Back in the land of Blighty. Life is a blur. Time is a blur. I am a blur. One minute you’re munching on a glazed cinnamon roll at Tim Horton’s and the next on toast and Marmite at home in England. I curse the Atlantic Ocean for being so wide. The only quick way to get over it at the moment is by flying. I used to love it. But over the years it has become increasingly tiresome and more difficult to do. And so when I leave my good friends and family in Canada, it is usually too long until we see each other again. When I’m in Canada, my business suffers because I have to leave my music students for extended periods of time.
Such a quandary. Even though mum and dad are gone, I still have my kids and brother to visit, as well as very good friends. But the thought of flying again gives me pause. Do I want to keep putting myself through this in my senior years? Flying used to be quite an easy thing really. I remember the heady days of Wardair in Canada and other airlines that competed with Air Canada and CP Air. I remember how good BOAC was and its later clone, BA (British Airways). Mostly reliable and reasonably priced. Much of that has changed with the number of people flying, fuel prices going up, airport taxes being applied to the ordinary ticket, bigger planes but less leg room and tighter security.
The point is, I don’t like travelling by air like I used to. Once upon a time I was nearly giddy every time I had the opportunity to fly. My first experience was in 1973. I had just turned 22 and was returning to old Blighty for the first time in 18 years to re-aquaint myself with the family we’d left behind in 1955. I flew BOAC, its last year before becoming BA. And I got bumped to first class. No wonder flying was never the same after that. I can’t believe what they charge for Business Class today and all the other names they give First Class without calling it that (not very PC you see). If it were double the price of an ordinary seat I might understand, but it is thousands of dollars or pounds more for 8 hours of your life (the time to fly to Toronto from London, England).
Now I dread packing, getting to the airport, waiting in line to check in, going through security and hanging around until the gate for the flight is displayed. Then you go and sit in a waiting area before you board. Boarding is an experience. On my most recent flight back to England, I was the last few rows called. The overhead baggage space was full all around my area and the guy next to me had decided his wife was going to sit in my aisle seat while I sat in hers between two smelly blokes. Didn’t happen. Could have been a nice guy. Didn’t want to be on this occasion. I suggested he might want his wife to sit here and he could sit between two smelly blokes. I got one of those looks. We didn’t speak the whole flight. Suited me.
Terminals everywhere are under construction every time I go to an airport, at least the three I frequent, Gatwick, Heathrow and Lester B. Pearson in Toronto. The terminal at Palma, Majorca, is just silly. It has changed both times I’ve been there. That’s a scary thought since the Spanish own most if not all of the airports in England. The changes are not always good in my estimation. Both Gatwick and Heathrow have made great improvements as far as customer amenities are concerned. But Terminal 3 in Toronto is a….well, I was going to say a joke, but that may be slightly unfair….disappointment. Beyond security there is very little to choose from in the food department that caters to my carnal, carnivorous nature. After the long walk to the gate, you only hope and pray that the moving sidewalks are working, the whole circular pod is a virtual wasteland. Tables with iPads or the equivalent that, of course, need money to work and islands serving drinks, offering Vegan and Vegetarian boxes. The only restaurant in the area serves just Mediterranean delights. Sign of the times I guess. That wouldn’t be so bad if I knew what half of the items were. I can’t pronounce what I ended up with.
No hamburgers, no fries, nothing recognisable. Probably starving us so we’ll buy food on the plane, another innovation of air travel in the 21st century. Some airlines want to charge us for using their toilets. One airline even proposed standing only flights, with those straps you hold on to like in the underground (subway). Thankfully, health and safety nixed that one. About the only time these days that H&S made sense. Let’s face it, air travel is getting way more expensive and more utilitarian….except for people with more money than sense. They can curl up in one of those little bays you and I walk by to get to our cramped quarters. And kids flying? By that I mean babies. Don’t get me started. Noise the whole flight and it seems on every flight. Thank Ozymandias for headphones. It must be my age too. My tolerance levels seem to wane as the years pass. Becoming a grumpy old bugger me.
Now, I understand the need to feel as safe as possible while flying. Certain groups of people in the world have taken it upon themselves to use whole commercial planes as weapons. This doesn’t take into account the depressed pilots that might want to ditch the plane. What’s that all about? I’m talking about a few individuals with personal ideals different to most of us. So we line up and take off our shoes and belts, put all our belongings into a tray and walk through a body scanner then on to a personal frisker making sure we have nothing on us that might be dangerous to the rest of the passengers. In one such line a couple of years ago in Toronto, a security woman with a foreign accent asked me something as I stood, holding up my trousers, ready for the next phase of humiliation. I had the temerity to say, “Pardon me?” and before I knew it, all my belongings were emptied from my carry-on and gone over with a fine toothed comb. Authority used for the sake of it annoys me to no end.
Again in Toronto, this last flight home to England, we stood in line for ages to get through security. Why, because there was an imminent threat? Because they were being extra cautious? No, it was because half of the machines were closed, apparently due to ‘personnel problems’. The staff on duty didn’t seem to be in any rush to get us through. My best friend has a pacemaker. What they put my best friend through every time the medical card is shown is nothing short of discrimination. The third degree, as if my best friend were a human bomb, one of those suicide bombers. I guess profiling is not allowed and my best friend suffers the consequences. The patient ones in the queue sigh and say, “Better safe than sorry.” Righteo.
I prefer travelling by train or coach. Even the 12 hour coach trip to Amsterdam earlier this year was preferable to going by plane. It ends up being nearly 12 hours anyway from house to destination when flying. No airport is as close to the city centres as train stations and bus depots. Trains I love. Even first class (still called that over here) is much cheaper than flying anywhere. I know there are cheap flights, but they only give you one way. Then you pay for the return, taxes and extra luggage, all that and more usually. One company does not designate seats for their flights. It’s a free-for-all getting on board. The airline I travelled with made us pay if we wanted to reserve seats ahead of the flight. Typical.
The problem is, no coaches or trains cross the Atlantic. Damn that wide pond. Boats are out of the question. Who has that kind of time these days? And it costs a bundle. So, I suck it up each time and steel myself for the long haul. Not getting any easier. You’ll all have to come and see me. That means you’ll have to fly. Chocks away.