Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Perfect Trip

Nothing is completely perfect. But this came pretty close.

Friday morning. I woke up at 7:00 in my hotel in the Bloomsbury district of London. An hour for a nice breakfast and to read the Guardian (complemenary at the hotel). 8:00 back in my room. A quick check online to map the local Underground station. 8:30 I'm packed, one bag and one carry-on, which I can pull easily behind me as I walk to the Holburn station.

It's a bit before 9:00 and there's a pretty good crowd on the street so I pull into the cafe above the station to have a coffee and wait for the crowds to thin. It's easy to get a ticket to Heathrow at the station; the wicket is staffed and there's no line-up. Four pounds. Two long escalators down and then a short flight of stairs (some of the stations are a lot worse; I actually got lost in Gloucester Road station on my way into the city on Tuesday).

Onto the train, right at the middle of the car, there's a spot reserved for luggage and an empty seat right beside it. My bags sit there under my watchful eye for the next 45 minutes or so as I listen to tunes on my iRiver and watch the city flow by. London is a huge city, obviously, and an endlessly fascinating city.

The walk from the station to the Air Canada check-in is a good fifteen minutes. There's a lot of construction but the path is perfectly marked and there isn't a hint of uncertainty. It's 10:00 by now, I'm three hours ahead of my flight and there's about five people in the line-up. A quick check-in, an aisle seat near the front of the plane because my plan is to stay awake and read.

They've changed the security set-up at Heathrow. The last time I was there, there was one huge mob of people outside security. I wrote at the time about how dangerous it was. Now it's staged; there are large barriers in between the stages, and each stage moves pretty quickly. There are signs on the wall illustrating how to prepare your carry-on and, even better, a counter with rollers to give you a place to put your stuff in the trays. It still takes a good half hour to get through security, and I can imagine it taking longer, but it is not onerous and I don't feel like my life is in danger.

This gives me about an hour and a half in the lounge before boarding. I am able to log on, read my email, write a few OLDaily posts (including the summaries from the conference, which were a pleasure to read) and have some coffee and a snack. I am a bit rushed (I forgot that boarding is an hour before the flight, not half an hour) so I don't get a chance to get my usual airline snack of fruit and nuts. There's a machine in the departure lounge, and despite it eating two pounds (giving incorrect change and delivering from an empty row) I still manage to get some water.

The airplane is one if the new 777s. My seat is right behind the bulkhead separating the economy fare people from subsidy class, but unlike other aircraft, this airplane allows me to straighten my legs without being blocked by the wall (this may sound like a small thing, but when my knees are bent for hours at a time they lock up very painfully). Each seat has a 110 volt plug and a USB port as well as a screen with personal entertainment.

I was worried because I didn't have snack food, and I had stopped eating the food on the flights to and from Europe (it was not just awful, I felt it was actually dangerous) but on this flight the food (roast lamb) was actually quite good. After watching an episode of Corner Gas (the first episode, I think, which I had never seen) I settle in to enjoy Dr. No (I had started to watch it on the flight to Boston but didn't even get half way through). Then a pleasant viewing of one of my favorite films, The Hunt for Red October. You can't beat Sean Connery. Then taking a bit of a flyer, I select Music and Lyrics because I like Drew Barrymore, not expecting much, but it turns out to be good enough that I'll make a point of seeing the rest of it some time. Seven hours passes quickly on a good airplane.

The flight is on time. I have my usual encounter with the people in the back room at Canadian Customs (ever since my South African incident they have never let me pass through without an extra screening - this is a lesson to me to not ask the Canadian government for help when I need it, because I will be punished). No line-up, so it's quite quick. I walk through security without even slowing down and settle into the lounge for 40 minutes - enough time to check a few items online and send my newsletter.

I get to the gate and as I arrive I hear myself being paged. I walk to the desk to find that my seat has been reassigned. Do you mind a window seat? No, of course not. Turns out it's in executive class. So now I get to enjoy good life you can usually get only if you can write it off as a business expense. The crab cake salad is delicious, and of course there is plenty of fresh brewed coffee. There is video - I noticed an episode of Cheers - but I am listening to my music and finishing Second Genesis (which I had started on the flight out). Quite a good book, and I wish I hadn't left the paperback tucked in the seat pouch when I left the airplane at Winnipeg.

The flight lands at about 7:30 p.m. - the sun is still shining and the cab ride to the hotel is a lot shorter than I remember. Winnipeg, I reflect, though large by canadian standards, is really a small city after all. By 8:30 I'm in my hotel room, watching a hockey game and settling in for the night. To bed a bit early, I guess, by Winnipeg standards, but I have a nice twelve hours of sleep to end my day.

It's pretty easy to complain about airlines and air travel. I've had my rough trips, there's no question about that. But this time it was as easy as could be, and when you consider that you can wake up in London and go to sleep in Winnipeg, almost half way around the world, that's pretty amazing. So I'll give Air Canada props. They haven't always treated me well, but this time it was pretty much as good as it gets.

Oh yeah - and the trivial fact of the day is this: the ceiling lighting of the 777 changes colour during the flight, from a deep violet to red to yellow to blue. Fun.

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