The Long Dark Flight Delays of the Soul

With apologies to Douglas Adams for the title, this will be story time of my travel to Canada and back between Christmas and New Year’s (December 25 – January 1/2).

If you haven’t heard the news, I’m moving to Invermere, British Columbia, Canada in late 2022.  My wife, Lisette, started her new Associate Dentist job there on January 3, 2022.  I booked a flight to go see her and our new community-to-be for the holidays.

Traveling to Canada often involves a couple airlines when flying from the midwest (unless you want to take the train to Chicago).  So, my flight plan was:

  • Depart St. Louis at 8:30 AM (United Airlines) on Saturday, December 25.
  • Arrive Denver…Depart Denver at 1:15 PM (Air Canada).
  • Arrive Vancouver…Depart Vancouver at 7:30 PM (Air Canada).
  • Arrive Cranbrook, BC at 9:49 PM on December 25.

I spent December 24th with family in Effingham, IL.  After a restless sleep I woke up at 3:00 AM on Christmas day to the sound of reindeer on the roof.  Unfortunately, my dad converted the fireplace to gas several years ago so Santa was not able to enter the chimney.  I drove easy to St. Louis and found a parking place.  The airport was not busy, so I quickly obtained tickets, had all my covid and vaccine stuff verified (yes, they checked it thoroughly), and proceeded to my gate.

The flight to Denver was smooth.  I was prepared for the long layover and had a nice walk around the terminal to find some food and coffee (Starbucks egg bites and a black Christmas Light Roast Coffee).  When I fly I often download a sci-fi book on the kindle app.  After eating I found a quiet place to relax and read.  A few hours later it was time to board the Air Canada flight to Vancouver.  While I waited to board I checked in on the weather and saw the whole southern half the British Columbia was unusually cold and it was dumping snow.  Uh oh.

Most of the flight to Vancouver was smooth.  Landing was a little delayed because of the weather and flights getting backed up.  We circled a few minutes extra and then landed on a snow packed runway.  Seeing all the snow (and hearing from my wife that it was snowing a lot where she was) I started to get more concerned about my next flight.  I was also thinking that it wouldn’t be that big of deal because it’s Canada…they always must deal with snow, right?!?  Wrong.  It turns out Vancouver gets very little snow and is generally not all that cold.  I hit the jackpot.  The temp was -30 degrees C.  The snow was piling up.  My next flight was still showing on time.

Arriving to Canada for the first time since 2019, I was a little nervous about how customs was going to go.  It turned out to be one of my easiest processes to date.  They asked why I was arriving and where I was going.  That was it and I was on my way…with a big smile on my face.

I already had a 4-hour layover in Vancouver.  I found an out-of-the-way café (Joe and The Juice) that has great sandwiches (I ended up eating there a lot as you’ll soon learn), shakes, and juice (the coffee isn’t that good).

I should be the poster boy!

My routine during a long layover is to walk laps, then stop and read, then walk laps, then read, repeat until it’s time to board.  In 4 hours (plus 3 in Denver) I walked and read a lot…miles! 

Ok, we are creeping up on time to board.  Flights all around me are showing delays.  My flight is still showing on time.  Curious.  We finally get a 30-minute delay and then that was upped to 45 minutes.  It’s still snowing outside.  The gate area is chilly because there are 5 gates with 5 airplanes in various states of arrival/deplaning and departure/boarding.  Kids are crying, curmudgeons are curmudgeoning, and I’m walking and reading.

We start the boarding process.  The walk from the building to the plane was cold and snowy.  The ground crew did a good job of clearing the walk area and kept it well salted.  Once on board the pilot announced we would be delayed further because we needed to de-ice and then get in line for launch.  The engines fired up and the inside of the plane was getting cozy warm along with the engines.  We backed out of the parking spot and slowly made our way to the de-ice station.  After getting hosed down we were soon moving again.  And then the pilot kept driving, and driving, and driving.  I was reading for quite a while when I realized we might be going in circles.  Soon thereafter the pilot chimed in that he just gave us a tour of the back of the airport as they were waiting for visibility to improve so they could take off.  It took so long we now needed to de-ice again.  We lined up for de-icing but just sat there. About 30 minutes later we started moving again, did another lap of the tarmac and then came back to the de-ice station.  We de-iced and then proceeded to head towards the takeoff runway.  On the way there we stopped, sat for a few minutes, and then turned around.  The pilot again chimed that we were instructed to head back to the gate.  As we approached the gate several people around me (myself included) received notifications that we had been re-booked.  It took another 15 minutes to finally get parked at the gate.  We had been on the plane for over 3 hours.

After running in -23 Celsius

My stay in Invermere felt too short.  We got outside, we met up with some friends, had some good food and drink, visited Lisette’s new office, drove around the town, and slept in every day. 

