My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

My winter travel adventure

Oddly enough, transatlantic travel has started to become somewhat ordinary for me. The first time it was new and exotic and somewhat terrifying. The second time it was a relief (to be going home, particularly because I hate travelling). The third time, with a different airline, was another adventure. But now, having done it a few more times and developed a routine for getting to and from the various airports, it is starting to feel old hat.

Well, my travel back to the UK from Canada at the end of the Christmas break broke up that monotony for me. The original plan was to fly from Thunder Bay to Toronto with Westjet on Friday, January 3, landing two hours before my flight to England. Cutting it somewhat close, yes, but my alternative was a 6 am flight that would leave me in the airport all day.

Alas, the weather deteriorated Thursday evening and into Friday, and the snow was coming down thick and heavy. Flights were delayed all across Western Canada, including the plane meant to arrive in Thunder Bay and proceed to Toronto (with me on it). We didn’t leave until 6:30 pm. Suddenly the probability of catching my England flight was starting to vanish like a pinched limit in a calculus problem.

Somehow I ended up a Plus seat on the Westjet flight—no idea how—which meant extra leg room and free snacks. So, while my flight’s timing was awful, the flight itself was very pleasant.

We landed literally just as my connecting flight was finishing its boarding and preparing to take off. I ran from my arrivals gate to my departure gate—they were at opposite ends of the terminal, of course—but the staff had already closed the gate, and no one was there. Failure. So, my head hung low, I went to the baggage claim area to wait for my suitcase. Then I went to the Air Transat customer service desk to find out my options.

Lo and behold, I was not the only person on that flight from Thunder Bay who missed their plane to England! There were three others, a woman by herself and another woman with her teenage daughter. We politely but somewhat irritatedly interrogated first the Air Transat customer service agent and then the Westjet agents about what we could do. Neither wanted to take much responsibility: Air Transat said that it was Westjet’s fault we arrived late, and Westjet claimed that, because we hadn’t booked the flights on a single reservation, no one could compensate us.

I should note that the manager at the Westjet desk did give me a credit equal to the value of my flight from Thunder Bay (and considering I used my dad’s Air Miles to pay for it, I don’t view that as a bad deal). That will help towards a flight back to Thunder Bay in the summer. And he put the woman travelling alone on the last flight back to Thunder Bay that night, for free, which is what she wanted. So, while I wish Westjet had done something for me that could have helped me with my more immediate issue of how to get to England, I appreciate that they did something to redress the problem.

Air Transat was less helpful. Their next flight was at 10:55 pm on Sunday. And my previous ticket was nothing; I could show up at the airport the day of the flight and pay $600 for the privilege of standby, or I could pay $1100 outright for a new ticket. The three of us who remained were not impressed by either option. We left the Air Transat counter and trekked over to Terminal 1 to see if Air Canada had any flights for us.

We waited over two hours in a slow-moving line, just making inside their cutoff for when they closed. The news was even worse: everything full, nothing until Sunday, and even then it was very expensive. That being said, the apologetic Air Canada representative then gave us hotel vouchers that would get us a discounted rate at a nearby hotel. Considering we did not actually fly with Air Canada, that was a nice move. I didn’t feel like clarifying that part, of course.

So we waited on hold on the Air Canada hotel hotline, eventually getting through and booking two rooms at the Hampton Inn & Suites. We hopped on the next 24-hour shuttle and got to the hotel, and it was a relief. I haven’t been to a proper hotel in a while. It was very nice, and with the voucher discount, the rate was definitely reasonable for a night. Morning also brought the promise of a complimentary breakfast, which turned out to be an amazing buffet of hot and cold options, from sausages and eggs to oatmeal, cereal, toast, and even a waffle-maker.

Around 10 am Saturday, I returned to the airport. Eventually I made a decision: I bought a new ticket outright. It was expensive, but it also guaranteed that I would be back in England by Monday. I would miss the first day back to school, but it was a training day and not a teaching day. At least I would be back on Tuesday, albeit somewhat more tired than usual.

Then my grandparents picked me up at the airport, and we went back to their house in Waterloo. I had contacted them the night before, after settling into my hotel room. I’m extremely grateful they made the long drive in and out of Toronto to get me, because it meant I could spend Saturday afternoon and evening with them, sleeping in a proper bed and having some proper meals. My grandma, being grandma, packaged up cookies and candy and all sorts of little snacks for me to bring to the airport the next day.

It was supposed to continue snowing all of Sunday, which meant my flight could be further delayed (or even cancelled, if the weather turned worse). My aunt was driving into Toronto to play tennis, so I was able to go back with her and save my grandparents another journey. Rather than dropping me off at the airport on her way in, my aunt took me with her to the tennis club, where I could relax in a slightly less crowded environment for a few hours. We eventually arrived at the airport around 3:30, and after checking in with Air Transat, I settled in for a long wait.

I went to the David’s Tea in Terminal 3 and ordered an entire pot of tea. Other than the incredible looseleaf on offer, I was attracted by the bar seating with power outlets in front. I plugged in my tablet to keep it charged and tried to watch LoadingReadyRun’s livestream, but the Pearson WiFi is terrible. Eventually I decided to make the most of my situation and pulled out my laptop to do some work—mostly seating plans and planning documents.

Around this time, I learned that my flight was delayed by another hour. I ordered a second pot of tea.

I showed up to my gate about half an hour before the new departure time. Our plane showed up around 11:10, and we started boarding around 11:30. Then we waited. And waited. And waited.

For those of you who have never flown in cold, Canadian winter conditions, imagine if you will a winter wonderland. The ground is coated in thick, fluffy snow. All around you, snowplows are constantly moving back and forth, pushing snow out of the way of the paths of planes going to and from the gates. There is also freezing rain, causing ice to build up on the planes. So before takeoff, a plane must go to the “de-icing facility” to have that ice removed. The facility can handle only so many planes at once, so we have to wait our turn in line.

But then the crew discovered a fault in the plane. So we left our spot in line to go to the service area, where mechanics boarded the plane to fix the problem. Then we had to return to the de-icing queue and wait for our turn to be de-iced before we could takeoff.

All told, we finally took off at 3:30 in the morning. I was very tired. Our flight itself was faster than usual—only six and a half hours—but all these delays meant we landed at 3:30 pm, UK time. I could not sleep properly on the plane; I spent most of the flight in a fugue state between sleeping and waking. Finally I shuffled off the plane, passed through customs, and reclaimed my suitcase.

I bought my suitcase on the basis of what I had hoped was sturdiness as well as lightness. It is a hardshell offering from Olympia, and I am not impressed. It already had one hairline crack on the side, so naturally I applied the Canadian solution of duct-taping it to death. This time, my suitcase came off the carousel with a massive crack along the top and side. Duct tape might help, but I doubt she will ever fly again. My trip just kept getting better and better!

Originally I had reserved a coach trip from the airport back to Bury, but of course that wasn’t an option now. So I bought a train ticket (more money) and began the long, arduous journey home. Several trains and several hours later, I finally arrived back home at 8:30 pm. I would be at school in twelve hours.

This experience highlighted, for me, how much I dislike travelling. When it all goes smoothly, it is merely exhausting. When it goes wrong, as it did this time, it becomes even more stressful and unpleasant. I’m looking forward to not travelling for quite some time after I’m back in Canada in the summer!