William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

1. Halifax to Newark

So, we are sitting here, delayed, on the tarmac. “Prepare doors for arrival.” We haven’t moved an inch, so that can’t be good.

They had a slight “technical issue” and in an attempt to solve it they shut down the entire aircraft for two minutes. I mean completely shut down – all the lights and everything. You could see the glow-in-the-dark aisle strips glow green.

The plane’s been here all night, so it’s covered with a thin layer of ice. Speaking of, driving here was kind of white knuckle. There was a bit of freezing rain last night, and that stuff terrifies me!

The United attendants are being nice about it all and paying extra attention to the children.

* * *

Park-'n-Fly operates a 3,200-vehicle parking lot a little ways away from the airport on Barnes Drive. It’s still on the east side of the highway, but it’s too far to walk, so they provide a friendly shuttle service.

I missed getting on one bus because it was full but there was another in just a few minutes. I wouldn’t do this if it’s a last-minute thing and you have to catch a plane.

(OK, they’re putting luggage ON to the plane. That’s good news.)

Being March Break, the lot was into overflow – something I realized might be a problem while I was in the shower. Would I park the car on the road and ask someone to come pick it up? Or would I open a line of credit and park near the terminal? Fortunately, the lot wasn’t full – the attendant told me what bus to take after I pulled in, and I headed in that direction and then took a side swing and found a parking space.

“OK, the ground crew has an update.” Silence. “Stand by for the update.” Silence. “Update not necessary. We should be good to go.”

* * *

Apparently de-icing a plane is a bit more complicated than a car wash. Whatever happens, it seems to take ~25 minutes per plane. And there was a plane ahead of us. This morning has been delay stacked up on top of delay. At least I’ll know to expect the worst the next time there’s freezing rain in my departure city.

If I remember correctly, they sprayed us with clear stuff, then orange stuff, then green stuff. The green stuff made interesting patterns on the wing as we were taking off.

I’m very tired. I didn’t sleep last night. The night before, I didn’t get to bed until after 4. Why? Well, there was a slight problem with my reservation – after United finished absorbing Continental, they changed some flights around and left me negative twelve minutes to connect in Newark. (Though I suppose that’s better than the negative hour-or-so I’m getting today.). The webpage advised me to contact United to have the ticket reissued. Problem: Getting through to United these days is like searching for a golden needle in a haystack underwater. I got on the phone sometime after 9 pm and I got an agent after 3 am. It is probably my longest phone call ever. The agent was very polite and helpful but oh wow the wait.

Ahh... coffee time. Anyway, so that business kind of helped throw off my sleep schedule. Even though I’m heading off to do something fun, I kind of envy the folks who are staying home all week to play video games. One of my classmates was pulling an all-nighter on Final Fantasy VIII while I was packing.

The attendants are saying that, after we deplane, a United rep will meet with everybody who missed their connections. Super. They had me freaked out earlier when they were saying, “Those of you with cell phones might want to call United at 1-800-UNITED-1... that's 1-800-864-8331." Like really? Just the thought of that kind of off-loading of responsibility is odious. If they’d prefaced it with, “Don’t worry, you’ll be automatically moved to the following flight, but if you want to get the details, phone the contact centre while we’re de-icing.” I'd be more supportive.

* * *

So I locked the car and raced over to where the bus was idling. Then another fellow told me, “Sorry, we have to wait.” “Bus full?” “Yep. They’re going to send another one.” And they did, lickety-split. I told you this already, didn’t I?

The driver was like, “OK, have you heard the speech?” He explained how there was a paystation ticket and a shuttle ticket. One will determine how much you owe, the other will tell the bus driver roughly where your car is so that you don’t have to mount a Corps of Discovery Expedition. The driver was also keen to ask if we were CAA, government, or military. Gotta get all the discounts we can! It was a good vibe riding the shuttle, too. I thought parking was going to be a real hassle, but the folks at Park-'n-Fly made it smooth and kind of fun.

However, I feel for the folks who are returning to their cars today to find them covered with ice. Somehow I don’t think folks returning from Cuba packed their ice scraper in their carry-ons. Also, whenever we get MetroLink service to the airport, the business will probably take a bit of a hit.

Anyway, so I’m in the terminal. I check-in, confirming all the “where I’m staying in the US”, “passport number”, that sort of stuff. And then it’s time for security.

100mL is small. Anything you have that you’d want to take with you is probably more than 100mL. I needlessly wasted a can of sunscreen and a tube of toothpaste because they were 173 mL and 135 mL respectively. Yeah, shame on me for not looking this stuff up, but it’s ridunculous all the same. So now I need to get toothpaste and possibly sunscreen if it’s hot in San Diego. It might not be. I brought layers.

So I wasted time with that, even putting my things in bags and wondering if I could get away with it. Then I envisioned myself spending the rest of March Break in a cell, and I thought the better of it.

