What’s Flying Across “the Pond” like?

Published Categorised as Essay, Brain Power, Writings

What’s flying across “the pond” like against the prevailing winds? Well, sit back in your narrowest chair, stretch your feet out till your knees are half bent, and let me tell you. Or watch!

To begin, I used an e-Boarding Pass on my iPhone; and took one small suitcase whose zip is Herculean in strength, a camera bag, and a large purse. Plus food for the wait.

Checking in was a breeze. Air Canada emailed me 24 hours before my flight that I could check in. While still in bed, I clicked the link and checked in. My boarding pass automatically appeared in my iPhone’s Passbook. Wow. For a person with a brain injury, being able to check in at your own pace in the quiet comfort of your own home or hotel room = awesome.

Checking in at the airport was quick. Both at Pearson and Heathrow, I didn’t have to wait for a self-serve kiosk, even though I flew out of Toronto on the busiest day of the year. My parents helped me become familiar with this new system at Pearson, so no probs at Heathrow plus Heathrow’s kiosk had a better smartphone QR code reader. In Pearson, I had to manually enter my booking reference number because the kiosk couldn’t read my iPhone. Both kiosks read my passport quickly, but the one at Heathrow had a better animation to show you how to place it. I must’ve stood at the Pearson kiosk for five minutes trying to comprehend its hyperspeed animation. The baggage ticket printed out quickly. But in case of difficulty, agents are all over the place, offering to help. And the lineup for checking in your tagged baggage is short and zips along.

Security made me nervous. But Air Canada, the government of Canada, and Heathrow have websites with loads of info on how to prepare. I went over them all ad nauseum, so when I got there … well, I’ve never gotten breezed through so quickly before and with no beeping either! It took twenty minutes from entering Heathrow Terminal 2 on the bus to starting for the B41 gate. Not bad. It took almost as long walking to my gate where they boarded us swiftly. Nothing like my flight to England!


The insanely early wake-up time is worth the faster boarding and less cattle-car-like morning flight. Until the idiot across the aisle is so inept, he can’t push his bag into the overhead bin properly, and it bounces off the right side of my head and shoulder like a fat bolster. I turn around confused, while someone mutters, that could’ve been my head. The inept guy takes my bin spot. I tell him to shove his bag over.

We sit and belt in.

Ramryge angels at Gloucester Cathedral, England

Brain injury grief is

extraordinary grief

research proves

needs healing.

Pushback delay. Not again!


Oh wait, it’s only 11 minutes. We’re moving – yay!!

Oh wait, as in literally. There’s a queue of planes. Typical, eh? All those Brits hogging the lane to the runway. And now there’s an SAS trying to sneak in. Always one of those: even airplanes do it.


We creep forward under the unusually London sunny skies, our sleek old Boeing 767–300 plane headed to Toronto rain. Ugh. Worse, the person behind me has their music up loud (later, she sticks her knees in my back). It’s like sitting on the subway. The London Underground, not so much. Only once was I bothered by headset leak in London.

Oh wait, we’re moving, squeezing ahead of a Virgin plane. We go to the far end of the runway. A little smoggy out there, or as Londoners like to say: we have haze.


And now the engines roar. It’s 9:31, only 31 minutes after the official boarding time. I haz a window seat this flight. Taking off is freaking awesome!

I am so excited, I forget to chew my gum.

Window seats are the best … well, until you need to go to the loo (or the toi-let as Brits say) and the person beside you is snoozing.

The 767 being older is noisier than the 777. At least, if you need to be deafened, it drowns out the headphone leakage and muffles the kid making airplane flying noises.

Although the seats are as thin as the 777’s – you can feel the person reaching into the seat pocket behind you – and the aisles are just as narrow and the toilets as tiny, it feels more what I’m used to somehow. Really, how do fat people fly? The seat is the least of the problems. The aisles and toilets are practically unnavigable. You stagger down the aisle going sorry, sorry because the narrower the space, the harder it is to balance.

9:49am. Turbulence time. We were told it would be bumpy over Ireland or the Irish Sea, but we’re still over England. Even the flight attendants have to sit and buckle up. Fifteen minutes he said. But at 9:53, the seatbelt sign goes off. And that’s when smooth becomes a tad shaky, just normal air bumps but for the fearful, a little worrying I would imagine.

(When I got off my flight to London, a guy behind me was exclaiming over how turbulent the ride was. Turbulent? I thought. Yeah, twas bumpy but not bad. All in the perspective!)

Once the turbulence ends, breakfast arrives pronto – for me. Special meals come first. Then everyone else. That means I’m eating while my seatmates wait. A bit awkward when sitting in the back as the back seat passengers are served last. Not so bad on the way to London when I was sitting up front and the carts began there.


So, I don’t know, but piping and spicy hot chickpeas and soggy samosas aren’t my idea of an ovo-lacto vegetarian breakfast. Fruit and yoghurt aren’t bad. I’m surprised how sweet the grapes are.

In mid-eating, I glance out and spot a contrail off our starboard wing. It’s from a much faster plane. Then another appears. Then we’re veering toward them and crossing almost through them. Then I spot two more not far off, as the plane flies.


The most contrails I’ve ever seen before – and I’ve been a window seat fan for decades – was one years ago when one plane below us banked south as we both left Ireland behind us. Man, those air traffic controllers have a lot of traffic to handle these days. A bit scary when yet another plane appears and you know there’s not much room for error as it disappears below you. Kind of close. Maybe that’s why we rose up as we headed over the Atlantic.

