Last weekend I made a rather eventful trip up to Canada via Buffalo. It was my uncle and aunt's 25th Wedding Anniversary and my cousin was throwing them a surprise party that he wanted me to attend. This is the story of the journey....
20 January 2001
Atlanta Hartsfield to Detroit Metro
Headed out to the airport around 6am for the 730am flight. It was a freezing cold morning in ATL and I was almost grateful for the ironically warmer weather forecast in my eventual destination of Toronto. The MARTA ride down to the airport was quick and painless, but I marvelled at the number of Delta Medallion members in my compartment. Of the 8 people aboard the train, 5 (including myself) sported Medallion tags on their luggage.
At Hartsfield, I wandered over to the NW desks and observed a long line at the check-in desk (though not as bad as the horrendously long one at UA). I tried to use the E-Service Center to check-in, but the system wouldn't let me since I had a mix of NW/CO in my itin and asked me to see an agent. Fortunately, the Elite/First Class line was non-existant so I went straight up to the agent amid dirty looks from the proletariat patiently waiting in the coach line.
The agent at the desk pulled up my itinerary and remarked that I was "taking the scenic route" to BUF. I told her that this was the most direct routing available due to reduced service on Saturday mornings. She laughed, and told me that it also meant more miles for me as she handed me the boarding passes for all 3 segments and directed me to gate D-16. I noticed that she forgot to ask me the "security questions", but decided not to make an issue of it.
I stopped at the newsagent along the way and snagged a copy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, so I arrived just as the gate agent was calling the courtesy pre-board for First Class pax. I strolled on board, deposited my bag into the overhead bin and settled into 1A just before they released the dam and allowed the stream of humanity to flow aboard. The Flight Attendant was very friendly and took our drink orders - I had an Orange Juice while the nice Japanese gentleman in 1B asked for a bottle of water. Right at the end of the boarding process a family of 4 non-revs came on board and grabbed the last remaining seats up front. The pax in 1D asked the young boy in the family if he would prefer the window seat and the kids face lit up, but his dad politely declined on his behalf. What a well brought up family of non-revs!
We taxied out and were quickly airborne from runway 27R. We climbed through the crowds right as the sun was peeking over the horizon, creating a magnificent vista that cannot be equalled by anything on the ground. As soon as we levelled out, there was a breakfast service consisting of a bowl of cereal, a bagel with cream cheese and a cup of strawberry yogurt. Pretty pathetic for First Class, but since coach only got a stale muffin I decided to count my blessings and engrossed myself in the newspaper after expending all of oh... 35 seconds to polish off the food.
Flight time to DTW was 1:21 and we were at gate F12 within minutes of touchdown, parking between the DC10 headed to SJU and the 757 bound for PHX, both of which dwarfed the tiny DC9. I emerged into the terminal and began the long trek over to B Concourse for my CO Express flight to CLE.
20 January 2001
Detroit Metro to Cleveland Hopkins
Since breakfast on the flight up had been far from satisfying, I decided to grab a couple of Croissan'wiches from Burger King on the way to the CO gates. I had these polished off by the time I reached the Starbucks in the main atrium, so I grabbed a Mocha Frappucino from there to quench my thirst and finally arrived at B3 just in time to watch the EWR flight boarding after being delayed a few minutes at the security checkpoint thanks to the darn pin in my jaw.
I settled down in a somewhat comfy chair and began to leaf through the AJC's weak offerings on an especially slow newsday. Apparently Dubya's first day on the new job was only worth about the same column space as the department store lingerie ads (I read those for the articles, honest I do!). During this leisurely hiatus, the agent came up to me and offered me a gate check tag for my carry-on bag which I accepted with much thanks. I jokingly asked her if there were any elite upgrades available on the 19 seater and she deadpanned back that "I'm sorry sir, but First Class is full". She was either very ignorant or very well versed at keeping a straight face, but her competence in other areas convinced me it was probably the latter.
Soon enough the time came for all 16 passengers to traipse across the icy tarmac to the tiny Beech 1900 that had overnighted at DTW and seemed to have accumulated about an inch of snow during that period. We clambered aboard into the still freezing cabin and waiting for what seemed like an eternity while we were fuelled and de-iced before the pilots could turn the heating on. We had an all-female flight crew today and the co-pilot was a young woman who had to be at least 6'5" tall and not a day over 21. She was very pleasant though and I felt sorry as she struggled to keep from bumping her head during her safety demo.
We taxied out quickly and were soon airborne from 27L, the first time that I have seen this runway in use for departures at DTW. Flight time to CLE was a very brisk 24 minutes which I spent admiring the sheer natural beauty of the frozen lake below us until we touched down and taxied to concourse D.
