We leave Paris today to return to Canada.
I woke fairly early and with a fair amount of dread over how Air Canada and airport security would conspire to make the return trip as unpleasant as possible. Fortunately, because I hadn’t packed my suitcase yet, it gave me something to take my mind off the impending trip and also gave Maggie something to worry about instead of thinking about flying the mediocre
|No worries. We’ have lots of time and we’re all going
in the same direction for a change.
We had organized a taxi the night before with a taxi driver we had come to know and who was not only reliable but fun. He showed up promptly on time with his customary smile and off we went.
It’s an hour by cab to Charles de Gaulle Airport Airport and the three of us discussed politics, social programs and taxation during the drive. I’m not sure why we talked about that but our driver was really enthusiastically into our discussion frequently looking back at us and waving his arms to express a point. At one point I felt it necessary to offer to steer the taxi so that he could continue to talk with his hands unimpeded by by such mundane things as concentrating on driving.
I’ve never discussed politics with my eyes closed before but I did during that particular ride.
We were too early for breakfast at the hotel so after arriving safely at the airport, we checked our luggage, obtained our boarding passes and then went looking for someplace to eat. We were pleasantly surprised by the French Air Canada employee, who recognizing that I was walking with a cane, seated us in the middle aisle of the flight with each of us in an aisle seat and then blocked off the centre seat so that I would have room to stretch out my leg. It was a thoughtful gesture and uncharacteristic for Canada’s national airline.
We found a small restaurant and had our last café crème and croissant breakfast and then worked our way over to security.
|Everyone sing along……moooooooo!
I believe that airline security personnel are all trained at the same place. They have no personality and only limited cognitive ability. We stood in line, snaking our way through the line until we reached an employee who’s job it was to point us to the next available security checkpoint. It amazes me that they believe we are either visually impaired and can’t see for ourselves which checkpoint is available or in the alternative that we are too stupid to figure it out. Perhaps I’m being unkind and it is simply a jobs creation program for the intellectually challenged.
Our ‘guide’ was a little overwhelmed by the responsibility of choosing the next available gate that had been entrusted to her. She had difficulty trying to figure out, without the help of passengers, which checkpoint to send people to as they came to the end of the line.
I dutifully emptied my pockets into a tray, removed my laptop from it’s case and sent all of that along with my cane through the x-ray machine. Then I hobbled through the metal detector and headed straight to the little mat where they wand you. I knew before the machine that I would set it off. Once again I was wanded, probed, frisked and inserted into the Star Trek transporter to be scanned.
Nothing. Damn, you could almost feel the disappointment among the security agents.
We head to our boarding gate which is conveniently situated a mere twenty-three miles from the security checkpoint. I’m moving so slow, Maggie insists on the wheelchair thing again and I’m too tired to argue. Besides, I figure that under the right circumstances I might be able to run over an airport employee.
|The regular friendly get together at
We go up elevators and down elevators, wheel our way along very long corridors only to go up more elevators and down some more. Clearly the departure side of the airport was designed by someone with a serious chip on their shoulder who has made it abundantly clear that providing convenience for the people arriving in Paris is more important than for those who are leaving.
Just when I’m beginning to believe we probably should have packed some supplies for the journey through the airport, we arrive at our departure gate. It rises like an oasis in a desert and we are grateful.
We sit and we wait and then, we sit and we wait some more. Eventually they call our flight and low and behold my cane gets us priority boarding although it took me so long to hobble down the ramp that the regular passengers caught up and quickly passed me.
|One of the most interesting parts of the flight is
trying to guess what they’ve given you to eat
We take off forty minutes behind schedule but our captain assures us we will make up the time in flight due to reduced headwinds. What an optimist.
The flight itself was fairly easy although the meals that were served were unidentifiable. I was offered chicken or pasta but even though I opted for chicken, any resemblance between what I got and something that formerly clucked was purely coincidental. Later, we were provided with a meat pastry which was basically some kind of runny mystery meat in something only closely resembling a bread product. The obvious bi-product of Air Canada food is green house gas emissions and there is something quite disturbing about sitting in a plane for a number of hours surrounded by a few hundred people with gas.
