Summer 2022, Part 1: Paris to Halifax

Our story begins in an apartment in Paris.

In 2022, one of the most common things to do immediately after waking up – sometimes even before heading for the toilet, depending on how thirsty you were before getting into bed – seems to be checking your phone for notifications. What exciting things could have happened during the night? Did you receive an exciting message from Amazon? Did a recruiter on LinkedIn send yet another copied-and-pasted masterpiece telling you about an amazing opportunity that has nothing whatsoever to do with your actual work experience or qualifications? Perhaps a dating site sent you a link to your ideal match! Anything is possible, right?

The morning of Thursday, June 2nd 2022, upon waking up at 6 AM (after an entirely insufficient amount of sleep), I performed this daily phone-checking wakeup routine, and was greeted with a notification for an e-mail that I had received about an hour before. The subject of the e-mail was: Important information about your upcoming WestJet flight.

As a sense of doom started to build up in my chest, I forced myself to go through the motions necessary to view this oh-so-important information, and once the e-mail had been opened, I was unpleasantly unsurprised to find that my sense of doom was justified:

We unfortunately had to cancel one or more of the WestJet flights on your itinerary

This particular itinerary consisted of just one flight, which would have taken off just a few hours later. I had been preparing for this day for months.

The day was off to a bad start.

Some background:

After having grown up in Ontario (the one in Canada, not California nor Oregon) and then living for several years in Alberta, I moved to Paris (the one in France, not Ontario nor Texas) in 2017. After moving to France, I travelled Canada once or twice per year, which allowed me to keep a somewhat regular rhythm of visits with my parents and friends. In 2020, despite a global pandemic involving a virus to which no one had yet developed a vaccine, I was still able to visit part of Canada, but travel restrictions rendered much of the country practically inaccessible to me (and rightly so). In 2021, circumstances were still not favourable, so, for the first time since moving away from my home province almost a decade prior, I did not make any annual pilgrimage to see family and friends.

When you move far away from your home, it’s very easy to say to yourself “Of course, I will definitely stay close with my friends!” and to pretend that you’ll have the same relationship with these people despite the distance. However, in practice, life doesn’t always work like that: your relationships with the people you value can change, can be strained, and can falter if not adequately nourished. As 2022 began, after having not seen some of my friends in three or four years, I was wary of how my relationships with these people were being affected. I wanted to see my family, and visit friends scattered throughout Canada. Because of the distances being covered, I knew that such a trip would take lots of time – more than just a few weeks of vacation time. In the end, I set my mind on a trip to Canada of just over three months, then worked with my employer to come to an agreement of how I could continue to help while in Canada, found someone to rent my room in Paris from June to August, and booked a flight to Canada – WestJet flight WS 43, from Paris directly to Halifax. On the morning of June 2nd, in my mind, this flight represented all of my beautiful summer plans – my motorcycle waiting for me in Halifax to carry me across the country, my family and friends, some vacation time in the States, and a couple of weddings – but it had just been cancelled.

Rebooking

Fortunately, after a few moments of sulking and feeling pathetic, my eyes descended further down the small screen to read the rest of WestJet’s message: “an alternative option has been selected for you: you are now rebooked on the following flights:

Originally, I was going to be flying directly to Halifax, landing around 1 PM the same day, at which point my uncle had kindly offered to pick me up from the airport to drive me to the facility where my motorcycle was stored. However, the itinerary that had been chosen by WestJet – which involved a more-than-24-hour layover in Toronto – would see me landing in Halifax just before 9 PM the following day, and would delay my departure from Halifax, due to being unable to retrieve my motorcycle during the weekend outside of normal business hours.

After more than an hour on the phone with WestJet, the agent who helped me suggested a few different itineraries. Originally, he had nothing better to offer than what the system had booked for me automatically, until I indicated that I was willing to do two layovers during my trip. At this point, after a few itineraries were suggested and eliminated, we finally found one that worked: Air France would take me from Paris to Boston that same day, after which WestJet would take over with a flight immediately from Boston to Toronto, and finally, after a nighttime stop in Toronto, from Toronto to Halifax on Friday, June 3rd – getting me there just in time to be able to pick up my motorcycle before the weekend. Having no better options than this one, which involved spending over thirty hours in transit instead of the original seven-hour direct flight, we finalised this change.

Flight 1/3: Paris to Boston

My newly-booked Air France flight from Paris to Boston left Paris the same day, in the early afternoon, but with an added complication: due to landing in the United States, in addition to showing COVID-19 vaccination records, I needed to show proof of a negative COVID test. I rushed to a pharmacy, took the test, and waited. 10, 15, 20, 25 minutes passed, during which I worried about what I be able to do if the test were somehow positive, especially considering that I no longer had a place to live in Paris. Finally, the text message indicating the test result was received: negative. I grabbed my backpack, and got onto the train to the airport.

Aside from a slightly rude Air France agent at the airport who claimed that getting a vegetarian meal would only have been possible if I had requested it in advance (which turned out not to be true), the flight from Paris to Boston went smoothly.

Flight 2/3: Boston to Toronto… after some delays

After arriving in Boston, I passed quickly through United States customs, and proceeded to look for the gate of my next flight, which was supposed to leave about two hours later to take me to Toronto. Despite the large, sprawling layout of Boston’s airport, I had no trouble reaching my next gate, as there was lots of time between the flights.