20 January 2001
Cleveland Hopkins to Buffalo-Niagara
I emerged from the gate and checked the departure boards, only to find that my flight to BUF was "indefinitely delayed". I spoke to the agent and a redcoat who told me that our aircraft was on ground in STL and would be leaving there soon enough, at which time they would have better information. I asked if they would be willing to transfer me to a YYZ flight at 230pm in the event that BUF ran really late and they agreed, but they were confident it wouldn't come to that. Sure enough, about 10 minutes later we were informed of the revised departure time of 140pm, around 75 minutes behind schedule. The agent handed out meal vouchers and I strolled over to Jody Maroni's Sausage Kingdom to partake of my repast.
After lunch, I spent a while checking voicemail and making calls (if only they had a President's Club on Concourse D, what a wonderful world it would be...) so it felt like only minutes before the ERJ-135 from STL pulled into the gate and discharged its human cargo. The ground crew did a quick turnaround and I was the first passenger aboard when they began Elite boarding. For the first time in my memory, the agent invited "Continental OnePass Elite Members as well as our partner Northwest WorldPerks Elite Members" to preboard - a nice touch for the NW/CO transplants like myself.
I settled into my exit row seat and leafed through the SkyMall catalog for the (n+1)th time while the rest of the folks filed aboard. The flight itself was quick and comfortable like all ERJ flights tend to be and we touched down at BUF after only 31 minutes flight time. It took the agents around 15 minutes to lower the jetway though, so we finally emerged into the terminal around 245pm and I headed off to the rental car counter.
20 January 2001
Buffalo, NY to Toronto, ON
Buffalo is one of the few Dollar locations that does not recognize my FASTLANE membership, so I had to stand in line with the rest of the folks and wait my turn. Jeez, those small priviledges can spoil you! The agent asked me for a second set of picture ID apart from my driver's license - the first time I have had that happen - evidently I don't look like I did at age 18 anymore!
With my identity verified, she handed me a set of keys and told me it was the "Grey Lanos in S-5". I was like "the grey WHAT?". Evidently, Dollar now rents stuff other than "quality products of the DaimlerChrysler Motors Corporation". Chrysler - Daewoo - what's the difference anyway....
The drive into the Great White North was very uneventful and was highlighted by a very cute Canadian Customs agent at the Queestown-Lewiston bridge. She had a killer smile and seemed to be impressed by the number of stamps in my passport, to which she added yet another. The traffic on the Canadian side of the border was considerably lighter and correspondingly quicker and I made great time to my cousin's house in Scarborough arriving there just after 5pm. He arrived (was driving in from London) a few minutes later and we proceeded to get ready for the surprise party that evening. My aunt's cousin had also flown up from NYC for the event and he came with us.
The party was being held at a friend's place in Markham and my uncle and aunt thought that they had just been invited there for dinner, unaware of the multitude of people lying surreptiously in the darkness waiting to yell "SURPRISE!" as they walked through the door. The party itself was a blast and the free flowing alcohol had me cursing my offer to be a designated driver for the evening, but I held firm and stayed dry. I spent a while chatting with the NW Station Manager for YYZ (another old family friend) and we discussed the new World Business Class and the recent aircraft orders.
The party ran into the wee hours of the morning and we got back to the house around 2am. We spent a few hours chatting and then turned in for the night (or morning, if you are a stickler for semantics).
21 January 2001
We all slept in on Sunday morning and emerged from our respective comatose states between 10am and noon. My aunt (who is an excellent cook) whipped up a nice brunch of veal cutlets and pasta which we devoured quickly. The afternoon plans called for us to drive up to Peterborough to visit another cousin of mine who lives on a farm there. We spent a couple hours there chatting with her and admiring the horses. They have a huge German Shepherd named "Alex" and also a tiny kitten that was appropriately named "Audi" - short for "Hors d'Oeurve"!!!
My favorite restaurant in North America is a small Korean place in Scarborough called simply enough "Korean Barbeque Restaurant". Their prices have gone up, but for Can$14.99 you still get all you can eat of Chicken, Beef, Lamb, Shrimp, Salmon, Squid, Liver and Tongue. They put you at a table with a grill in the middle and ply you with bowls of the meats and sauces that you then proceed to cook for yourself. Ummm... heaven! The sake (a steal at Can$3.99) flowed freely and once again a fine time was had by all. We got home around 11pm since the kids had school the next morning.
