I should have known at the first sign.
My son, Izzy, and I met recently at Winnipeg, Manitoba for a fishing trip by plane, and everything was sensational. The trip home, however, was something else, and I refuse to let it diminish the fishing experience. This is another chapter, however, and one that – like fishing – will live long in my memory.
It started out pretty well, with a circle around Lake Bolton as we set off on the bush plane, then a good 300 mile ride to the Winnipeg airport. There, Izzy and I made it through security and made the smart choice to eat a salad bowl for lunch after four straight days of fried pickerel and potatoes.
We parted ways soon, with my Air Canada flight to Toronto departing an hour before its West Jet trip to Calgary, and eventually back to Los Angeles.
The first clues of a 30-hour event are the return of the track, the flying suitcases
It was when my flight landed in Toronto that the trip started to turn sour. Toronto Pearson International Airport is a major hub not only for flights across Canada, but for a lot of international flights, and it is a very busy airport. As I landed, I could see through the plane’s window that there was rollback on the runway, and worse on the tarmac. As we headed to the terminal, the captain came over the loudspeaker, saying there was a delay and we had to wait for a door to be opened.
Looking out the window, it looked like an airplane parking lot, with Air Canada jets everywhere. And then, the first real clue about what to expect for the next 30 hours happened. Taking advantage of the bustle on the tarmac, I saw an employee driving a series of baggage carts across the field, when two suitcases flew off one of the carts. The driver never stopped, nor did any of the many other vehicles that passed the luggage on the tarmac. I could only wonder what was happening to my suitcase.
We finally found an open door, and when I disembarked and walked up the runway and into the terminal, the first thing I did was check the board of inbound and outbound flights, only to see the word “cancelled ” by my next flight to Cleveland. It was pretty clear, but just to make sure, I walked further into the terminal to another sign, and it also said my flight to Cleveland, on a perfectly calm and sunny Sunday, was indeed canceled.
By now, I was quite familiar with the Air Canada section of the Toronto airport, as I had a seven hour layover there on my trip to Winnipeg. I hadn’t planned it that way, but twice the airlines changed my flight from Toronto to Winnipeg, probably because I was flying economy class, because they didn’t eliminate previous flights, just my seats above.
Honey, don’t wait for supper; I’ll be late…a day or two
Anyway, I knew where to go to check on my canceled flight, but first I had to email my wife so she wouldn’t pick me up from the Cleveland airport. I didn’t pay for international calls for my trip, thinking that an occasional text (which I paid for separately for each) and free emails was the best solution.
Fortunately, I contacted her and let her know that I was working on a solution.
I found my way to the help desk shortly before a crowd of other disgruntled fliers (including a whole troop of Boy Scouts from Virginia who had been canoeing in Canada) but got a lady behind a plexiglass window that A: I could barely hear, and B: I could barely understand; to help me with my problem.
Like many travelers, I discovered that my flight to Cleveland had been canceled due to a lack of pilots, and Air Canada had no other option to fly me to Cleveland for the rest of the day. In fact, Air Canada’s best option was a 4:30 pm flight the next day…. in Chicago, then in Cleveland.
Now, it made no sense for me to fly west to Chicago for basically a quick one-hour flight south to Cleveland, but that, their computer said, was my only choice.
The only supplies were a sock full of fishing reels and an airplane pillow
I said to the lady “you better find me a hotel”, and after sorting it out with a supervisor, they printed me a voucher for a room at the Airport Marriott and gave me two vouchers $10 food voucher to use at any airport restaurant. .
While that sounds great, it actually only costs $10 Canadian, which will buy you about half a sandwich at the airport. I had snacks in my backpack so I decided to save my vouchers for the next day and walked out of the airport looking for a shuttle to the hotel.
I managed to find my way to the shuttle pick-up, and when I presented my voucher to the person working the front desk at the Marriott, he assured me I was in the right place and that the entire invoice would be on the Air Canada tab.