Nonetheless, having the empty seat between Maggie and I did help although my right leg was numb from the knee down by the time we arrived in Toronto forty minutes late. It appears the captain was almost right. We made up five minutes thanks to reduced headwinds.
|Yum, Yum., microwaved bum.
We waited until almost everyone had exited the plane before we got up and left. We walked up the ramp and were greeted at the top of it by four Canada Border Services Officers dressed in blue SWAT combat uniforms complete with boots, black leather gloves and 9 mm automatics on their hips.
They were positively drooling with anticipation over the possibility of doing a shock and awe on some traveller.
One agent checked our passport, while the other three stood with thumbs in their belts ready to pounce the moment I tried to attack them with my cane. I contrasted this over-the-top passport check with those I’ve experienced upon arrival in other countries, including the United States and have never seen a display of force like this. In a country like Canada it is both unnecessary and absurd. This is the first thing a visitor to Canada sees; four wanna be SWAT officers treating them with suspicion and mistrust with not a smile or a welcome to Canada between them. I understand the need for heightened security at airports but this is ridiculous.
|CBSA officer in full SWAT-style uniform
complete with black leather gloves;
the perfect fashion accessory for saying
Welcome to Canada.
The people on the plane had been through security, had their passports checked a half dozen times and were comprised primarily of tourists and Canadian citizens returning to their country. Did these fools think Air Canada had armed us while we on board the plane and were going to come storming up the ramp guns blazing?
“Flee the village! It’s over-tired tourists returning home in neck scarves,”
Four armed CBSA officers at the top of the ramp is just a touch extreme considering that even Air Canada only has one guy in a badly fitting blazer checking your passports when you board the plane pre-flight.
The simple reality is that the biggest security and smuggling issues are with airport employees in areas other than the arrival gates for travelers. This adolescent display of force is not only repellent to me but as a Canadian it is embarrassing. Canada has never had a terrorist attack at an airport but our border agents conduct themselves like we are living in the middle of Beirut in the ‘90s and they stand like storm troopers at a fascist rally so eager to check documents they can’t even wait until you go to a passport control exit counter.
|Leather gloves – check. Gun- check.
Remember not to smile at travellers-check
Going to be another great day!
Maggie and I are cleared by the SWAT wanna be’s and allowed to proceed.
We hobble over to get our luggage which takes an eternity thanks to Air Canada’s crack ground grew and then wheel it down to customs where we are breezed through without even being asked if we had anything to declare. I suspect it makes getting contraband into the country so much easier when all of the security is on a show of force at the top of the ramp when you’re exiting the plane and there is none when you wheel your luggage through.
I’m tired, sore and more than a little frustrated by the abject stupidity of the entire air travel process. It was designed by people who haven’t got a clue. But, it’s finally cigarette time and out I go. I find a quiet spot, plunk myself down and light up. It is heavenly despite what the anti-smoking crusade thinks.
We return to the terminal and I walk with Maggie to the departure gate which is only fifteen miles from where we are. We sit and wait for awhile and then our flight is called for boarding. Once again, I use the cane to get us priority boarding and this time I hobble more quickly. It doesn’t matter, there are already regular passengers on board. How do they do that?
We take off fifteen minutes behind schedule which pretty much suffices for on time with Air Canada and an hour later, we are in Ottawa. We sit in the plane out on the tarmac waiting for our gate because there is a plane now thirty minutes behind schedule still sitting where we’re supposed to park. Apparently nobody told them we were coming.
When we finally get to exit the plane, I take a quick look around for a beaver thinking that the next time we cross the Atlantic, we’ll use Canada’s national symbol rather than its national airline. I mean, really, how much more poorly could a rodent do than Air Canada?
We are over an hour late arriving and I’m tired and still feeling the after effects of the Air Canada cuisine; but we are home and we had a lovely time in Paris.
We’ll go back but frankly, I wish they’d build a bridge between Europe and North America so that we could just drive over the next time. Failing that, a very large beaver with a luggage compartment and that can swim long distances will suffice (and we’ll bring our own sandwiches)
I told you I was suffering from sleep deprivation. I’m becoming delusional.