Around 2am, my cousin gets a phonecall from his friend Sarah in London, ON. To cut a long story short, we needed to drive out there ASAP and drop some stuff off for her and then get back in time to drop my aunt's cousin to the airport for his 930am flight back to LGA. We decided to take my rental car (hey, its free unlimited miles after all!) and got onto the 401 Westbound with just over 200 kms to London ahead of us.
There were hardly any cars on the road, so we made great time all the way upto the 427 intersection. We were chatting and had the radio on, so I hardly noticed how fast we were going until I spotted the unmistakeable sight of a pair of Crown Victoria headlights keeping pace with me in the rearview mirror. I tried to slow down, but it was too little too late. They hit their lights and I pulled over to the side of the highway to deal with Ontario's finest.
As a former Law Enforcement Officer myself, I was impressed by the professionalism displayed by the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) officers. The officer told me that he had stopped me for speeding and asked if I knew "how fast (I) was going, eh?". I replied "probably around 140 to 160 kilometers". He chuckled and said "try 184, eh". OUCH! I didn't realize a Daewoo could go that fast! I produced my license and rental agreement for his scrutiny and he went back to his car to run my information while his partner kept a watchful eye on us.
A few minutes later he came back up to the car and informed me that due to the nature of the crime ("reckless and wanton driving") and since I was a foreign national, he was going to have to place me under custodial arrest. I groaned inwardly at the thought of spending the night in a Canadian jail and handed my wallet (with credit cards) and cellphone to my cousin as I stepped out of the vehicle. The officer pulled out his cuffs while his partner began to check my cousin's ID. Just as he was about to cuff me, the partner goes "hang on a second". My dearest cousin, who is a member of the Royal Canadian Field Artillery Reserve (yes, Canada has an army! who knew....) had the presence of mind to produce his military ID, which lent us some semblance of credibility.
The two of them conferred for a minute or two as I stood in the freezing cold with traffic zipping by me at the rate of knots. They told me to sit back in my car as a supervisor pulled up behind them, and I thanked my lucky stars for the stay of execution. The supervisor pulled away and Officer Gordon came back to my vehicle and informed me of his decision.
I had been spared! Rather than placing me under arrest, I was to receive a ticket for 160kph in a 100kph zone (the highest possible speed that he could write me for without arresting me) and also a summons that "commands (me) in Her Majesty's name to appear before the Ontario Court of Justice... and to be dealt with according to law". God Save The Queen! I still had to make arrangements to have an "agent" appear for me in court that day (since I will be in HKG), but it was a small price to pay in exchange for this.
I thanked Ofc. Gordon profusely and he told me to try and keep my speed within 130kph from there on out, which I agreed to and off we continued to London, 35 minutes delayed but with our sweet freedom undenied to us. The rest of the drive was unremarkable (and slower) and we got to London just after 430am and met up with Sarah at a local donut shop. A few cups of coffee later, we were back on the road to Toronto (with my cousin driving as I took a nap).
I woke up around Missisuaga and called CO to see if I could delay my flight out of BUF to the afternoon so that I could arrange a legal agent before I left Canada. The agent could hardly control his laughter as I told him of the reason for my request, and he offered to document my record and waive the change fees! Maybe I should get busted more often, eh? We got back to the house around 730am and I immediately headed back on the road towards the airport so that I could drop off my aunt's cousin for his flight to LGA.
22 January 2001
Toronto, ON to Buffalo, NY
The traffic on the 401 was as bad as I have ever seen it on a Monday morning, and it took us almost an hour to get to Pearson. This was my first time at the nice new Terminal 3 and it was very impressive. I escorted the elderly man to the AA desks, made sure he filled out his customs form correctly and bid him adieu. We then spent a while trying to sort out my legal difficulties, until finally deciding that my cousin would appear in my place on February 21 and get a trial date set for mid-April when I will be back in Toronto.
Around 1030am, I got back on the road with the intention of making the CO flight out of BUF at 112pm. The drive down to BUF took a little over 90 minutes and I arrived at the airport via the Peace Bridge just after noon. The rental car return was painless and I walked over to the main terminal to check in for my flights.
22 January 2001
McDonnell Douglas MD-80
Buffalo-Niagara to Newark International
As is customary at BUF, there was no agent manning the Elite/First Class counter, so I took my place in the regular line behind a group of what appeared to be Asian tourists. The line moved swiftly enough and I arrived at the desk shortly thereafter and presented my photo ID to the agent. I must've looked like something the cat dragged in considering my dishevelled state - sleep deprived, unshaven and dressed in a pair of jeans and a faded old polo shirt. The agent tapped around on the keyboard and her eyes opened wide when she read the notation that the telephone agent had inserted in my record (I'm still not sure what it said, but it evoked some kind of reaction from everyone who read it!). She tapped about some more and muttered with a puzzled look - "Thats weird, it seems to have put you in First Class". I replied - "Yes, its the new EUA system". She responded "But thats for Elite members". I smiled and handed over my NW Elite card with a smug "Exactly!". That shut her up for a while. I received my boarding card for seat 2B on the BUF-EWR flight, but only coach for the EWR-ATL at 4pm. I asked if any of the later flights had First Class availability and she printed out another 2B card for the 6pm flight.
