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Behind the curtain

Andy Barker
Andy Barker

Regular travellers with Marine Atlantic can attest that the logistics of the boarding procedures haven't really changed much over the years.

Even the 9-11 terrorist attacks had minimal impact. The only notable changes include the vehicle driver now having to show a photo ID and ferry properties, on both sides, are all fenced. Thankfully, travelling by sea from here is still quite relaxed, casual.

However, departing by air from here is neither casual nor relaxed as all passengers are treated as potential terrorists.


Recently, at Gander airport a guy ahead of me had his backpack thoroughly examined. Worse again was all the swabbing on a two-wheeled walker (looking for explosives) pushed by a little old lady.

In both cases, if airport security could have read my mind, they would have heard, “Hey, back off with all the security checking nonsense; they're just ordinary folks from around here. The most deadly thing he could be carrying would be salt meat. And anything she's carrying that might explode would be bottled moose!”

Once past the over-the-top airport security my Air Canada flight to Ottawa via Halifax and Montreal had an unexpected twist. At Montreal my seating location was reassigned to business class with the check-in clerk noting the possibility of no meal.

It was my third time ever being bumped up, and it last happened 20 years ago.

My unfamiliarity with the foreign territory showed almost immediately. As I opened the very large overhead bin for my coat, a flight attendant was at my side immediately.
“I will take your coat sir.”

Off she went with it and straightaway returned with a small bottle of water and ear phones; automatic service, no asking.

Soon afterwards she made her way to me, asking if I would be having a beverage and a meal once airborne. Being out of my league again I inquired whether they were complimentary. Her polite yes had me tell her, bring it on.

Normally where I sit on a plane, the space between you and other passengers fits into the category of “tight fitting.” However, in business class (Embraer 175 aircraft, Brazil) there was plenty of leg room and the space was even more luxurious as the extra-large seats beside me, in front of me and across from me were all empty. Even if someone had been sitting beside me, the console between the seats would prevented our arms from ever touching.

Once airborne, the flight attendant pulled over the curtain that separated business class from the other passengers. Amazingly that curtain gave me the sense that I was on a private plane.

The privacy service next included the flight attendant handing out hot towels. I gladly wiped my hands, but I could see a guy nearby having a mini-bath as he wiped his hands, face and neck.

As the flight attendant vanished with the used towels I had time to wonder where to put my meal and beer. My quandary had to do with the fact that seat in front of me had no attached tray.

Fortunately, that mystery was solved. I could see a woman ahead of me and I watched as she, nonchalantly, flipped open her seat's outside arm and pulled up the hidden tray. Whew! Thus, I was able to enjoy my free Heineken and a dressed-up fancy salad without looking like a total idiot in front of the flight attendant.

On the Gander-Halifax flight I was served coffee in a paper cup, given a wee paper napkin and free pretzels. In business class my beer came in a real glass, the food in a real dish and my solid steel utensils were rolled in a large cloth napkin.

A few years ago, I unknowingly carried a small blade in a cuticle file set. At Gander airport they were about to confiscate the whole set, but luckily, I was able to keep it once a security employee graciously used pliers to snap off the blade.

That memory came to me as I sat in the business class where I now had a sturdy knife that could easily be used to kill or maim someone. Thus, it confirmed yet again the ridiculousness of breaking off that tiny blade at Gander airport.

My curiosity had me check out the business class washroom, which was disappointing as it was similar to other airplane washrooms. As I returned to my seat, my meal tray mentor gave me the once over. Was it that obvious that I was a bumped-up plebeian?

My last treat was tasty, freshly roasted almonds; no pretzels for you, sir, in business class. And lastly the flight attendant brought me my coat as we approached the gate at Ottawa airport.

Most likely my next flight will have me sitting in my normal section; the cheap seats, steerage.


Andy Barker at

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