Scrambled eggs with chicken sausage or apple pancakes are for the regulars. My seatmate is given her breakfast, oh, about a half hour after I swallow the last of mine.

When someone is about to hurl, there’s always a way to squish the stomach and get past the food cart. Airplane designers don’t take into account such a necessity!

Time to settle down into the bulk of the flight. We’ve been flying only 2.5 hours; another 5.5 to go. I put my display into Autocycle maps, and the day/night map announced it’s currently 9:58 AM. No, it’s not, I think, my iPhone says 11:58. Oh, we’ve crossed Iceland, crossed two time zones, or in other words, the equivalent of two provinces.


The ocean is blue and quiet. I remember one year, I was a teen, looking through the 747 window and seeing a gray ocean with waves so large, their crests were easily visible from our great height.


People congest the aisle queuing for the loo after mealtime while attendants clear up and offer duty free. My back is killing me; the only thing to do is lean back, slide my butt down, stretch my legs out under the seat in front of me, and rotate my ankles sans hitting the underside of the seat. The poor guy is trying to nap. Good luck with that. His blind is down, but a few of us – like me – have ours up, letting in the less-filtered sunlight of 40k feet up. Five hours to go.

There’s ice in them there ocean. Lots of it. Too higgledy piggledy to be waves … right??? Well, maybe both waves and ice.

This is when I’m not too fussed about being stuck on a plane, like when I flew over to England. I’d rather be staring out at the graduated blue of the sky, the matching blue ocean, and puffy, swirling clouds dividing the two than back home, getting back into my routine.


Halfway through, and the toilet is a cesspit. Sigh. There’s something to be said for sitting up front with the economy biz people. They’re not such pigs.

The porthole in the door at the back of the 767 is really, really small and round. The 777 doesn’t have as big a window as I remember the 747 having, but it’s massive compared to this. Still, it’s quiet back here. It’s time for the four-hour-get-the-hell-out-of-my-seat stretch. Unlike in the 777, no one else knows about this place, so I’m alone (apart from the occasional toilet user).

We haven’t reached Canada’s coast yet. Snack time though. Pretzels. Artificial yuck. But I’m hungry.

2:28pm (guess I should switch to Toronto time). I see ice! Canada!!


I ogle the geography of our glorious country for most of the rest of the flight for as long as the clouds will let me, which happily is a lot.

Snack time. Again. I get a tomato mint cumin wrap in a box. I’m glad I kept the napkin from my pretzels because none comes with my wrap. The regulars get the same wrap a little while later since they run out of the chicken version quickly. This time the regulars’ wait time is very short. The wrap has that over-nuked mouth feel. Oh well. We’re almost home.

Home. Sigh. We’re flying over Québec, almost near Trois-Rivières or as my French Canadian ex-inlaws used to say: Three Rivers.

There are British tourists all around me on this Air Canada Tango flight. They’re heading to Florida. I hadn’t known Toronto was a change destination for British travellers to the U.S.

I refuse a drink. The flight attendant asks: you’re timing for the toilets. Yup. It isn’t that bad, he hedges. Worst I’ve seen! I half-joke. He laughs wryly and moves on.

The plane bumps on air and shakes back and forth.

It’s 4:27pm GMT, and I think we’re lower. I really should change my time. Later.

4:36pm GMT: a flurry of activity as the flight attendants bring around the landing cards. Canada’s are big compared to the UK’s. Yet somehow you’re not supposed to fold them while carrying all your stuff and staggering off a long flight. The British have more common sense in the design of their cards. Seems appropo this is timed for when we are close to flying over and north of Ottawa.

(Later, I learn they have kiosks that demand you tear off the side part and discard it – really, I could have done that on the plane when not laden down – read the cards, ask questions, then spit out a copy you show bored customs agents about, I don’t know, three times with the third taking it from you.)

Pilot comes on to say we’ll be descending in 20, landing at 1:25 local time, only 10 minutes late, and then he gives us the bad news of light East winds, overcast, rain, and 2C. Well, for now, I can still enjoy the sun. But OK, really is time to change my iPhone’s time zone.

It’s 1:01pm Toronto time, time to gather up all the various bits of me and put them back in my purse. I’ve fully charged my iPhone through the handy seat plug. Nice to have one of my own, unlike on my last flight.

We’re in a bank of clouds, dropping to the ground. Looking at the wing, it’s like we’re standing still.

Flaps up, only ten minutes from landing. Person in front of me hasn’t put up his seat. Two flight attendants have gone up the other aisle checking recalcitrants. None on my side. Sheesh. Finally one arrives and helps the young man pull forward his seat back.

The light is dimming as we descend through the clouds. Boy, the popping in the ears is bad. Not forgetting my gum this time!

We’re on the ground. Cloudy cloudy cloudy. But unlike London, I feel like I can still see, like I don’t have my sunglasses on. Toronto light levels are much higher than England’s. My iPhone connects to Rogers but no can do in the texting department. I guess Lebara doesn’t let you use your UK nano-SIM card outside of the UK.

And that’s it folks. Now comes the tedium of standing up on legs too stiff to move, either competing with or waiting for crowds to exit the plane as we funnel through two customs agents at the end of the passage from the plane, waiting – oh, not waiting this time! – for my baggage, then finding my prebooked limo. Ta-ta.

My Duck logo walking on my books in pink and blue shading.



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