Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on December 28, 2022 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with 4 comments


Any (Air) port in a storm (Puvirnituq)


“And I say, way hey-hey, it’s just an ordinary day,

And it’s all your state of mind,

At the end of the day, you’ve just got to say,

It’s all right.”

Ordinary Day – Great Big Sea

Not. There have been no ordinary days lately.

Occasionally, I am prone to embellishment which is the writer’s privilege. Every word of this travel story is true. You couldn’t make this up.

Let’s be honest. Travelling has always been fraught with problems at Christmas time. High volumes of traffic and unpredictable winter weather are the usual culprits. You can add another. Covid. Airlines struggled mightily to stay in business during the pandemic. And now that most health authorities around the world have thrown up their hands and thrown in the towel, with restrictions being lifted, everyone thought things would return to normal in the economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The new normal is brutish.

I still haven’t heard a good explanation of what happened to the workforce but where in the hell did everybody go?

My regular readers are well aware that things haven’t been normal where I’m working in the north. I travelled to Kangiqsujuaq in late October to take over from a colleague who passed away suddenly. A few weeks ago, three young students committed suicide which left everybody reeling. The last week of school before Christmas break was exhausting. Just ask any teacher. It is safe to say that all of my colleagues were mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted as they anticipated Christmas holidays. All we had to do was hop on a plane and head home.



Day 1

In perfect conditions travelling to and from the north always seems to have some minor hiccups. If you travel enough, you become accustomed to this and accept it as normal.

On December 21st, 16 teachers headed for the airport in Kangiqsujuaq with “visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads”. The anticipation of seeing family and loved ones was palpable. The weather conditions were ideal with clear skies and no wind. The flight board showed us on time and spirits were high. We felt like we were the lucky ones as flights originating in Salluit (where our flight would originate) had been grounded for three days in a row because of fog. One of our teachers had been stranded in Salluit those three days and now she was giving us a blow by blow of the weather, as she waited for the fourth day in a row to board a plane back to Kangiqsujuaq. We were a bit concerned when she said that it was still very foggy in Salluit but there was a clearing trend.

We received our first notification of a delay. One hour. No sweat.

In a crowded airport, on the cusp of Christmas, an hour seems like an eternity.

A second delay appeared on the flight board, and one could sense a bit of restlessness. A few of us decided to go for a little walk to break the monotony and growing tension. When the third delay was announced, and a longer one at that, I decided to go into the village and eat the lunch that I had packed. I felt infinitely better with a full belly and one of Yves’ special coffees!

I started to walk back to the airport. I was met by a truck carrying our maintenance workers. They delivered the dreaded news. The flight had been cancelled. All of our checked bags were unceremoniously returned to us and we headed back to our apartments, rather despondent.

My situation was different from the others. As I would not be returning to the north after Christmas, I had emptied the contents of my fridge and given them to a neighbour. I had also returned bedding and kitchen ware to another colleague. I retrieved the bedding but didn’t have the nerve to ask for the return of my food. I waited a respectable amount of time hoping that a second flight might be arranged but when this was not forthcoming, I realized that I would have to grab a few groceries to tide me over until tomorrow’s flight. I also had to partially unpack my suitcases to get sheets and pillowcases, toiletries, footwear, slippers PJ’s etc. Not a big deal really.

Now, once a flight gets cancelled, rebooking is no simple task especially when there is already a backlog from the previous three days of no flights. Our principal, who had just retired, was back to work, frantically trying to arrange new flights. This was complicated by the fact that many teachers had connecting flights to other parts of the country, and a few had booked trips outside the country. You can see where this is going. The teacher’s group chat heated up and it was easy to sense a combination of frustration and despair. This vacation was so important to recharge batteries after a very difficult fall.

Late in the evening we received a message from the principal that the Board was trying to arrange a charter flight the next day. Overnight this was confirmed and hope sprung eternal once again because charters are a different and kinder beast.

Once again, I packed up my newly purchased food and dropped them at my neighbor’s and returned the bedding and kitchen ware. My own version of Christmas Groundhog Day.

