Homeward Bound

It occurred to me that thanks to the US Government (and my wacky travel schedule) 2008 is the first year that I have 'sprung forward' twice.

I am of course referring to the fact that North America switched from Daylight Savings to Standard (or is it the other way around… I never remember) a couple of week ago, while Europe did it last week-end.  I was actually confused that when I got to Stockholm I was in GMT+1, but the time was only five hours ahead of Toronto, which is and has always been GMT-5. 

The mystery was solved Friday evening when a notice was posted in the lobby of my hotel in Kista reminding guests to adjust their clocks forward the next night.  So technically I have actually lost two hours of sleep this spring instead of the usual one; in the back of my mind there is a bit of a concern that I will be off-balance for the rest of my life because of this, until I decide to book another trip to Europe in the fall between the time shifts.

So Europe is behind me, and in three hours or so I will finally land at Toronto Pearson Airport. It is a dreadful place, not one that I relish spending any time in, either going or coming.  In the past few hours I have had another opportunity to call Air Canada and Aeroplan prostitutes with no interest in offering service to very frequent customers (same reason coming as going… I will never get any satisfaction beyond what I get for posting that, so my faithful readers can more or less expect to hear that every time I cannot use an upgrade certificate.  A week tomorrow I am flying to Seattle… I wonder what they will say about my North American Upgrade Certificates. 

Sometime in the autumn I was running very late to catch a plane – I am tempted to say I was coming home from Cleveland – and forgot to put my utility knife into my checked luggage.  Of course I knew that there was no way that I would be allowed to take it on the plane (those of you who really know me can surmise just how sharp the blade was) so when I got to the security checkpoint I handed it to an agent and told her to enjoy it.  As you know knives of any sort are not allowed on airplanes, along with nail clippers.  (It should be noted that despite every argument I hear about how stupid that law is, I can see nail clippers being quite easy to convert into a weapon)

The first time I discovered the extent of that new reality was in January, 2002.  I was on the very long return trip from Steamboat, Colorado and about thirty-two hours after the journey began I found myself sitting at T.G.I. Fridays in Washington Dulles Airport.  The menu was extremely abridged – they had removed all foods that could not be eaten by hand, and naively I asked about it.  We were living in a very new world at the time and I suppose I understood.

I have been in one or two airport restaurants since then, both in North America and abroad, and have noticed that the only cutlery you can generally get beyond the security checkpoint is plastic.  I suppose it is an alternative to having to keep track of every single knife, and I am not the type to argue security measures.

So after my frustrating encounter with the Air Canada gate agent I walked across to the Lufthansa Executive Lounge in Frankfurt.  I suppose because it was between 'meal times' there were tons of snacks-type foods such as popcorn and breads with cheese and spreads, as well as soup, .  (The highlighted beverage was Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon… sheesh!)  I poured myself a cafe au lait and sat across the snack bar when it hit me…

…they had knives set out at the buffet.

To be clear I do not mean plastic knives, it was actual silverware.  They were butter knives, but actual knives nonetheless.

It got me thinking back… I do not generally pay attention to these things in the lounges, but I do remember that at the SAS Lounge at Stockholm Arlanda I had fried herring with, you guessed it, actual silverware; and I know for a fact that every time I have flown either business Class or First Class on any airline it has been the same.  It no longer sticks out as it once did, but I remember my trip to California in May when I was upgraded, I blogged about that experience and noted with great excitement the silverware.

So my question is this: why is it that airlines (and more importantly the folks at airport security) are willing to put potential weapons in the hands of people who fly Business Class?  I am pretty sure that at least some of the 9-11 hijackers (may each one of them and their families rot for eternity) flew Business Class.  It is absolutely impossible for me to get into the head of someone who would do that, but if I accepted a suicide mission that involved an airplane you can be certain that one of the non-negotiable conditions would be that they flew me First Class.

It is not as if the terrorist organizations cannot afford it… Thanks to the oil-rich states that finance them they certainly have the means.  Every time we hear of such things (okay, for most of us this is probably in movies and on TV) the terrorist cells are receiving wire transfers of twenty-five (or two hundred and fifty) million dollars.  That to the tembel who is martyring himself translates into a very lavish night on the town, dinner, drinks, prostitutes, and yes, First Class airfare.