Now my only problem was that I had a nice hotel room on the ninth floor of a nice fancy hotel in Toronto, but I had no suitcase, no change of clothes, no toiletries. I had six fishing reels wrapped in white socks, an old shirt, snacks, paperwork, my passport and an airplane pillow in my backpack – that’s it.
I spent the next 18 hours showering, sleeping, and bored watching ESPN in my water bottle, waiting for the time when I could return to the airport.
Even the return to the airport had moments
I left at 11:30 am and spent almost an hour outside on the bench watching how the other half of the world lives. I gave up my place on the midday shuttle to a family in a hurry and caught the next one at the airport, where I had to go through security and customs before I could find my way to my door.
Online, I was between an Aussie traveling to Austin, Texas for a convention, and a man returning home to Huntsville, Alabama. He was wearing a Duck’s Unlimited hat, so I struck up a conversation with him. He told me he was in Canada for a trap shooting competition. After competing in championships in all 50 states, he was now making his way through shoots in Canada, having competed in the Quebec championships.
Unfortunately, there had been a tangle with his gun in security, and now he was worried he wouldn’t clear customs in time to catch his flight to Nashville. The queue was long and only three agents were working for passengers bound for the United States.
Eventually we both made it, and he got on his flight, even though they were boarding when he arrived. I was scheduled from the same gate two hours later. With time to burn, I checked my food options and went with a chicken sandwich from Wahlburgers, but still had to pay for a drink and tip out of my own pocket.
I’m a little late, a few looks, but he’s flying back
Now all I had to do was wait for my flight to Chicago and then to Cleveland.
But my flight to Chicago was delayed, and then we sat on the runway queuing to take off. That left me very little time in Chicago to catch my flight to Cleveland. I needed to change terminals, and in a light jog, I started making my way from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1, knowing all the time that my flight to Cleveland was about to take off.
Back in the US, I was able to use my phone, so I called my wife, who was able to see online that my flight was boarding. Hurrying through the hallways and walking the escalators, I headed for Terminal 1. I could see my gate 22 in the distance, but I couldn’t pass up a chance to stop in the restrooms of the first men. There were no passengers in the hall at gate 22 when I finally arrived, just a ticket agent, who waited patiently while I rummaged through my backpack for my boarding pass.
I’m usually not the last person on the plane, but sometimes you just can’t help it. In fact, you can tell when you’re just under the wire when the stewardess addresses the passengers over the loudspeakers and you’re asked to wait outside the plane so you don’t interrupt her. .
Now a quick flight to Cleveland, get my bag, and an hour drive and I’ll be home. Not so fast, however.
Big surprise: lost luggage
Of course, my suitcase never made it to Cleveland. Why would it be?
So now, while my wife waits for my call in the airport parking lot, I fill out paperwork for my lost luggage.
“Is there anything in your bag that if we opened it we would know it was yours?” asked the agent.
“Yes,” I said, “there are about 100 fishing lures in there and six spools of fishing line.”
“Well,” said the agent, “it usually takes about two to seven days to find luggage. We’ll let you know.”
Two days later, at 3:50 in the morning, I heard the wheels of my suitcase rolling on the floor of my veranda. Everything came back safe and sound.
That’s not the end of the story, however.
And, another surprise: COVID strikes
When I woke up in the morning at the Marriott in Toronto, I had a scratchy throat, but I attributed that to sleeping in the air conditioning after four days of living in God’s Country in the deep woods of Manitoba.
The next morning, however, I started having a runny nose and a sore throat, and two days later I tested positive for COVID. Now, seven days later, I still haven’t tested negative, although I now feel fine and have only ever had mild symptoms (morning fevers, body aches). The real problem now is that my wife is in the middle of COVID.
So, although I always wear an N95 mask in airports and planes, somewhere along the line I caught the virus, and now my wife has it.
My trip back from Winnipeg was a nightmare, but that didn’t spoil my fishing trip of a lifetime with my son at Bolton Lake Lodge. It only added to the story.
Field Correspondent Art Holden can be reached at [email protected].