Day 2

When I looked out my window on the morning of the 22nd.  my heart skipped a beat. I had learned how to determine the weather at the airport by looking at the surrounding mountains for visibility. I couldn’t see the tops of the mountains and furthermore gentle flakes of snow had begun to fall. By the time we drove to the airport at 11:00 we had ourselves the making of a blizzard. I, for one, was very concerned about our chances of flying today. That concern was multiplied by 15, the number of colleagues trying to get out.

There wasn’t a lot of banter in the terminal. It was hard to see the runway and the runway lights were not on. The agents assured us that the charter had left Kuujjuaq and was on its way. The air was electric when someone overheard an agent say that the plane was only 6 minutes away. People started to gather up their carry-on luggage. I decided to use the last few minutes for a bathroom break which I did expeditiously. As I was leaving the washroom, I discovered that there was no doorknob on the inside part of the door. I resorted to kicking the door to alert my colleagues lest I be left behind. That would have been a hard one to live down.

“Flight cancelled”.

So close and yet so far. Many of my friends were visibly upset and who could blame them.

The 5-minute drive to our apartments was somber. That might be an understatement.

Within minutes of this depressing news, one of the teachers decided to change the mood and invited everyone to her apartment for a Christmas dinner that evening. It would not be a traditional Christmas dinner on such short notice – more like a Christmas potluck.

I retrieved my bedding once again… and kitchen ware.

I now had to make another trip to the grocery store to buy something for the potluck and something to tide me over until tomorrow. This is not a very efficient way to shop.

It was 1:30 and I was run over by a wave of fatigue. I decided to take a nap. To avoid distractions, I turned my cell phone off and drifted off to sleep. When I woke and powered up the phone, it lit up like a Christmas tree. “Go to the airport immediately.” WTF was my first thought. Is this someone’s idea of a sick joke? Apparently, it was for real. According to a fellow traveller, an Air Inuit employee had come to one of the teacher’s doors, pounding on it and exhorting her and her friends to get their butts to the airport right away.

I hastily repacked my bags and was picked up. A few of the teachers had gone for a walk and a truck was dispatched to bring them back to their apartments and on to the airport. We were all in a state of disbelief. Even the principal, who is always notified of flights, hadn’t received a heads up on this one until she got to the airport. We yielded our checked luggage for the third time in two days.

There was an air of mystery and confusion. Oh yes. The weather was far worse than it had been when our noon flight was cancelled. Go figure. Just before the plane was due to land an interesting (?) discussion broke out between the Air Inuit agents and our principal. She had been informed by our Board’s travel people that our destination was Puvirnituq on the Hudson coast. The Air Inuit staff said that we were going to Kuujjuaj on the Ungava coast. When in doubt, “go where the pilot is going” was my astute assessment of the situation.

As it turned out, our travel people had it right and after a refueling stop in Salluit, we winged our way to Puvirnituq. I had packed emergency supplies in my carry-on bags and during the flight shared some cheese and crackers with everyone on the plane – 15 hungry teachers.

Once again, our principal went into overdrive trying to figure out connecting flights for the next day, assuming that we would make it to Montreal. Small complication. Montreal, and my final destination, the NSLC (Nova Scotia Liquor Commission) oops I mean Halifax, were expecting major snow, rain and windstorms on Friday the 23rd.

We arrived in Puvirnituq around 7:00 p.m. and were met by a pleasant and accommodating chap from the local Co-op hotel. To our chagrin, he told us that the village’s sole restaurant was closed until the new year and that both grocery stores were closed for the day. Those of us who have travelled in the north in the past know that you always carry food with you for such eventualities. After checking in to our rooms, we convened in the large dining/kitchen area. Co-op hotels are very much a “do-it- yourself operation. We all brought our food to the kitchen to prepare a communal meal.

We put together several tables and within a half an hour, the fifteen of us were enjoying a great meal highlighted by a very tasty pasta dish and a couscous salad. Dany had brought a birthday cake for one of our teachers who was having a birthday on Christmas Day. There was a festive atmosphere, and I played some tunes including Oh Holy Night which Annie and I sang in harmony. I think I saw a few tears as my friends longed to be home with their loved ones.