The US-departure security area at Halifax isn’t laid out very conveniently – there isn’t enough space for people to deshoe and get all their things into bins. You have people reaching over each other and jockeying over a very small amount of counter space. It’s lousy. And on the back end it’s only slightly better. A sign saying “please move back!” might be helpful. I have also said before that I am in favour of a slow lane through screening, because I’d like to be able to tie my shoes and such without having to be in a stressed-out breathless hurry about it. Screening sucks!

And then there’s US Customs pre-clearance. I think we should set up some kind of customs union or common travel area with the United States akin to what exists between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. It’s ridiculous that we’ve been parked next to each other and at peace for almost 200 years and generally on the same side of most things, and yet we do so much to mutually inhibit comings and goings. ANYWAY. Pre-clearance makes the imposition almost tolerable, and I’ve never had a problem with the US folks so far. It’s the Canadian ones that ask rude things like “What’s a Bedford boy doing in Portland?” Just ask what the purpose of my visit was, OK?

But this time, with the US folks, I forgot to fill out my customs form. Now wait a second. Virtually all the information on my customs form, I already had to submit to the airline just to check in. So why couldn’t they just key this up? I understand having a separate form for monetary instruments and things like that, but the data about where I’m staying and what my passport number is has already been stored somewhere. Why do I have to fill it out again? Anyway, I ended up going through the line twice.

The customs officer asked me what I did for work. I said I was a student and answered where. It was pleasant and I spoke carefully in neutral tones.

“What do you hope to do?”


“Oh, you can go anywhere with that.”

“Yes, as long as I don’t have ‘immigrant intent’.”

She laughed. “Have a good trip.”

That’s another rant: shouldn’t you like your country enough that you figure people would WANT to stay in it? The fact that they screen NAFTA visas for immigrant intent is an abomination and we should demand, starting now, that this part be reopened. If you just want someone to come work and then leave, it’s all take and no give. I’d settle for just being able to prove that you can support yourself. Set up a system with checks and audits. However, I also kind of understand how countries don’t want to open themselves up to unnecessary liability. And someone who can support themselves on Tuesday might be out of work on Wednesday. So I kind of get it. But I’m having to hold my nose.

I get to the departure lounge and sit down and call my mother. And as I’m wrapping up that conversation, I hear, “This is the final boarding call for United flight 5152 to Newark. Passengers must board now or will be subject to seat loss.” So up I get! I would have been there in plenty of time were it not for the questionable roads, full Park-'n-Fly bus, and my consecutive brain farts with screening and customs. :-)

I go through the departure desk. My gate is Gate 26. But the signs are suddenly in the 50s! What gives? Oh, it looks like Gate 26 is also Gate 56 and a bunch of others are like that, too. Boy, I’ll bet that never confuses anybody. :-p My guess is that they switch them up so that sometimes it’s a domestic / other-international gate and sometimes a transborder gate and they change the numbers accordingly. I dunno – I don’t think I would have done that. Maybe I’d do it with a suffix. Like have a Gate 26-U and Gate 26-R. And for now it’s the same departure bridge. Anyway, I was seriously freaking out for a second – I thought I’d get lost between the desk and the plane and that they’d shut the doors and say to hell with me.

And then I’m on the plane. The usual foolishness ensues with me being in somebody’s way, somebody being in my seat but I’ll sit over here, then my stuff getting scattered all over the place. I love those 1+2 regional jets that have one seat up and down the left side of the plane. Book early and you’ve got a super seat. Bin space isn’t so hot on those ones, though. Anyway, this is a 2+2 regional jet, which is better than being stuck in a middle seat but there’s not much else really going for it.

And we had our technical difficulties. And the de-icing proceeded at glacial speed. But we did at last take off and the captain said as much that, “We’re going to fly this plane like we stole it.”

When I first got on, I had a nice chat with a lady (probably in her 50s or 60s) who then later volunteered to go up to the front to help balance the plane. Heh. I don’t think I annoyed her... In my defense, she was moving to a first class seat. This is a tail-heavy kind of plane so they apparently routinely have to shuffle people.

One thing we talked about is teaching (English) overseas – she has friends and relatives galore that did it – and when she asked me how I found my job, I told her that it was kind of rough and that I thought that my workplace valued appearance over substance. (Not that I was the world’s greatest teacher with beaucoup substance to offer, but it was disheartening nonetheless.) Also I was a little cheesed when I found out later that Saint Mary’s was operating a de facto employment agency under the guise that the purpose was to arrange international employment opportunities for their students - well, I thought it was for free, dammit, if only because I'd spent on the order of 20 large there on my academic program. (I should have probed deeper, but I was a trusting soul in those days.)

So what adventures await in Newark? As I write this we’re juuust starting our approach and my flight to San Jose should have flown about ten minutes ago. I’m excited to hear what the gate agent has to say. I don’t really have any great big song and dance planned for today in San Jose and the rehearsal dinner is tomorrow night, so I’m pretty flexible. 80 miles to Newark, 20-30 minutes, says the captain.
Tags: airports, newark, travel, united airlines

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