Monday, 8 February 2010

Aggravating Travel Experience #165,278

It never ends. Every single time that I think that I have the airport and flying experience nailed, something else arises that throws my entire thought process into a manic whirling dervish of utter chaos. If I hadn't lived through this day I wouldn't have believed it myself, so I will absolutely understand if any of you doubt my veracity, but I swear it upon the lives of those whom I hold most dear that everything that what I am about to relate is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me Great Being. I will attempt to edify the day in an organized timeline so that it is easier to follow.

5:45 am. I never sleep well the night before I fly, probably due to the fact that control freaks like me totally relinquish control when entering the seventh circle of hell also known as the airport. After a mere 20 or so minutes of sleep, I rise in order to shower and prepare for my departure to the world's most poorly managed and most stupidly run airport, also known as Toronto Pearson.

6:50 am. The Husband drops me off at the doors of Terminal 1. I am scheduled to depart for Fort Lauderdale on an Air Canada direct flight leaving at 9:50 am. If you will notice the time differential, I am a full three hours early for my flight, just like all airline personnel and politicians having been suggesting for travel to the States since the infamous Underwear incident. I have web-checked in and pre-printed my boarding pass and my US customs card is already filled out. I have no checked baggage and I am carrying a small backpack with some personal items, my computer, and a small purse. I am ready to brave customs and security, right? Not so fast.

7:00 am. The thousands of waiting passengers at Terminal 1 are informed that nobody is permitted to enter the customs hall until their particular flight number is called. Why? Nobody is really certain. Air Canada employees are as baffled as the rest of us. It seems that the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) in conjunction with the Canadian Air Transportation Safety Association (CATSA) and the American Transportation Safety Association (TSA) are having trouble figuring out these new security measures including the full body scanners, and how to make the entire process work. I guess they figure if they can control the numbers in customs hall, they can better regulate security. Bullshit. There are literally waves and waves of people mingling in the halls of Terminal 1 waiting to be called. The security concerns out there should have been apparent. One crazy person yelling out the wrong thing and hundreds would have been trampled. Not only that, but by not allowing people to enter security on their own schedules, they are creating huge bottlenecks at both the customs windows and at security. I know. I was caught in this jam. I should note that NEXUS card holders are permitted to enter at their leisure. I make a point of whipping myself over my procrastination in procuring mine. The process starts today.

9:30 am. My flight is finally allowed to enter into the customs hall. Note that I have now been waiting in the outer terminal for 2 1/2 hours, doing nothing but fuming. My flight is scheduled to depart in 20 minutes as are the other 3 large flights called to Orlando, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Thousands more of us cattle are herded through the the 5 available agents (out of 20 possible windows???) in relatively painless fashion. My poor overworked civil servant was not at all impressed with me, and kept prodding as to why I needed to return to Fort Lauderdale. He finally deigned to let me pass and that is when the fun really started.

9:40 am. I enter into the labyrinth known as Pearson security. The line snakes around the entire terminal and is not moving at all. Air Canada employees are futilely attempting to keep to their schedules, and they are pulling passengers out of line in order to get them to the already delayed flights. Several people miss flights to Philly and Minneapolis because the efforts are simply not enough. At one point a frazzled AC worker asks who is still in line for the 9:50 to Fort Lauderdale and over 100 of us raise our hands. I note that parents with children in strollers and those unfortunates in wheelchairs make their way to a special line and are herded through without hassle. I decide that next time I am renting a baby for the trip.

10:10 am. My flight was scheduled to depart 20 minutes ago. I am finally at the front of the line and the CATSA worker directs me to a security row. NOBODY SEEMS TO BE WORKING THERE!!! Not only that, but one of the metal detectors is out of order. Finally, Rahema comes to check me out. She takes my boarding pass and states the obvious. "You were supposed to leave 20 minutes ago". ARGHHHHHH! I keep cool, tell her that I am aware of the problem and inform her as to the issues at customs. She has the audacity to ask me what is going on, like I know? She keeps my boarding pass and sends me through the metal detector and tells me that I have been flagged for the body scan and a full customs search. She opens every single thing in my purse and backpack. She sprays my asthma puffers. She checks and opens my Purell. She swabs every single item. She takes every single credit card out of my wallet and she even checks to see if the three pens I had with my wrote ink. I am beside myself. I am certain that I am doomed to reschedule my flight.

