You just booked your next trip, googled all the best restaurants within walking distance to your hotel, and scouted out all the drool-worthy locations to be photographed in that will look best with a Valencia filter for your Instagram feed. You’re on cloud 9, bragging about all the fancy alcoholic beverages you’re going to consume and how every “Jose” at the on-site bar is going to try to make an honest woman out of you, one margarita at a time. The countdown is on!
I’ve always said that traveling would be a lot better if you were able to teleport to your destination, but until Apple develops an app for that, we’re forced to trek from place to place the old-fashioned way, via an aerodynamic submarine in the sky. Remember when the old fashioned way of travel still meant a horse and buggy? I miss those days…
Travel day arrives and you spring out of bed at an ungodly hour like it was Christmas morning, with your perfectly organized luggage that you packed a week in advance (ok, maybe that’s just me), oversized sun hat, lowered morals and your sense of adventure raring to go.
Since you spent the last of your money on that dolphin experience and are too cheap for valet, you end up driving yourself to the airport shuttle self-park lot. You’ve convinced yourself that you’re fully committed to your money-saving decision even though you’ve essentially just abandoned your forty thousand dollar vehicle for an entire week in a glorified impound lot with minimal security. You sardined your car in between a banged-up KIA and a F150 that had no business parking in that tiny spot in the first place. You try not to think about the fact that this pothole infested parkade in the middle of nowhere is bound to become paradise city for all the local homeless people and no amount of luxury car washes could erase the shame (and bodily fluids) left behind.
Waiting for your shuttle at the make-shift bus stop, you begin to take in your surroundings, which include the group of rowdy 20-something’s on spring break and the East Indian family of 12, traveling back to their home country bearing smuggled Canadian goods for all their loved ones in the village. Your only hope is that you don’t get stuck on the shuttle beside the mother and adult son, chatty-Cathy combo who probably still live together and share a Costco membership.
Sitting way to close for comfort next to strangers while you hang on to your own luggage for dear life on the 10-minute drive to the terminal that feels like an eternity, you surprisingly still manage to keep your spirits up.
In the past two years, I’ve been on my fair share of flights and my most recent traveling experience pretty much began exactly as described. After my off-road excursion in the Park n Fly death cab, I finally reached my terminal and walked into the giant clusterfuck of chaos that is the Toronto International airport.
I’m immediately submerged into a sea of disorganized travelers all trying to find their wills to live on an automated 10 x 10 self-check-in screen. They are all just one more error message away from canceling their travel plans altogether and opting to Skype grandma their final goodbyes instead of visiting her at the hospital, out of pure frustration and defeat. I realize how stressful the next hour of my life is going to be and start to wonder how all the silver-haired snowbirds head to Florida every winter without dropping dead right then and there in the middle of the airport check-in line.
If you haven’t been traveling in quite some time, I must warn you that there is very little human interaction at the airport these days, with the exception of the disgruntled American tourist at the kiosk in front of you trying to figure out how to correctly declare his firearms.
In recent years, the cost of air travel has immensely skyrocketed, but somehow the level of service has really taken a nosedive, just like John F Kennedy Jr’s single-engine into the Atlantic (too soon?). I can’t help but feel like I should be on the WestJet payroll for not only having to check myself into my own flight pre-arrival, choose my own seat but also print my own baggage tags for a bag that they charged me $25 for even bringing in the first place. Do they actually expect me to pack a week’s worth of cute outfits in one carry-on? I’ll be expecting my corporate discount card and my employee of the month plaque in the mail upon my return, WestJet!
The complimentary frisking at security is a nice touch, but I’m pretty sure that’s just an HR nightmare waiting to happen. After loading my own bag onto the carousel (yes, really), hoping that I didn’t just send my personal belongings to Sri Lanka, I begin my tiresome journey of endless line ups.
For anyone who doesn’t know me, I pretty much have the patience level of a saint. I’ve waited over two hours for a table at a restaurant once, WITH a reservation, and didn’t ask for a single thing except for how the prime rib was cooked that day. But nothing pushes me over the edge like long airport queues. Having to stand amongst the rest of the herded cattle before I’ve even had my first coffee and asked to enter my flight number and reason for traveling 100 times into seven different automated machines, basically makes me want to stab myself in the eye. This is probably the real reason you’re not allowed to bring sharp objects on planes anymore, the TSA would basically just become glorified suicide watch monitors for all the exhausted travelers who just can’t find a way out of this hell.
I manage to get through security unscathed, holding a bucket of vulnerability that contains my cell phone, jewelry, shoes, the contents of my entire purse, and basically everything except the shirt off my back. I have a brief moment of gratitude that I didn’t get pulled aside for “random screening” by the hard-shelled airport security officer with slicked-back hair and a blue surgical glove. I don’t know who’s angrier about being at the airport, me for having to basically strip naked before proceeding to my gate or them for having to practice the art of never cracking a smile ever in their life.
After buckling back up my strappy sandals and re-packing my things, I bolt to the nearest Starbucks for a venti half sweet, no-foam vanilla latte with a double shot of Xanax and I finally start to feel the anxiety in me subside. I quickly realize that the barista is clearly functioning at the same stress level as I am, as she hands me my drink with a version of my name written on the side (Nitasha). Listen, Starbucks I just overpaid for an already overpriced coffee, the least you can do is buy me the proper vowel.
