Dispatches from the Montréal Airport


The starting point, early Saturday

It’s been some time since our intrepid correspondent filed from an airport, and the time seemed right. Well, perhaps it’s more accurate to say that writing an airport dispatch seemed one way to lure the mind away from dispirited contemplation of the contrast between the gentle rain of a cool Valencian morning and the near-featureless expanse of white filling the giant Montreal airport windows.

Airport experiences are so often marked by lines of legendary proportion, confusion, paperwork regarding lost luggage (remember last year’s dispatches from the Madrid airport?), mad dashes with unwieldy burdens or glassy stares during interminable delays. Those tend to be the times we remember and lament, but there are others. My experience checking in for my flight from Valencia to Zurich this morning was the shortest, easiest and most pleasant in my life. At the next stage, though I didn’t have an abundance of time to make my connection to Montreal, there were no actual snags.



Getting off in the Montreal airport I thought my luck had run out, because there was an agent waiting to waylay me with what I assumed was bad news—that my bag had gone to Istanbul, perhaps. The agent was collecting passengers bound for the US, and once she’d gathered about ten of us, she asked us to follow. It turns out that it wasn’t a “break it to them gently” kind of thing, but all part of the friendly service. After a nice cardio workout (my backpack isn’t huge, but it does guarantee that any exercise undertaken while it’s mounted can qualify as weight-bearing), we got another chance to practice our speed/agility at the security checkpoint event, removing our shoes, laptops, metal objects, zip-top bags of little liquids, etc.

Shortly thereafter I was surprised to see my name on a monitor, next to an indication in French that my bag was benefiting from the scrutiny of the Canadian Powers That Be. Once the spot next to my name on the monitor changed to the French for “Canadian Customs Smiles Upon You,” I was pointed in the direction of another maze-like walk toward the gate for my next flight.

The flight from Zurich had been late leaving, but I had a four-hour layover, so I was not concerned.

This is where the ominous music might be cued, or the “little-did-she-know” segue employed. I really did begin this post as a contrast to previous accounts of Travel Travail, but alas, contrast becomes comparison. As I settled in for my wait, I became aware of people around me talking about news that their connecting flights out of Philadelphia had been canceled, and what that might mean for the rest of their day. I ought to have been bracing myself for similar news of plans foiled, I guess, given what weather in Boston has been like in the past month. But perhaps it’s for the best that I was unbraced for the announcement that Logan airport was closed. Don’t I remember that if you’re braced in preparation for impact, you’re more likely to break bones?

The gate agent was polite and informative, though the information (that we could be re-booked on a flight for the following morning at 10:15, and that the airline couldn’t provide accommodations) was not very welcome. I think it’s been about 30 years since I spent the night in an airport, and it wasn’t that fun then. Still, I had no kids along, and the seats didn’t have metal armrests making lying across them impossible, so I considered it a possibility. Then I was told that we would have to go and collect checked bags and clear customs, and that made everything seem a little more burdensome.

I hadn't even thought of this option (from blog.sleepinginairports.net).

I hadn’t even thought of this option (from blog.sleepinginairports.net).

I have a young friend who decided a couple of years back to give homelessness a try, so he headed for the California coast. The report I got later was that one of the hardest things about it was getting enough sleep. If you’re alone, there’s no one to watch your back while you’re trying to sleep, protecting you from getting robbed or stabbed.

The Montreal Airport doesn’t strike me as a place that sees many stabbings, and given that Canadians are renowned for being nice, there probably aren’t a lot of robberies either (though by its very nature, an airport is bound to see its fair share of non-Canadians on the premises, so you never know). Still, wondering whether someone might abscond with my very bedraggled suitcase is the sort of thing that doesn’t aid peaceful slumber.

As my spot at my erstwhile departure gate had both a wifi signal and a plug, and the next steps didn’t look very appealing, I stayed where I was for a while. The gate agent reminded me that he’d have to let me out through a special door to send me towards the customs rigamarole, and as we chatted, he realized that I hadn’t just shown up from my nearby house to be unable to fly to Boston, but that I had arrived from Valencia via Zurich. Ah, that changed matters. Yes, the airline would get me a hotel room. I was a little surprised that my mid-journey status seemed to be news to him, as he’d been looking at my info earlier on his monitor, but I guess he’d had a lot to deal with at the time.

I also felt a little dizzy at the thought that but for the chance conversation, I’d have been either trying the airport semi-sleep gig, or figuring out the last-minute-booking of a random hotel room option.

The next order of business was The Getting of The Bag, which involved more protracted maze-walking, hypnotic watching of many suitcases not belonging to me at a variety of baggage carousels, plus a few conversations with airline personnel and a walkie-talkie exchange that finally led to the solution to the mystery. Once I was dragging the bag again, I eventually found the line that I had been told was the path to the voucher, and there I could begin doing my impression of Lot’s Wife: for all the moving we were doing, Pillar of Salt about covered it.

from diacritics.org

from diacritics.org

And yet, time did pass, the line did move, and at long last I had my coveted hotel voucher, as well as directions to the hotel shuttle. Even later I had a seat on said shuttle, followed by a plastic key card, a room number, and a slip of paper promising something to eat. There was a large indoor courtyard with a lot of Caribbean décor, a pool and a splash pad (and me without my bathing costume!), a lounge singer of somewhat advanced years in possession of electronic equipment that enabled him to produce a marimba beat, and then my room, blessedly at some distance from the lounge singer and his instrument of choice.

I’ll draw a veil over the part of my journey comprising hours 19 and onward. You’ve come quite far enough, and you don’t need to wade through the rest of it with me (this isn’t Charlie on the MTA, after all—I did get home eventually).

I’ll just close with this thought to ponder: have you ever gotten to the unfasten-your-seatbelt stage of a flight and noticed the way your half-full water bottle is oddly compressed and sucked in on itself? Does it make you wonder how our own cells feel about this air travel experience?


6 thoughts on “Dispatches from the Montréal Airport

    • I may have to look into that. Actually, I think it was on Spain-ward trip that I saw a guy with a contraption that was sort of a scooter/carry-on. It was a rolling carry-on that had a fold-down section in back with a back wheel and a place to put your foot. It looked like just the thing! At least, I think I saw it–maybe I was dreaming. I have missed some sleep lately, I admit….

  1. Somehow I missed this post when it first went up, but laughed reading it now. It is amazing that jet travel was once considered glamorous, isn’t it? It sounds like the trip the Valencia was worth it all, but the travel really can be a bit dehumanizing. Welcome back!

    • I also remember that when I was a very young child, my idea of the most glamorous profession possible was “stewardess.” Considering the schedules they keep and the work that they do, I’d say those flight attendants are unlikely to consider their job the pinnacle. Let’s hope that at least they see some up-side.

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