10:30 am. I finally leave security and rush downstairs to my gate. We were told at customs that we would be departing from gate 151. I need to pee and I haven't eaten, but there is no time. I rush toward the gate, only to see 10 people running the other direction screaming that Fort Lauderdale has been moved to gate 164 at the other end of the hall. I reverse field and run like hell.

10:45 am. I board the plane only to discover that half of the passengers are still not there. I am sweating, thirsty, (they refuse to give me water until we are airborne) and I need to pee, but I cannot until we takeoff.

10:55 am. My seat mates arrive. They are an elderly couple embarking on a cruise. The man informs me that he wants to sit on the aisle, my seat. I explain to him that I also want the aisle and that is why I booked the seat. He states again loudly and firmly that he fully expects me to take the window. I stated categorically that I will not. He finally sits. I note that his pants are open and his fly unzipped. Lovely!

11:05 am. There are babies in front of me, behind me, and beside me. All are screaming because they are off schedule. Pilot comes on to apologize for the delay and makes it clear how he feels about it. He notes that it isn't Air Canada's fault and encourages us all to write letters to CATSA, GTAA and our MPs in Ottawa to protest an absolutely unacceptable travel experience. I close my eyes and pray for sleep before takeoff.

11:25 am. Finally in the air. 1 1/2 hours late. Babies are miserable, old man still has his fly unzipped and I am thirsty and hungry, but at least I peed.

12:05 pm. Flight attendants come through cabin with sandwiches from Quiznos. I take note of the veggie sandwich and decide that the 7 buck rip-off is worth quelling my hunger. I am told that they don't have anymore. I guess that the flight was teeming with vegetarians. I ask what other veggie options are available and I am told an Egg McMuffin. Pass!

12:15 pm. Flight attendant offers me a drink. Diet Coke? How about Diet Pepsi. I see the Diet Coke on the cart and insist. I ask for the entire can, but I am rebuffed. "We don't do that anymore", I am told.

12:30 pm. Babies still wailing and now walking up and down the aisles so that their parents might have some relief. I decide to watch a movie. Take out my headphones and turn on the Coen Brother's "A Serious Man".

12:35 pm. Old man needs to pee. Considering the fact that his fly is STILL undone, I figure that he is halfway home. As he gets up to get around me, he loses his balance and lands in my lap. EWWW. As he falls, he lands on my headphones, ripping them out of the jack and breaking off the end. I can still listen, but only with one ear. An excursion to Best Buy is in my future.

2:00 pm. We are told that we will be landing in a few minutes. Not soon enough. We circle the area for 35 more minutes before landing.

2:35 pm. Terra Firma. The Fort Lauderdale airport is packed with departing Super Bowl revellers, all looking slightly hungover and stinking from beer. Thank God I do not have to worry about luggage.

4:00 pm. After picking up a few groceries, I stop at an ATM to get some American cash. The f@#*ing machine is out of order. Of course it is. I head home and try and forget the entire day.

I realize that we all live in a new world order since 2001, but I am tired of the airline industry complaining of declining profits, nickel and dimeing us to death, treating us like unimportant irritants in the transportation machine and still expecting us to bail them out when they are in trouble. If I arrive early, I should not be penalized for it, I should be applauded for it and rewarded. I wouldn't have minded the hour long security process, the pat down or full body scan, if I hadn't been so delayed wasting time in terminal for no apparent reason. The true irony is that American airports are functioning as business as usual. The GTAA and CATSA needs to rethink their US security strategy at the airports, otherwise the public will be rethinking air travel altogether.


  1. OMG! What a horrific experience! I feel for you Dawn. Thank goodness you have arrived safely and can unwind at your leisure. The very worst part for me, given all the stress leading up to this moment, would have been the old man falling in my lap with his fly open. Completely unacceptable! This would have been a good time for your air sickness to kick in. LOL

  2. Just glad you arrived in one piece!! Relax, soak up the sun, and get ready for our horror stories when we try the same thing in two weeks....

  3. Next time, extra-strength chemicals. The only way to fly!

  4. Hi Dawn
    I can say I told you so!

    Drive to Buffalo and arrive 1 hour before your flight

    ps the parking is 8 bucks a day at the airport vs 24$ in TO