Unfortunately, I ended up having much more time than I should have.

In Boston, after landing, I received an e-mail from WestJet that had been sent while I was on my flight from France. My flight from Boston to Toronto, which was supposed to leave at 5:15 PM, had been delayed to 6:03 PM. The reason given was related to controlling air traffic flow. Then, while waiting at the terminal in Boston, another e-mail was received: another delay, supposedly to 6:18 PM. As the new boarding time came and went, there was no sign an airplane or activity at the gate.

Eventually, the plane from Toronto arrived, was emptied, quickly cleaned, and prepared for the irritated Canada-bound travelers to board.

After being having boarded the plane, with no movement occurring afterwards, we were told that that we would be delayed a bit longer, as WestJet had not had time to empty the toilets in Toronto, and had to do it in Boston. After having one flight cancelled and the next having already been delayed twice, I was seething.

Fortunately, my dear mother was still happy to come meet me in Toronto to retrieve me for the overnight layover, despite the repeated and continuing delays.

Eventually, the plane did take off. My mother picked me up from the airport, and I was able to spent a lovely evening with her and her cat Lucy in Hamilton.

Flight 3/3: Toronto to Halifax

My flight from Toronto to Halifax was supposed to leave Toronto at 10 AM, and based on the recommendations of WestJet and the airport, it was recommended that I get to the airport not later than 8 AM. Adding one hour of driving time from my mother’s place in Hamilton meant that this day, like the day before, would begin at around 6 AM.

A rant on toll highways:

Traffic in the Toronto area can be pretty horrible at any time of the week, but because my flight to Halifax was leaving from Pearson International Airport on a Friday morning, my mother wanted to make sure that we had no risk of being late. So, we ended up taking a trip on a toll highway, “407 ETR“, during our journey from Hamilton back to the airport.

While I am not completely against toll highways (as I don’t necessarily think that all taxpayers should be subsidising highways for the people who choose to drive and want to arrive faster than they would on a “free” highway), I absolutely abhor Ontario’s Highway 407 ETR (“Express Toll Route”), one of Canada’s two toll highways. In general, fees collected by toll roads are used to pay for the roads’ construction and/or upkeep, but in the case of the Highway 407 ETR (an express highway that bypasses the congested-but-free Highway 401), the highway was built at a cost of about $1.5 billion to taxpayers, then subsequently leased for 99 years to a private corporation that operates and maintains it, for the low price of $3.1 billion. Let’s just repeat that insane idea: taxpayers paid $1.5 billion to make something that would be practically given away to a private company, which would then charge those same taxpayers some pretty insane fees to use it, increase the rates far above what the government promised when leasing the highway, and even block Ontarians from renewing their vehicle registrations if they had any unpaid toll fees. As a result, Ontarians wishing to use this highway must pay a per-use fee to use infrastructure that was already paid for by taxes, rich investors get to profit off their misery, and the Province of Ontario screwed itself out of a century of toll revenue that could have gone back into the Province’s budget or the pockets of Ontarians.

The flight itself:

After arriving at the airport much earlier than expected due to the use of the aforementioned evil toll highway, security check-in was quick, and I was quickly on the plane.

Observations:

  • People on planes seem to order tomato juice a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone order tomato juice to drink in any other situation.
  • In 2022, those who do not like Justin Trudeau (Canada’s Prime Minister at the time of this post) will absolutely not shut the fuck up about it and will bring him up with absolutely no provocation. I was chatting with a woman next to me on the plane, having a pleasant and unremarkable conversation about trains in France, and at a certain point, the woman injected a clearly sarcastic “Well, just send a letter to Trudeau about it, I’m sure he’ll get it done”. Regardless of political convictions, are we really at the point where a completely non-political conversation should be randomly turned sour because some lady has not had the chance to complain about Trudeau to someone in the last few minutes and will explode if she doesn’t do it soon? We had discussed neither Trudeau nor anything even slightly political before this point… and after her comment, I did not engage her on the subject, because, what would I even be able to say to an unprovoked little outburst like that?
    • Note: I’m not even a fan of Trudeau. I just find it sad that Canada’s political atmosphere has become so pathetic.

The flight was otherwise uneventful, and landed in Halifax just after 1 PM on Friday.

Tim Hortons solves a longstanding French debate.

After arriving in Halifax, I saw an interesting word in the Tim Hortons (Canada’s favourite but low-quality coffee chain) in the airport.

Necessary background information: In France, there is an ongoing debate that continues to divide an otherwise very-united nation (Je plaisante, bien sûr…): should a sweet pastry, similar in texture to a croissant but in a rectangular shape and with chocolate chunks in it, be called a pain au chocolat (“bread with chocolate”) or chocolatine? In France’s south-west regions, it’s called a chocolatine, but in most of the rest of the country, pain au chocolat is used.

Back in the Halifax airport: I saw that Tim Hortons has made their tie-breaking contribution, and the correct term has been decided: chocolatine.

Leave it to Canada to solve this debate. You’re welcome, France!

You have arrived at your destination!

After a simple seven-hour flight turned into a three-flight, thirty-hour odyssey, I was so relieved to arrive in Halifax. After enjoying the Tim Hortons chocolatine discovery for a few minutes, I met my uncle and aunt outside the airport. My summer adventures were about to truly begin!

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