Last Sunday, at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
“Paging passenger Brown, paging passenger Brown, could you please meet an airline representative at the end of the airbridge…”
United Airlines flight 1106 had just taxied up to terminal two. The usual post-arrival scrum was in process, as everyone on the plane stood up in unison and waited expectantly to be able to get off the plane. Perhaps it was because we were ninety minutes late, or perhaps (more probably) because the hideous eighties fabric on the seats was beginning to make us all nauseous.
I however, had been paged. This has never happened to me before. After dozens of short hops on Ryanair, Easyjet and FlyBe, the idea of an airline taking care of me, let alone acknowledging my existence, was quite a special feeling. I managed to extricate myself from the delightful grey, orange and red interior of the tired Boeing, and there was indeed an Air Canada employee waiting for me at the foot of the airbridge. She was waiting to break the news to me: I would miss my connection to London Heathrow, but I had been re-booked onto a later flight. My delay in Chicago had actually been a good thing: had I flown home through Montreal as expected, I wouldn’t have had the security of a later trans-Atlantic flight home.
So I took my time through terminal two, not rushing like some passengers who still held onto the chance of making their next plane. I breezed through immigration (another stamp for the passport) and then through the door marked ‘Connections’. An interminably long corridor followed, another security check and then a short bus ride along taxiways and past dormant jet liners to the sparkling new terminal one. Through some glass doors, up an escalator and into the terminal. And there to greet me is a big display screen… and my original flight is still boarding. The calm air that has carried me this far evaporates. Perhaps I can still make it, after all I still have the original boarding card…
A quick check at an information desk (hallejulah, an airport departure lounge with information desks, not just shops…) and I realise I can still board the original 18h10 flight to London. Now the panic sets in, and I start pegging it down the long aisles of the new terminal. The London gate is, of course, the furthest away… en route my carrier bag splits at the handle, and I very nearly shower books and clothes across the marble floor. But with the determination of a hardened traveller, I continue to run.
And I make it. At 18h30, we push back, and so begins the long slog across Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and finally the vast Atlantic. With an astonishing tail wind, not only do we make up time, but we actually arrive over a sleepy London early – forcing us to perform tight circles over the Thames Valley until Heathrow’s curfew opens up at six in the morning. We touch down in darkness; one of the first planes to be allowed into one of the world’s busiest airports that morning.
I begin my journey north, but at a much slower pace. Although if the Piccadilly line tube to St. Pancras and the wretched Midland Mainline train to Sheffield seemed slow, I was to to be surprised once more. My checked luggage didn’t make it onto my earlier connection, instead making the later flight out of Toronto to Heathrow. A courier was kind enough to come to Sheffield on Monday evening with my bag, or so I thought, until I came home and realised it wasn’t my bag. Strange how I told them it was a blue and black rucksack, that it had come from Chicago and that it had my name on a BMI Diamond Club tag on it, and they managed to send me a grey roller suitcase from Vancouver with the name and address of a woman in Scotland on it. While I waited for the courier to return to collect the wrong bag, I did what no-one at Air Canada had evidently done, and called my unknown fellow passenger to let her know that her bag was at least in the right country.
It’s now Wednesday, and my bag still hasn’t shown up.