(If you read my initial article equating Air Canada to a high-priced escort, you will understand that I, like most travelers, generally book the lowest fare available and only get to fly up front when the airline asks for volunteers or when my agent successfully negotiates the +6hour clause in my contract.  I still hardly understand the difference between the three fare classes that Air Canada has that all put you in the back of the plane.)

I definitely prefer most Boeing aircraft over most Airbus aircraft.  I was disappointed that I was not able to upgrade my flight from Toronto to Frankfurt, but truth be told the Economy Class seats of a Boeing 777 are pretty comfortable.  The personal entertainment unit in each seat ensured that I could watch whatever movies I chose, and when I wanted to sleep the seats reclined quite comfortably.  (I then transferred onto another Boeing, a 737-800, which was not as lavish but still quite comfortable)

Flying home from Oslo through Frankfurt had me on a Lufthansa Airbus 320, initially next to a man who had no interest in sharing the armrest and went out of his way to demonstrate that.  Because the flight was not full I was able to switch seats when the crew closed the doors.  I then transferred onto the Air Canada Airbus 330.  This one is in fact a full flight, and I am quite grateful that I have an aisle seat.  The seats recline in a rather odd manner which would be perfect for getting a shave at the barber, but is not at all comfortable for watching movies (minus the personal entertainment unit, so I was happy that the first movie was one I had not seen, but have seen the second one).

On trans-Atlantic flights Air Canada not only serves you a hot meal, but also plies you with liquor.  I am three rows behind the impenetrable Business Class Curtain, and was actually envious knowing that just four seats ahead of me the passengers were not only eating much better hot food, but with actual cutlery.  They are sipping champagne from goblets while I settle for California white wine out of a plastic cup.  (Later I had an Irish Coffee, but the best they could manage was Canadian Club Rye)

I did get to do a good deed by helping a very elderly lady in and out of her wheel chair when the crew needed help… good deeds just feel good, and it is not about the thanks… it is about the deed itself.

If you are wondering why I might sound slightly whinier than no
rmal it likely has to do with my stay in Oslo.  My presentation was well received, but I feel like the rest of the time was well and truly wasted.  I ventured into the city a number of times, but the weather was not conducive to wandering tourists.  I did what I had to do and then went back to my hotel, which was in the middle of nowhere (Fornebuparken!). 

I suppose I was blessed in Stockholm because after a good presentation I had four great sunny days to wander, explore, and such.  As my pictures on Facebook (and here) will attest I saw any number of great sites, both historic and modern.  I saw castles, museums, the old section of town (which made Old Montreal look like a modern metropolis), and the changing of the guard, not to mention a 370 year old ship that sank before it could even raise its sails.  The weather made me want to get out of bed, and jump from sight to sight. 

In Oslo the only half-decent suggestion was to see a place called Akke Brygge, which apparently locals are incapable of saying slowly.  It was on a fjord which is always nice, but nothing worth writing about.  I was accosted by a teenaged girl raising funds for charity who was excited to meet a Canadian, and asked me if I said oot and aboot.  She had all sorts of suggestions for what I should do on my last night in town, but none of them really appealed to me. 

The truth is that as much as I enjoy my work, including the travel involved, I miss my family dearly, and cannot wait to get home to them.  I know that once I have walked the seventeen miles from the gate to Customs to Baggage Claim, wait to find out if they have lost my luggage (the less-than-helpful agent who checked me in at Pearson only checked my bag through to Frankfurt, which did not help my mood), I will only be mere yards from an incredible greeting… Theresa is bringing Aaron to the airport, and I know that he is as excited to see me as she is.

Once we get home there will be another wonderful reunion – my three beloved puppies.  Jacob always is always less happy and playful when I am away, and when he hears my voice when we video-chat he comes up and licks the screen.  Gingit – has she really been with us less than a month? – hears my voice and jumps on the keyboard, and I have gotten some great messages that she has typed.  Bailey is the brave one, but I know that when I come through the door the three of them will be fighting for position in daddy's shadow… and I assure you they will all get their turn!

So another journey is coming to a close.  I won't be home for long – a week tomorrow I am off to Seattle for the MVP Summit, but for the time being there are no more two- or three-week absences planned.  My next contract actually has me working primarily from home for a few weeks!  I may complain about the noise and probably am a bit rough with the discipline (mostly Aaron and Jacob) but the truth is I love it… and wouldn't have it any other way!

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