Anyone who travels a lot understands the pure agony of being stuck on an airport tarmac for hours. And it's worse, in my opinion, when said delay comes at the end of a long flight (as opposed to the beginning). Last night, Kristina and I were returning from a pre-TIFF event in Toronto. So after 5 hours of flying, we then spent almost 4 HOURS sitting on the tarmac in Vancouver due to a lightning storm, during which airport ground crews are not allowed out. (A sensible rule I'd say!)
Since the plane had its engines running for so long, the pilot eventually had to shut off the power, which meant no TVs. Of course, my phone was dead by then so I couldn’t even plug in for a charge. Sigh. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there. Delays are a part of life.
But sometimes I worry about air travel in particular. Those of us who remember Wardair, with its roomy seats and hearty meals served on china, yearn for the olden days when coach class was a comfortable one.
The last few decades have not been an easy time for the airline business, and it’s the consumer who keeps getting squeezed – into smaller seats. Those can be cramped quarters, and after a certain number of hours cooped up with limited access to bathrooms, water, and no offer of food, well, people are only human and everyone has a breaking point. I have to say, I’m shocked there are not more instances of air rage.
In 2010 new laws passed in the US that require American airlines to allow passengers to disembark after the 3 hour mark. Food and water must be provided after 2 hours. Air Canada says it abides by these rules when at a US airport. (According to the Air Canada website, longer delays may be possible if the pilot-in-command determines there is a safety or security risk.)
Last night, we sat for just under 4 hours and got no food whatsoever. The offer of water did come soon after the initial landing, but then not again until the 3 hour mark. (Most people didn’t take the first water because we were told we’d be getting off soon.) I get that weather happens and there are understandable rules in place to protect passengers and crew, but people need food and regular water.
Last night there was a brouhaha between an elderly passenger and a flight attendant due to bathroom use restrictions. As time went on, other passengers started getting involved. Nothing much seemed to come of it but the feeling of tension was palpable. The gentleman behind me called another flight attendant and told her he was diabetic and needed food. I wish I’d thought of that. He got juice!
Air Canada remains, in my opinion, one of the world’s best airlines, and I will continue to be a faithful customer. Episodes like last night will happen again, especially as our weather gets more freakish. But I do wish they’d adopt their policy for US airports here at home. Or maybe we were all in a lot more danger then we realized.
My advice to travelers everywhere is to take precautions and plan for the worst by considering the following for your carry-on:
1. Always, ALWAYS bring your own food. Even if you plan to buy on board as well, you never know when you’re going to get stuck on the tarmac. Last night we were told they had to keep aisles clear, which meant no food cart. Pack an energy bar and a piece of fruit. You’ll thank me.
2. Bring music. Whenever I’m delayed and desperately waiting for some update on the status of the flight, I feel myself getting tense and I can’t focus on a book or tv. Music helps keep my nerves calm.
3. Ear plugs and an eye mask. See above. Zoning out from your surroundings will make a world of difference to your state of mind.
Do some deep breathing exercises and if you’re allowed to walk to the bathroom, do so, even if you don’t have to go. Stretching your legs will feel good. And remind yourself that this will give you great fodder for your friends when you finally do disembark. We all love to talk about our travel delays!
Top photo: David Lee King/Flickr