And then it was off to bed after a very long, tiring day.

Day 3

I looked at the clock and it was 5:12 a.m. I haven’t been sleeping the best lately and when I’m travelling, sleep seems to be at a premium. I went down and made some coffee and toast and started to write the epic saga that you are now reading.

It was a bitterly cold morning and with lots of time to kill, several of us decided to go for a walk down by the bay. The sun was just coming up and the scenery was breathtaking. A person puts up with a lot of frustrating situations in the north, but the rewards are mornings like today. At the end of our walk, we went to the Co-op grocery store, a short walk from our hotel. We picked up some lunch stuff and more snacks… just in case.

The hotel manager drove us to the airport in order for us to check in our bags. We returned to the hotel and grabbed a bite of lunch only to discover that our flight to Montreal was delayed for three hours. This made for a very long afternoon as we could no longer hang out at the hotel. I decided to use to time to continue writing this story. I found a surface to write on in a corner of the terminal and used a wheelchair as my seat! I was sitting fairly near one of the doors where passengers arrived from their flights. Every time the door opened, a blast of icy air entered the building and by the time our flight was getting ready to leave, the terminal was cold.

As we were lining up to board our flight, some airline people came around with a box lunch for the flight. Even though I had lots of snacks, it was nice to know that we would have something to eat for the three-hour flight. It was supper hour by the time the flight left and shortly after takeoff, I decided to eat my sandwich provided in the box lunch. I had scarcely brushed off the crumbs when an announcement came over the intercom that a hot dinner was about to be served. Feast or famine. One never knows what’s going to happen on any particular flight these days.

The flight passed quickly, and I was surprised and delighted that I even managed to have a nap. The weather in Montreal had improved during the day but we were promised some significant turbulence, especially upon our arrival. The female captain of the flight did a masterful job, and the turbulence was minimal. During the flight we were informed that we would not be arriving at the main terminal but at the Air Inuit terminal. The airline assured us that they would make sure there were enough taxis waiting for us in this remote terminal.

Three of us shared a cab (an SUV). I had to “grease the wheels” a little to get the driver to take us and our nine bags. He was doing the math, and this wasn’t going to be a profitable venture for him. Money talks and after slipping him a $20, his mood changed instantly, and he was now delighted to take us to the Courtyard Marriott in St. Laurent where I had stayed numerous times before flying to and from the north.

After checking into my room, I met my principal in the restaurant and we shared a celebratory beer, my first in four months. Yes. It was mighty tasty.

A sense of relief washed over me knowing that I was one more flight from getting home.

Day 4

Before leaving for the north, I had borrowed a colleague’s parka and now I needed to return it before going home. I wasn’t able to coordinate the exchange with Chad and had to leave it at the front desk for him to pick up later. I took the airport shuttle, brimming with optimism that I would be in Halifax on Christmas Eve.

I must admit that a bit of brain fog was settling in after the trauma at school and this protracted trip. I entered the terminal and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t particularly busy. I went to an Air Canada kiosk and was able to print off my baggage tags and boarding pass. I needed to speak to an agent about getting a gate check tag for my guitar. I was just about to load my checked bags onto the moving walkway when the agent casually mentioned that I was in the wrong section of the airport. This was the Air Canada International section of the airport. My bags could have ended up in Oshkosh, Wisconsin or New Delhi.

The agent directed me to the proper Air Canada location. As I turned heel, my phone pinged with a text from Air Canada informing me that my flight to Halifax had been cancelled because of maintenance issues with the plane. This was unwelcome news. I headed down to the check in area at Air Canada and it was bedlam. There was a large throng of exasperated travellers lined up waiting to either check in or try and change their travel plans.

There was a French television station interviewing passengers. Many of them were seething with rage and others were teary eyed. They asked me if I could tell them my travel story and I happily obliged. I admitted that my situation wasn’t nearly as dire as others. I felt badly for mom’s travelling with infants or people travelling with elderly family members.

