (Un)fortunately it was not dark and there was no gremlin or banshee on the wing of the plane. I checked. More than once.

So we arrived safely in Baltimore but I was one hour ahead of my airport shuttle reservation and my cell phone (useless in Canada) was completely dead. I was also far from where the shuttle would be. A helpful information desk lady pointed me in the right direction and gave me the airport shuttle phone number (which of course had been conveniently stored in dead-as-a-door-nail cell phone). When I reached the shuttle area, I figured what the heck -- I have no change anyway, so let's see if I can convince the next shuttle to take me. In this I was successful. And I made it home an hour ahead of my original schedule! Whoopie! Party at my house! You can't miss it!

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