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A Necessary Evil

By - September 11, 2005 (Updated: November 30, 2014)


For most expats, air travel is a necessary evil. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten pretty used to flying and I have no problem with short haul flights. Crossing the Atlantic however, leaves a lot to be desired.

I’ve just returned from the two-week marathon visit to Canada.

The trip consisted of visiting everyone I’ve ever met, being fed, spending time with family, shopping, being fed, staying out late, lots of cross-province driving, oh … and being fed. Did I mention sleep in there? No? That’s because I didn’t sleep.

“Oh well, at least you can sleep on the plane,” say well-meaning family members.

These same family members have never flown across the ocean and assume that since we fly overnight there will be ample sleeping time.

I realize that there are some lucky folk who have mastered the fine art of sleeping anywhere, under any circumstances. I am not one of these people.

For me, the cross-Atlantic red-eye flight is only slightly more pleasant than extensive dental surgery.

Perhaps the flight wouldn’t be quite so bad if we stayed in the air once we got up there. With a solid eight hours of flying time, sleep may be possible. However, flying from Halifax to Brussels goes something like this:

  • Depart Halifax airport sometime after 9p
  • Be offered a non-alcoholic beverage and a ‘snack’ (consisting of exactly 7 small morsels that are neither potato chip, nor cracker)
  • After slightly more than an hour, land in St John’s, Newfoundland to acquire more passengers and give the ground crew the opportunity to forget something vital like ‘snacks’ or headsets (yes, I did actually have to make the trip without in-flight ‘entertainment’ once)
  • After nearly two hours, get back in the air and fly to London.

This segment takes about four and a half hours

  • Start to watch in-flight movie at midnight
  • After movie ends, desperately attempt to get some sleep
  • After a total of eight minutes of sleep, be awoken for a ‘hot towel’
  • Now, at what my confused body thinks is 4am, I am offered a breakfast that has very little in common with French toast
  • Land in London and de-plane. Attempt to make it from terminal 1 to 3 while going through security no less than 7 times
  • Be informed that plane to Brussels is delayed
  • Try to sleep in BMI executive lounge while listening to passengers argue with staff because they missed their flight
  • Make way to gate where more passengers are arguing with staff because they failed to check in and are now not allowed to board the flight
  • Mass confusion on the plane because tickets were sold for a larger aircraft than the one we are on and seven rows of passengers have no seat
  • Finally in the air and land in Brussels after 20 hours of travel time

At this point panic sets in.

My entire trip home was overshadowed by impending dread. I am still without a residency card. While some officials had insisted that travel would not be a problem on my Canadian passport, others gave me a wary look and stated that it could be ‘risky’.

I had visions of being led into a small room by a large, unpleasant woman named Helga, who was donning rubber gloves and demanding my papers.

As is turned out, our customs officer was a large bald man who looked like he hadn’t smiled in three years.

He took our passports wordlessly and examined them in detail. As the silent minutes ticked by, I could hear the Jeopardy theme song in my head.

Finally he stamped Andrew’s passport and handed it back. Then he turned to mine. What was probably only 30 seconds seemed like 30 years. Finally the stamp came down and wordlessly my passport was handed back.

I was home.

Now I need a few weeks to recover from my ‘vacation’.

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