I knew that I wasn’t likely to get another flight to Halifax, so I decided to contact Chad and Emma to go and hang out with them until I got word on a new booking. As fate would have it, Chad had just gone to my hotel and had retrieved his parka and was only 15 minutes from the airport. He picked me up and we met up with Emma and some of her friends at a restaurant specializing in brunch.

After lunch, we headed to Emma’s parent’s home. They invited me to stay over in the event I didn’t get a new flight to Halifax. It was a very generous offer. Midway through the afternoon, I was hit with a wave of fatigue. I decided that I wanted to go back to the hotel and spend a quiet evening but discovered that all the hotels in the area were full of stranded passengers. I had a power snooze which revived me.

When I woke up, I started receiving messages from my principal. Even though she technically retired a few days ago, she went to work on my behalf. Our school board has a dedicated travel section. They arrange all travel for teachers in the fourteen villages of Nunavik. In the past few hectic days, they had worked 24/7 trying to get the teachers from Kangiqsujuaq home. Even though their offices were closed for the holidays, they had an emergency line. Dany contacted the travel folks and by the end of the day, they had managed to book me a flight on Christmas Day with Porter Airlines.

The remainder of Christmas Eve was magical. Emma’s mother, Lynn laid out an incredible feast. I met Emma’s brothers and their girlfriends. While they had a session in their hot tub, I had a chance to have a video call with my four children. And then it was on to dinner. Lynn had made tourtiere’s and home-made beans. For the first time in my life, I tasted truffles. The wine flowed and the conversation was lively. Little did I know that Emma’s two brothers were stand up comedians or at least that is how it appeared to me. I can’t remember laughing as hard or as long as I did during that meal. We retired to the living room and I had to sing for my supper. It wasn’t a long singsong but it was great fun nonetheless. The family started their Christmas Eve ritual of opening stockings, and I took this as my cue to head to bed. I have to admit that it wasn’t a hardship to go to my basement bedroom that had heated floors!

Day 5

I had a great sleep and woke up revived on Christmas morning. Even though my flight wasn’t till 2:45 p.m., I decided to give the Robertson clan a break and headed to the airport early in the morning. I took an Uber and was taken to the airport in a late model Lexus SUV. Are you getting the picture here, folks?

I could and probably should write an entire piece on “white privilege” but I won’t spoil this story with a rant. However, it occurred to me MANY times during this travel fiasco that as a privileged white person, I had everything going for me. I was in my home country and spoke a common language. Quebec still irritates me a bit, refusing to acknowledge that we don’t all speak French. I had financial resources, I had endless contacts and my own private travel consultant. I didn’t have to worry about food or lodging. Other than some minor inconvenience, I had NOTHING about which to complain, with one exception.

Air Canada needs to be taken to task for their abhorrent client service. Yes, I realize that we were in the middle of a perfect storm, literally and figuratively. Covid had laid waste to every business. The airlines, in particular, have not been able to hire staff to fly their planes, and efficiently process travellers. The weather in every region of Canada was brutal and it was Christmas. So, it was no surprise to me that flights were being cancelled in the hundreds in every airport across the country. My flight to Halifax was cancelled because of mechanical problems with the plane. One can only assume that the airlines are understaffed at every position and there probably weren’t enough mechanics to keep the planes in the air.

But what rankles me to no end is that they did not honour their responsibility to get me home. When they informed me by text and e-mail of the cancellation, they assured me that they were working hard to reschedule my flight and get me home. Since that initial communique, I have not received a single update. I would still be at the Dorval airport had I relied on Air Canada. Can you imagine the people who don’t have white privilege? How could they possibly navigate this impossible situation while not knowing the language or having friends to reach out to?

I have a new tagline for Air Canada: “Air Canada. The airline that dares to care.” Or how about this one that was shared with me. “Air Canada is not happy unless you’re unhappy.” Their lack of clear communication in a crisis of this magnitude is simply inexcusable.

(Ah! That feels good to get off my chest now that I am safely back in Nova Scotia.)