I walked over to the gate and watched the JetBlue flight to JFK board, then a CommutAir Beech 1900 arrive from BDL in US Airways colors, but Continental Connection titles! Finally the MD80 from EWR arrived and the turnaround process began. In the meanwhile I called an old college friend who now works in Manhattan to see if she wanted to meet up for drinks during my layover and she invited me into the city to meet up with her. I was the first on board and relaxed in my seat with a much-needed ice cold Coors Light. Due to my total exhaustion, I fell asleep before the doors even closed and woke up only as the gear was being lowered on final approach to EWR. It was a lovely cloudless day and the Manhattan skyline was clearly visible off the port wing.
I was the first person to deplane at EWR and immediately went over to the Customer Service desk to see what I could do about pushing my EWR-ATL flight back to later in the evening. I spoke to Emmanuel there who appeared to understand very little of what I was saying, but kept nodding and saying "of course you can do that". I had him verify availability on the 830pm flight, which he confirmed was wide open and then headed out for the bus stop. The NJ Transit bus #62 was waiting at the stand when I emerged, so I quickly clambered aboard and paid the requisite $1 fare for the hop over to Newark Penn Station.
22 January 2001
New York, NY
The bus got me into Penn Station with about 5 minutes to spare for the 312pm train into the city. I quickly bought my roundtrip ticket from the machine and boarded without delay. On arrival at Penn Station, I grabbed a quick bite from a nearby restaurant and then hopped a cab to my friend's office at 52nd and Park. After dumping my carryon there, we headed out to the Barnes & Nobles on 54th street where we spent a couple hours chatting over coffee and pastries. We headed back to her office around 6pm and I called CO to confirm that the 830pm flight was still running as scheduled.
The agent who answered seemed to be very inexperienced and almost got into a panic when I told him what I was trying to do. Then he pulled up my record and got into an even bigger tizzy after reading the comments. He said that he would have to let a supervisor handle the case, which was really strange since all I was asking about was availability on the 830pm flight!
The supervisor came on the line shortly and assured me that there would be no problem with my standing by for the later flight (albeit in coach since F was booked full) and that she would call down to the gate herself to tell the 6pm flight that I would not be showing up. I thanked her and she replied that she was "glad I could help after your hectic day today".
My friend and I shared a cab to Penn Station where we went our seperate ways and I got to the airport at around 740pm without any further hiccups. I checked in at the desk and was handed a boarding card for 18A with an advisory to check with the gate about the upgrade.
22 January 2001
Newark International to Atlanta Hartsfield
As expected, I set off the metal detector while walking down to the gate, but when the handheld detector also failed to produce any metal (pin in my jaw), I was subjected to the full frisk and patdown. I was just relieved that it was happening now and not at 3am that morning!
Boarding had already commenced by the time I presented myself at the gate and inquired about the upgrade. The kind-looking agent took one look at my boarding pass and went "Oh, you are the person who couldn't make the previous flight. You have had a really crappy day, haven't you honey?". I just nodded dumbly and made my most pathetic doggy eyes (the things we do for upgrades!). She told me that she had only one person who hadn't yet checked in and there were 2 Platinum companions ahead of me on the list, but she would see what she could do. In the meanwhile she advised, I should go aboard and take my coach seat.
I settled into 18A and checked my voicemail, mostly full of soap-on-a-rope jokes from assorted friends now that the news of my run-in with the law had spread. Right as the door was about to close, the F/A came up to me and quietly asked if I was "the person with the legal problems". I laughed and answered in the affirmative. She then told me that 2B was available for me if I would like to have it. I accepted gratefully and headed down the aisle. As I did so, I spotted the gate agent standing in the galley - she smiled at me and stepped off the aircraft before I had a chance to go up and thank her. The doors quickly closed and we pushed back immediately.
I downed a stiff Vodka-Orange after take off and then settled down for a nap. The flight was a rather lengthy 1:53 and we landed in ATL a few minutes behind schedule. I grabbed MARTA home and thanked my lucky stars for the hundredth time that day! I was still a free man!
"The A340-300 may boast a long range, but the A340 is underpowered" -- Robert Milton, CEO - Air Canada