After a bit more than two weeks of great family time at our son’s new home in Minneapolis, the wanderlust called. We travelled in two stages from Minneapolis St Paul’s (MSP) Airport to St John’s, the capital of Newfoundland & Labrador. It was to be a long day, leaving the house at 6.45am and not arriving at our destination until after 10pm. At least that was the plan but, as with many plans, things can go awry all too often on long journeys.
I’d read about horrendous queues at airport security in the US and MSP got regular mentions as one of the worst. Oliver had warned that on his frequent business flights there had been many occasions where passing through security could take an hour or more. So we were prepared for long queues and boredom.
Once in the terminal we went to the Delta Airlines check-in desk. We were actually flying with the
Canadian airline WestJet but our flight to Toronto was a codeshare on a Delta Airlines aircraft. Check-in is mostly a self-service activity these days and so it proved to be with Delta. It was all quite simple until we came to a bit where the system asked when we were leaving the country. That seemed a strange question given we were preparing to board a flight that morning and leaving the US for Canada. Fortunately help was at hand. It turned out that the question was “when will you be leaving Canada?”. Problem solved. The check-in terminal then produced two boarding passes and the guy who had helped a few moments ago, appeared with two luggage tags, attached the to the bags and the process was over. Total time from entering the terminal was ten minutes, maximum. Pretty good.
Next, was the dreaded security fpr which we had allowed plenty of time. Our boarding passes showed that we had been awarded “TSA Pre-Check” which means that we only need low-level scanning. No idea why we were given this status but it was very welcome. There were about six people ahead of us in the Pre-Check line and everything moved very quickly. We weren’t required to remove liquids from our carry-on bags nor did we have to separate out our laptops and Kindles. It was easy. So, as with check-in, in a maximum of ten minutes we were airside and ready to go with oodles of time in hand.
A quick check on the departure screens showed that our flight was scheduled to depart on time, two hours away. Plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast. I recognised the name of one eating place, “Rock Bottom”. They are a brewery chain that install micro-breweries in every outlet. They’re a Milwaukee based business but we first came across them in Chicago and knew that they served good quality pub food. Alcohol was not on our agenda so early in the day.
Breakfast of scrambled eggs with bacon and fried potatoes was served in giant portions. Why is it
that everything has to be so big in America? So we struggled on washing the food down with orange juice and coffee. A very satisfying breakfast and something that would definitely keep us going through the journey to Toronto.
Before heading to the gate, a quick check of the screens showed that our gate had changed and was now a long way from the main hall of the terminal where we were. The shuttle train that normally services the distant gates was out of order so we walked travellator after travellator then miles of corridor until we reached the gate area. Up to this point we didn’t have seats assigned but on asking the gate agent she said, if we wanted them, we could have emergency exit seats which come with much more legroom and at no extra cost. A definite yes was said to that idea.
A short while later the flight was called and we boarded the narrow bodied commuter jet. Once we were all in our seats one of the two flight attendants – stewardesses – came down the aisle and addressed the eight of us who were in the emergency exit seats. “Do you understand the emergency procedures? I need a verbal from everyone individually.” Then she pointed at each of us in turn and waited for us to say “Yes”. Ordeal over and the plane could be pushed back from the air-bridge.
I had a window seat – Margaret prefers the aisle – and had a good view over the North American landscape. The route took us over Wisconsin State, then Lake Michigan, Michigan State, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and the Canadian State of Ontario. On a bit of a whim, I wondered if the satellite-based mapping system in my phone worked while in the plane and with airplane mode switched on. It did, perfectly. So for the rest of the journey I was able to identify towns and rivers as we flew over them.
The plane landed twenty minutes early at Toronto Pearson International airport. Normally that would sound great but for us it meant that our timetabled four-hour layover would now be extended. On disembarking we had to go through Canadian immigration which was very straightforward. Then it was baggage collection followed by customs and then rechecking our bags for the onward flight. That used up the twenty minutes so we still had four hours to kill.
In an unfamiliar airport it is always a good idea to have some idea of where the departure gate is located and whether there are enough facilities there to meet your needs. So off we set and what a good job we did. After about two miles on travellators, we found ourselves at the top of one of the longest escalators in the world. Then it was another set of travellators before coming to another escalator going upwards to the sky. This deposited us in what must have been a satellite terminal. Fortunately, it was well serviced with cafes, bars and restaurants. We decided to stay there and got a table in a restaurant.
Nearing time for the flight, we wandered along to the gate only to discover that the flight was going to be delayed. Although the aircraft was at the stand, we were told that the pilot was en route from Ottawa and his plane had been diverted to another airport. Every fifteen minutes or so the gate agent announced the progress of our captain. His plane was on the ground at Hamilton, Ontario. His plane was last in a queue of seven for take-off. His plane was in the air. His plane was landing at Toronto. He had disembarked and was being transported to the plane. He was on the plane and doing his pre-flight checks. The plane was ready for boarding. Top marks for information, it made the delay less frustrating.
The flight took off one and a half hours late. We’d been on the ground for hours and hours. Still we were now on the way to St John’s and Newfoundland. WestJet have great cabin crew and they managed to make a routine airline food and drink service feel personal. I had a window seat again and was able to watch the ground passing below us. The initial sight was Lake Ontario which we followed to the end of the water. Then it was the St Lawrence River. Unfortunately, the plane was passing through increasing cloud and night was beginning to fall. When you are travelling eastwards, the day turns to night very quickly.
And then, just as it was getting a little boring, the plane started the descent to St John’s. Adjusting our watches, etc, was a unique experience for us. Newfoundland is three and a half hours behind GMT so our watches had to be advanced by one and a half hours. (Hope that makes sense!) The plane touched down about ninety minutes behind schedule. It could have been worse. However, it was now 11pm and once we’d got off the plane, picked up our bags and found the rental car it was going to be nearly midnight. It was a good job that the Elizabeth Manor guesthouse we were booked in to, had a keypad entry system so we could get in at any time of the day or night. It had been a very long day. A bit of shuteye would be very, very welcome.