With hours to kill, before you line up once again to board your flight, I start to wander through the airport which has become saturated with bars, overpriced jewelry, duty-free shops, pan-handling shoe shinners (are people actually still shining their shoes? Don’t all men just wear Converse now?) and a spa where I would totally be enjoying a massage if I were one of those distinguished women who traveled in full dress clothes and 9-inch heels.
You’ll probably notice that there are two types of women at the airport: The women in designer skinny jeans, a perfectly tailored blazer, and heels toting Michael Korrs luggage with red lips. And then there are the ones who just rolled out of bed, threw on stretched out Lululemon’s, a faded concert T-shirt, pulled their hair up into a scrunchie, and took an Italian shower in Vera Wang’s Princess perfume. I’m this woman.
Lingering at my gate, hoping I’m not sitting in front of the family with the screaming child wearing seat kicking Heelys, I soak up my final bit of the airport WiFi. I upload my obligatory checked-in to YYZ with a “Starbucks cup and Passport” photo to my social media feeds with some clever caption like: “catch flights, not chlamydia”. I realize that I’m literally the worst person in the world for making everyone I know feel shitty about themselves for never leaving their living room sofas. Let’s be honest, mission accomplished.
After boarding the elderly and the families traveling with children first (which I never understood, wouldn’t you want to board those fuckers last?), they finally call on all passengers in zone 3. You proceed to do the airplane version of a walk of shame to the economy seats at the very back of the plane, while the passengers in first class are already sipping complimentary champagne and looking down their noses at you like you just asked them if you could squeegee their windshield. At this point, I start to re-live all the mistakes I’ve made in life that got me to this point and wonder if I hadn’t stolen that Snack Pack from my childhood nemesis in grade three if my life would have ended up differently.
Trying not to knock anyone out with my oversized carry-on or poke anyone’s eye out with my obnoxiously large sun hat, I finally arrive at my seat, also known as my solidarity confinement cell for the next several hours.
I find myself getting sucked into the safety song and dance performed by Jed, the fabulously flamboyant male flight attendant, who proceeds to ask the parents on the flight why they willingly chose to travel with children (I mean, it’s what we’re all thinking). Thank god for Jed though, because he’s really the only in-flight entertainment airlines offer these days.
Gone are the days of watching the latest Tom Cruise movie with a full plate of bad airplane food on the laptop tray in front of you. Now you’re lucky if you get thrown a bag of dry pretzels and a splash of warm ginger ale. Sure, that outta hold me over for the next four hours, I’ve been meaning to get on the whole intermittent fasting thing a try anyway.
I start flipping through the airline duty-free catalog just to kill time, and it dawns on me that I had a weight limit on my luggage that I paid for, but this aircraft is housing a full inventory of Rolex watches, 26’ers of Grey Goose and bottles of perfume in the cabin? I’m really glad that I only packed three of my six hair styling brushes just so that the people in business class could take full advantage of shopping at the mall in the sky.
Nearing your destination, after countless hours and failed attempts at napping in an upright position in the cramped middle airplane seat, you can finally start to hear the sound of the ocean and the nearby outlet malls calling your name. Suddenly the painful blocked ears and sore neck become only a minuscule annoyance and the excitement that the beginning of your perfectly planned, seven-day itinerary, which includes a stop at the nearby Cheesecake Factory (*adds try every flavour of cheesecake on the menu to bucket list*), starts now!
Making your way to retrieve your luggage at carousel seven, praying to the baggage handler gods that your bags ended up on the correct flight, you can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel when you and your brightly coloured suitcase lock eyes like young, drunk lovers in a crowded bar. The crowd parts and you and your bag, which is now just as slightly damaged as you are, are finally reunited and all is right in the world.
If anyone has ever experienced the sheer anguish of lost luggage, you will understand how amazing it feels to be rolling through the airport upon arrival with the peace of mind that you won’t end up having to wear a swimsuit cover-up purchased at the hotel gift shop with a cartoon bikini body on it for the entire week.
Luckily, the moment you feel the warm sun on your skin and salt on your tongue (from all the Margaritas you’ve had to consume to calm your nerves), every frustration you’ve felt over the past 24 hours suddenly becomes null in void.
What I’ve been able to gain from escaping reality and seeing other parts of the world has always far outweighed the trials and tribulations of suffering through the traveling process. I may not ever understand why I can’t use my cellular data mid-flight or why in the 21st century we still believe that an inflatable life vest located under the seat in front of us is going to save our lives in the unfortunate event of a crash landing. But at least I can say that I didn’t hold myself back from experiencing worldly adventures.
I hope the next time you find yourself in the middle of a chaotic airport, you’ll be able to navigate your way through with little to no stress, but we all know that is probably just a pipe dream as traveling becomes more and more of a nightmare and airline employees become less and less helpful (or completely obsolete).
I think it’s safe to say that when the Wright brothers orchestrated their very first flight against all odds, they were unknowingly also creating the art of not giving a flying fuck because that seems to be the reoccurring trend of all airport personnel.