Over There (in the UK)

August 17, 2003 at 5 PM

I Almost Stole the Salt and Pepper Shakers

I returned to Montreal yesterday, catching an Air Canada flight out of Vancouver. Thanks to the Big Blackout, and Air Canada’s stubborn insistence on centralizing their operations in Toronto, the airport was a predictable den of chaos and grumpiness. My particular flight was direct, no stopping, and didn’t involve Toronto in any way really, so it was mercifully still on schedule when I arrived at the airport.

After changing my itinerary three times already, I was informed at check-in that the type of plane had changed (sorry, an “equipment change” — what is this, tennis?) and so the window seat promised on my reservation had evaporated. Not only that, but this attendant couldn’t assign me a seat at all, because “her computer was very limited”, despite my polite and calm requests.

Uh oh. A ticket, but no seat: it sounds like an overbooking disaster in the making.

I proceeded through security, to the gate, where there was already a platoon of passengers nervously lined up at the desk, but no agent in sight. It was still a little early though, so I took a seat among the hundreds of other stranded passengers (a flight to Toronto at the next gate was predictably late).

About twenty minutes before the scheduled departure time, an agent showed up and announced that boarding would commence, but only for passengers with seat numbers. Uh oh.

Airport antics never cease to amuse me; travellers and staff are as predictable as they are childish. The desk agents are infallibly surly (though due to staff cutbacks, they have more reason these days). Passengers rarely obey instructions and frequently do exactly the opposite of what they are told.

“We are now boarding rows 25 through 36 of the aircraft. We ask other passengers to please remain seated.” (Like a crossing of zebras when the lion strolls by, everyone gets up and gallops to the gate.)

As scheduled departure time strolled by and waved goodbye, I began to consider how it wouldn’t be so terrible if I volunteered to take a flight the next day and spend another night in Vancouver — not exactly harsh punishment.

Eventually, boarding of the lucky passengers finished and the agent announced he would now call those waiting by name and would everyone please stand away from the desk. (Half-hearted shuffling of feet as passengers reluctantly inch away.)

Apparently all of my previous flying horror stories has given me an in with the Gods of Chance, because my name was just the fifth called. Trying not to beam with pride, I casually walked up to the desk and received my boarding pass.

Looking at my ticket, I think, wow, row six! I’m usually in steerage at the rear of the plane. Hmm, that’s funny, I thought row six was in business class. Hmm, that’s funny, my boarding pass says Executive Class. Hey, I’m sitting in Executive Class! I’ve never been “bumped up” before.

Any chagrine I might have felt at my flight being delayed totally evaporated as I settled into the spacious, comfortable chair and began what would officially be the Best Flight Ever (hey, with my air luck, it doesn’t take much). I have always eyed the ever-tanned, well-heeled people of first class with a mixture of envy and scorn. Sure, who doesn’t want to be pampered, but it can’t possibly be worth that ludicrous price!

Can it? Hmm. A quick check gives a rough price of about $5000 for the seat I was in. Ouch. People actually pay that much to fly domestic? But man, what a treat. The handsome non-plastic dishes, the hot towel, polite staff, limitless free booze, ample leg room and really delicious food — presented in three courses! — have me wondering. Did I mention the sundried-tomato pesto salad artfully decorated with bocconcini? The strawberry glazed in chocolate? The savoury stir-fry with plump, fresh-tasting shrimp? Quelle différence. I think we even got different programming on the in-flight TV (although it still wasn’t what I’d call “first class”).

I nearly stole the cute little glass salt and pepper shakers, but some weird upper-class guilt and the gaze of the fellow next to me (clad in all-black designer clothing) held me back. Dear oh dear, spoil me a little, and suddenly I’m a respectable gentleman wondering when they’ll close the curtain to keep the riff-raff in economy from gazing on our grand opulence (and our, um, free-fueled crapulence).


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mediask | Aug. 18, 2003 — 5 PM

Congratulations! You sure got lucky on that one. My friend and I also got bumped up to exec after they double-booked our seats, until some asshole had the nerve to give up his seat (which happened to be by an empty one). I guess they rather bump up one person than two.

Tim | Aug. 19, 2003 — 10 PM

Previously: Salt and Sun

Subsequently: Canicule

August 2003
the Archives

In Earshot

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