After yesterday’s gaff trying to get on a flight to god only knows where at the International check in, I realized that brain fog might become permanent. This became crystal clear moments after arriving at the airport. I went to the Porter check ins and was met by a friendly agent. Porter is an excellent airline and their people actually seem to care about you. The check in went smoothly even though I had to shell out $120 for my two bags- about the same cost as the truffles from the night before! I tried to charm the agent suggesting that it was Christmas Day and that this was day 5 of my travel adventure. He informed me that he had cut me some slack because by rights he should have also charged me $60 for my guitar which I had planned to gate check. My pathetic negotiating tactics had failed miserably.

He showed me where to go to pass through security. I have been at Dorval airport dozens of times over the years and am very familiar with the security area of the airport. I turned a corner and saw a very large lineup which didn’t surprise me in the least or cause me an ounce of concern as I had a full four hours to kill before my flight. I got in the lineup and  started sending messages on my cell phone. I wasn’t paying attention to what was going on around me but then something struck me. I was the only Caucasian. I went back to messaging and about 30 minutes later, something else occurred to me. Every passenger was carrying carts loaded down with gigantic suitcases. A light went on in my head. “Oh f..k”. This was not a security lineup at all but a check in lineup. I tapped on the shoulder on a young man in front of me. “Do you speak English?” “Yes” he replied. He informed me that the 400 people in this lineup were going to Algeria. I sheepishly crawled under the barrier and headed for the security area. Astonishingly, there was no one in this lineup. Nada. It took me less than five minutes to get processed and three of those minutes was taken up by a young agent checking out the contents of my guitar case.

Not knowing if I would make it out for sure on what was now Christmas Day, I had (for me) a very uncustomary, gargantuan breakfast. I’m sure there were at least 1000 calories. I am afraid to weigh myself when I get home. After busting my butt to lose 23 pounds since September, I was wondering what my shaming device (the bathroom scale) would tell me after my atrocious travelling diet. When you experience travel delays, your diet vanishes and you just try and keep yourself fueled even if it is with unsavory, fat inducing foods.

I still had plenty of time before my flight. I went to my departure lounge deep in the bowels of the airport where you get on planes by walking on the tarmac. These lounges have all the appeal of an ant colony. I pulled out my laptop and continued to work on this saga. It then occurred to me (duh) that there were more pleasant venues for writing. I went back upstairs and found a fashionable bar and two rum and cokes later, it was getting close to boarding time. Before leaving the bar, my heart skipped a beat as there was a delay notice from Porter on my cell phone. The good news was that I was still in a bar and if my flight got delayed or cancelled, I could console myself immediately. I saw this as a no-lose proposition! Happily, the delay was only 15 minutes.

A half an hour before boarding our flight, it started to snow, lightly at first and then more heavily as departure time loomed. Dark thoughts filled my head until I remembered the bar upstairs! I took my seat on the plane and gazed out the window. The window was encased in ice. The only ice I wanted to see  was at the bottom of a glass. It came as no surprise that we were about to encounter another delay to de-ice the plane. You know when you’re chomping at the bit to get somewhere, time seems to pass oh so slowly. Even though it had been only 45 minutes from the time we boarded the plane until we taxied down the runway, it seemed like an eternity. It took so long to get to the runway that I seriously thought that they might have to de-ice the plane a second time.

Porter Airlines does care about the comfort of their passengers. We were offered complimentary beer and wine along with snacks, something you rarely see on a flight less than 90 minutes long. I was a pretty happy camper when the plane touched down at Stanfield Airport in Halifax. I was picked up by a friend, and she deposited me at my sister’s place in Bedford.

I was greeted like royalty. Before I could even enter her house, she passed me a glass of red wine on the doorstep. That’s when you know you’re home! I was treated to a lobster sandwich, a lovely Caesar salad, a tray of Christmas sweets, chocolate and the piece de resistance an hour later, a long, life giving soak in her hot tub, along with a cold can of Keith’s pale ale.

After a 10-hour sleep, the first good sleep in weeks, I was ready and raring to go.

It was quite the trip. There were a few lows to be sure but the kindness of friends and family made the voyage a memorable one.

Happy New Year to all my loyal readers.


Enjoy this? Visit the rest of my website to enjoy more of my work or buy my books!
Tri Mac Toyota!

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


4 Responses to Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.