Air Canada Flight 850 to London: True Stories


It begins with free Wi-Fi at YYC before a 6:30 p.m. departure from Calgary. Trying to catch up on Stephen Colbert I click on ‘Full Episodes’ and get the message everyone in Canada gets: “Sorry, but this video is unavailable from your location. Probably due to your overly polite attitudes.”

I opt for hockey, which is on big screens everywhere in the terminal. When the aliens come in judgment asking why they should spare our world, Canadians will show them clips of hockey.

Next comes security. I flash the uniform my boarding card and U.S. passport. Slipping my hand in my front jeans’ pocket I say I also have a valid Canadian passport down my pants. She looks at me and says: “You got to offer a girl more than that.” (I’m not making this up.)

I get tagged for secondary screening after walking through the metal detector where everyone keeps shoes on. They take the small Swiss army knife off my keychain. They apologize. I lie like I don’t read FlyerTalk and say I thought they changed the rule.

“Full-body scan or pat down?”

I go for the pat down. In case those rays really do fry the boys.

The plane, a spanking new Airbus A330-300, is almost empty. I’m seated two rows behind the ‘Executive’ first-class suites. Everything but sheets and a popcorn setting. (Memorable flights are always imperfect).

The suites look like horizontal phone booths with padding. (Boarding through first class feels like a perp walk.)

There’s no business class but the flight attendant tells me the new 777s arriving in June will have three classes. (You’ll always be popular with girls if you listen to them.)

We depart Gate 24 three minutes early. (No sequester!)

I get the entire middle row to stretch out and read. Or I can watch (perhaps my favorite novelist) David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. The touchscreen entertainment begins on the tarmac.

But no coach potato here—I’m working.

First comes the French merlot (Santé!), then the meal. Beef stroganoff or chicken, she, with toned body and persuasive enthusiasm, asks with a Quebecois accent. (Their language is a definition of their life and I love it.)

I say I’ll have poisson. She places beef on my tray table and says “trust me, it takes like fish.”

A man and a woman in the row across from me begin talking. She tells him about her husband; he talks about his daughter. Three hours and a half-dozen merlot’s later she, a punishingly much younger woman, is sleeping like dandruff on his burningly romantic shoulder. He’s about 40, the age of longing. (There’s no greater burden than having potential.)

Would you care for some water?

I’m really, really missing Bella, my dog. Maybe, as Helen Keller said, self-pity is our worst enemy. But Bella is a planet to me, and on wayward night flights like this her absence affects my gravity.

Now comes the duty-free walkabout with cart and card reader. What’s your best seller? “Liquor.”

Six hours into the flight we’re 361 miles south of Reykjavik. We’ve traveled 3,354 miles; London is 1,063 miles distant. We’re at 39,000 feet. It’s 4:36 a.m. local time and the sun is up. The stench from the first-class lavatories is starting to ooze this way.

Would you care for some water?

Breakfast arrives. (Don’t ask.)

Our route has taken us over Hudson’s Bay, across Greenland, south of Glasgow and now the descent into Heathrow.

I slip the U.S passport down my jeans and ready the Canadian passport. We’re 20 minutes early.

Here’s to rose-lipped maidens and light-footed lads.


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Comments (Showing 8 of 8)

  • deasine at 4:12am April 26, 2013

    Can’t emphasize this enough, but Executive First ≠ First class, similarly to how BusinessFirst ≠ First Class on United either. Executive First and Executive are Business Class products.

  • chinatraderjmr at 12:29pm April 26, 2013

    I’m surprised you call what AC Calls Executive First, First class….it’s not. AC has no First class. Those phone booths are business class. When AC gets a third cabin it will be premium economy. AC has “Executive” First, UA/CO has “business” First, etc etc. just a marketing name for people to think they are in first class when in fact, it’s just business

  • SFO777 at 3:32pm April 26, 2013

    “The stench from the first-class lavatories is starting to ooze this way.”
    There is no First Class on AC. That would be the Business Class lav. Just saying.

  • oktoberfest at 6:02pm April 26, 2013

    Have no idea what the purpose of this story was.

  • raisininthesun at 7:25pm April 26, 2013

    love this line: “But Bella is a planet to me, and on wayward night flights like this her absence affects my gravity.” but, as an editor–and this is merely a friendly suggestion–i would cut the sentence immediately before it (“helen keller…) and change ti to “Bella is my planet, and her absence disrupts my gravitational pull.” then i would speak to the feeling of waywardness this creates. nice descriptive essay. i support your literary aspirations.

  • philipa at 4:36am April 29, 2013

    Those planes are sad excuses for transportation. Executive First as they call it are known in my books as Air Ironing Board First Class Seats. Don’t get me started on how sub par these seats are. You are smart to have moved to the back and taken an entire row. Much more comfortable believe it or not than the seats up front!! I also wonder what the point of this story was and why I read it??

  • Transpacificflyer at 11:17pm April 29, 2013

    What an odd essay and one that loses credibility as soon as it raises the swill that some would call “wine”. Sorry, but IMO AC has one of the worst wine selections of the long haul carriers. The emphasis is on horrible Canadian wines. I have long thought that AC sent its buying agents out to the provincial liquor commissions to buy up wines at a discount that no one with a functioning palate would purchase.
    The essayist should have pondered the question as to why there were so many empty seats on the YYC-LHR route. Maybe it is because Canadians prefer the alternative options that feature FAs that have a personality or at the very least are not rude. As for the food, the essayist probably considers frozen TV dinners “gourmet” because they say gourmet on the box. Anyone who mistakes AC’s business class product for first class needs to actually fly on some of the quality airlines to see what first class is. The essayist might have also benefited from a business class experience on many of the Asian and gulf state carriers.

  • mountainpost at 10:17pm April 30, 2013

    The “essayist” says you can insult him, but not his Canadian mother. The “essayist” is working on an “essay” titled “Arrogance in the Air.” And Transpacificflyer, you got game. So much five-star arrogance that it works as parody. (They’re always looking for talent at “Saturday Night Live.”) But even worse, you’re really, really insulting (which usually comes from insecurity). You tell the world the “essayist” has no taste, no experience and no class. But you know nothing about him. Please send bio for upcoming arrogance “essay”. Seriously, let’s compare aviation experiences and views on travel; you know, the important stuff like who we are, why we go, and what does it all mean towards living a meaningful life that contributes to the world and helps the next kid who comes along. Even if that kid wants to be an “essayist”. Compare it right there on The Tarmac for all the world to see. You get your 15-minutes of fame with your real name attached to it. Seriously, I promise I’ll give you first and last words. Come on, Transpacifflyer, it will be a hoot.

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