Since I was set to fly on January 1, I needed to find a Covid testing site on December 31st.  After some searching, we found a rapid test center in Banff (about 2 hours away).  We decided we would just make it day if necessary, so I ordered the test and we headed out about 9 AM on Friday the 31st.  Initially, Banff didn’t seem that busy.  When we walked into the mall where the testing center is we saw a long line.  I had prepared myself mentally for this to be the case.  I lined up and, luckily, the line moved fast.  They had a great setup for checking people in and moving right into a testing triage area.  A quick swirl in each nostril and I was on my way.  I found Lisette shopping and we rolled through a few shops before hitting a great ramen joint (Amu).  We slurped the entire bowl and then decided to head back home.  The early afternoon sun was shining bright.  The views for the entire drive were simply stunning.

The flights home were to be:

  • Depart Cranbrook (Air Canada) at 6:30 AM, January 1, 2022
  • Arrive Vancourver…Depart Vancouver for Denver at 8:58 AM, January 1, 2022
  • Arrive Denver…Depart Denver for St. Louis at 1:05 PM, January 1, 2022

The alarm was set for 3:01 AM on January 1, 2022.  The drive back to Cranbrook (Rocky Mountain International Airport) was uneventful other than a few Elk grazing on the side of the road (ok, it was a little scary – elk are huge!).  Lisette dropped me off and scurried through security (after Covid test and Vaccine status was checked).  The airport only has 2 gates which made finding mine easy.

The plane was boarded, closed, and de-iced and we were on our way…I wish.

We did board a bit late.

We did de-ice.

But then they had to “warm up the engine oil.”  As we sat on the tarmac with engines running time dragged on.  My layover in Vancouver was getting smaller and smaller.  Finally, they said it was taking too long so they had to add fuel.  We drove back to the gate, refueled, re-de-iced, and then went to continue the warming up process.  Now my layover was looking like 2 minutes…uh oh.  We finally took to the skies and the flight was smooth.

Landing in Vancouver I promptly received a message that I was rebooked.  I looked at the new flight info and they had me routing through Phoenix and then Denver, but there was no St. Louis.  I went to customer service to inquire about this conundrum.  She was flummoxed.  With a furrowed brow she tapped the keyboard and then tapped some more.  Then she grabbed her phone, made a call, left a message.  Then she grabbed her CB and radio’d someone.  She then asked me to wait to the side because her supervisor was going to have to fix this.

After an hour I was called over for my new flight info which put me into St. Louis a lot later than I wanted but that’s all they had.  This gave me a long layover in Vancouver again, so I went…take a guess…that’s right, to Joe and The Juice. 

While waiting for my flight I started receiving messages about delays.  Weather in Vancouver and Denver (among other places) causing problems again.  Pretty soon it was obvious I was not going to make my connection.  I sauntered up to a gate agent to ask about options.  After studying her computer for what felt like an eternity, she said she could reroute me through Toronto on a redeye, then to Newark, then to St. Louis around 5:30 PM on January 2.  Ugh!  I asked about any other options but they were only worse, so I accepted.

And then she informed me that I would have to exit the terminal, go back through Canadian customs and then to my gate.  Then I would have to go through US customs again in Toronto.  Fun.

Luckily, the walk was easy and there were very few lines and no hassles.

I waited the 9 hours for my redeye to Toronto.  I slept that whole flight (if you want to call hunched over in economy “sleep!”).  Toronto was also easy.  Customs was a breeze.  After a few hours and a couple cat naps it was time to board for Newark.

Arriving into Newark was easy but then shocking.  The Newark airport is a dump compared to Vancouver, Toronto, Denver, St. Louis, and even Cranbrook.  It was also surprisingly busy – people were filling the chairs and floor.  It turns out Newark also had a lot of flights cancelled or delayed.

And that trend was to continue.

The flight to St. Louis started to flash delays.  First it was 30 minutes, then an hour, then 90 minutes.

Gosh, was I ever going to get home?

Then I checked the United App about my flight, and it had the option for another flight…earlier.  Cool.  I grabbed a seat.  But that flight was delayed too.  It turns out this was a flight that had been cancelled the night before.  A couple hours later than planned we boarded and took off. 

I finally arrived in St. Louis around 5:30 PM January 2, 2022.  I found my car and made the 90-minute drive back to my parents’ house to grab my dogs and then head home.

Staggering in the door at 9:00 PM I unloaded and hit the sack.

There you have it – my travel adventure between December 25, 2021, and January 2, 2022. 

Thanks for reading.

PTTT (Post Traumatic Travel Thoughts):

There were moments of anger, frustration, uncertainty, excitement, optimism, disappointment, apathy, forgiveness, creativity, comfort, enjoyment, freezing, warming, cuddling, love, and so much more.  

I found deep breaths helpful in times of stress.  Walking was a huge comfort and stress reliever.  

I confirmed I hate “not knowing…”  Embracing Uncertainty was certaintly a challenge, and I need to work on how I deal with it.  Being mindful and trying to just enjoy the moments I had was helpful.  Realizing the mental/emotion and physical sensations was interesting at times.  Feeling my heart racing before I realized why was fascinating.  Feeling a huge crash after longer moments of stress made me realize I wasn’t managing the stress as well as I’d hoped.

Ultimately, the travel was a minor inconvenience in what was otherwise a wonderful trip to the mountains to spend a week with Lisette.

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