Gill has made the trip across the pond and back many times over the last 10 years. Quite often (usually leaving London for Toronto) she makes the plane barely by the skin of her teeth. Sometimes there are valid reasons for this (brutal traffic, part of The Tube is down, weather is bad) but mostly these near-misses are self-inflicted…as in, “I went out to the pub with my friends last night and was in no shape to navigate to the bathroom, let alone through Heathrow.” I, of course, as a responsible adult who makes sure to be early for everything important (except perhaps the dentist or my annual pap test) chastise her for her lackadaisical attitude towards airline departure times.
She, being the daughter and hence accustomed to infrequent yet pointed criticism from her mother, shrugged it off with:”Oh, Ma! You worry too much. I always make the flight. It matters not that, on more than one occasion, I am ‘Passenger Best’, being urged over the terminal loudspeaker, to present myself forthwith to the airline gate since my flight has boarded and is waiting on me. I must say, the tone they use is somewhat more strident than necessary. Besides, it makes for an exciting and dramatic exit from the UK.”
Never in my wildest dreams (make that nightmares) did I envision myself becoming the infamous ‘Passenger Best’…and yet, on my trip to visit Gill in England, that is precisely who I was.
Allow me to set the stage, Dear Readers. I was being driven to Pearson Airport by Airways Transit…a somewhat pricey option but given that the drive would take place during rush hour traffic, I couldn’t muster up the courage or cheek to ask any of my friends, family, or The Man In My Life to do the torturous drive. Besides, when they all found out the time of my departure, they studied the pattern on the ceiling, pretended to be engrossed in what I assume must have been the best book ever written(at least deserving of The Giller), or announced that they or whatever pet they could beg, borrow or steal needed desperately to go out for a pee break. Not that I blame any of them. I wasn’t willing to drive myself so I could hardly expect them to risk life, limb, or a nervous breakdown in rush hour traffic.
True to form, traffic was awful. Not only was it rush hour, it was Friday rush hour. Thankfully, my driver knew this area inside out and deeked around neighborhoods I didn’t even know existed to avoid a freeway accident slowdown. Then he detoured off the freeway through country roads, going out of our way before emerging back on the highway close to the airport. I was duly impressed.
“Thank you for avoiding all that mess,” I said. “There’s nothing I hate more than sitting in traffic, not moving. I haven’t the patience for it. I’d rather go miles out of my way than sit still.”
“Oh, I’ve been driving for this company for over 18 years,” he announced proudly. “I too hate sitting. Very frustrating.” He earned his tip with that comment!
I have in the past been critical of this service for picking passengers up hours before the flight leaves — leaving you to cool your heels, being bored, and numbing your butt muscles even before you get on the plane for more hours of butt-numbing travel. But this time I understood and was grateful that I’d still make it to the airport in plenty of time. And I had already checked in so all I had to do was get baggage tags and zip on through to my gate. It figures that, the first time I availed myself of this technical baggage innovation and didn’t have to actually speak to an airline representative, things would go south–rapidly.
I arrived at the terminal, put my bag through the convenient ‘bag drop’ machine and went off to find Gate C 30, the gate clearly listed on my boarding pass. The waiting area was quite full but I managed to find a seat and settled in to read my book and munch on the veritable smorgasbord of snacks I had packed. (Gill rightly refers to me as a little squirrel, munching my way through nuts and seeds, cheese and crackers, apples. I refuse to buy the glop that the airlines try to pass off as ‘food’ so I take it upon myself to provide sustenance for my growling stomach.)
I became involved in my book (a rather steamy, very trashy novel left over from my bargain table summer beach read collection) and glanced up to discover it was close to the time I should be boarding. But there was no action around me. I listened to the announcements on the loudspeaker — but there was nothing pertaining to my flight. Getting a bit nervous, I asked neighboring passengers if they were on the Westjet flight to Gatwick. When they said they were flying to Glasgow, I went into the first stages of panic. I grabbed up my belongings and trotted into the main corridor to ask the first airport worker I could find if they knew anything about my flight.
A very kind airline employee looked worried and said, “Let’s check the Departures screen.” Now this is something I normally don’t do since there is usually no need. I make a point of being in the correct lounge for my gate and the flight is announced clearly and distinctly when it is boarding time. And in my defense, there was no screen that I could see in the immediate area.
We walked a distance to find a screen. The employee paled and announced,”Oh, goodness. Your gate has been changed! You have to go to Gate B19 — at the other end of the terminal. And you only have a few minutes to make it! I’ll escort you.” And with that, off we went at top speed. A short time down the corridor, she spied a buggy on the opposite side. Flagging it down, she said:”Quick. Get on! She’ll get you there on time!”
I jumped on and, as we progressed down the corridor, I heard it — “Will Passenger Best please report immediately to the Westjet desk. Your flight to Gatwick has boarded and is leaving shortly”.
OMG!!! I must have been quite a sight: I was wearing (I’d like to say it was for purposes of easy identification by Gill at Gatwick but let’s be honest–I love the color) a bright fuchsia raincoat (appropriately, a London Fog). Gill correctly says I sometimes dress like a Leadbeater’s Cockatoo. And I still had my huge sunglasses on. I wear them everywhere — partly to protect my aged eyes but again as something of a fashion statement. Racing (well, only for a small portion of the trip since people were cluttering the path and for reasons unknown to me, the buggy had no horn) through the terminal, my fuchsia coat flapping wildly in the breeze, sunglasses possibly giving me the aura of a celebrity hiding from pursuing paparazzi, we made the gate with three minutes to spare.
I explained to the attendant at the desk that I hadn’t been informed of the gate change (and there were two others in the same embarrassing boat). I ran onto the plane, sat down in my seat that was, fortunately, very near the front of the plane, and tried to still my heart rate. I was tempted to request a very strong gin and tonic at that point but I sensed I had already done enough to establish my reputation as ‘that passenger’. I slunk down in my seat and tried to look nonchalant… fuchsia coat and sunglasses still in place.
The trip from thereon in was, thankfully, uneventful…except for the woman sitting next to me. But that story is for another time!