It Happened to Me

Austin Travel Diary, Part 1: Pearson Airport

Check-in Woes

For my 7:00 a.m. flight to Austin (I’m flying there for South by Southwest Interactive), I arrived at the airport at 5:00 a.m., with my boarding passes already printed at home thanks to the modern miracle of web check-in. However, as soon as I arrived, I saw the word “retard” on the screen and knew that I was in trouble.

“Retard” is part of “En retard“, which then was replaced by its English equivalent: “Delayed”. To 9:30. Which meant that I’d miss my connecting flight in Cleveland.

To make matters worse, the line-up for Continental — which in Toronto is generally underserved and overcrowded at the best of times — was incredibly long.

Here’s a shot of the line in front of me:

A long airport check-in line ahead of meLine-up in front of me for Continental Airlines check-in at Pearson Terminal 3, today at 5:00 a.m..

and if you think that’s bad, here’s what the line behind me looked like after 20 minutes.

An even longer check-in line behind meLine-up behind me for Continental Airlines check-in, today at 5:20 a.m.

With only four ticketing agents and everyone’s schedules bunged up by yesterday’s snowstorm, it took a while to make it to the ticket counter. One hour and twenty-two minutes, to be precise.

The woman at the ticket counter had to work pretty hard to get me into Austin before Saturday. The only way to get me there was to fly me to Austin by first sending me to Cleveland, then Houston, then Austin, effectively turning a 6-hour trip into something approaching 14 hours. Good thing I have a whole unwatched season of Battlestar Galactica on the laptop.

U.S. Customs Knows Everything

“So,” said the customs agent as he read my file, “who do you work for now?”

b5media,” I replied. “It’s my first day.”

He typed “b5media” on his keyboard and raised his eyebrows when he saw the resulting page.

“Have you…”, he said, with a little pause, “ever been refused entry to the United States?”

“Never, sir,” I replied.

“Not like some of your cohort.”


“You get what I mean, right?” He said that with a nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more glance.

“I think so…”

“You know the person in question?”

“You mean my boss, Jeremy Wright?”

Jeremy had a run-in with the long finger of Homeland Security in what is now a now-infamous (at least in the blogosphere) incident with U.S. customs.

“That’s the one,” said the customs agent. “You don’t want that kind of trouble, especially since your wife is a U.S. citizen. He went for quite a spin.”

Yeah, I thought. On the end of some ignorant power-tripping Homeland Security goon’s finger.

He gave me another look, stamped my passport and said “That’ll be all. Enjoy your visit to the United States, sir.”

Man, those guys have a lot of info on me. I wouldn’t be surprised if they know what’s on my iPod and how I like my steaks done.

How Long It Took

Total time from arrival at airport to getting to my gate: 2 hours. Urgh.

10 replies on “Austin Travel Diary, Part 1: Pearson Airport”

Woo. I really really really would like to know exactly what they have in their special computers. Besides, of course, “Do not ask them how they are related just because one is white and one is brown.”

Rule #1 of travel: never book a connecting flight if a direct flight is available, especially in the winter time. Air Canada, as much as we love to hate them, flies non-stop Toronto-Austin, although if you waited too late, you likely missed out on their one flight per day.

Rule #2 of travel: get a NEXUS card to avoid having to talk to immigration in both directions across the Canada-US border. $50 for 5 years. Totally worth it; I can get from curbside to the Air Canada US departure lounge at Pearson in about 7 minutes now, even on a crowded Monday morning.

@Kaivalya: It’s worse. At least with a stalker, there’s a good chance of having really crazy-wild stalker sex. Body cavity searches just don’t have the same ooomph.

Body cavity searches just don’t have the same ooomph.

I don’t know… anything that makes you walk funny for the rest of the day is pretty high up on my “oomph” meter. But not in a good way.

I know what the Pearson computers have on me. It’s something along the lines of “Ask her what she’s studying”, because they ALWAYS ask that when I re-enter Canada. Sometimes it’s like they forgot, and they’re all “Here’s your passport, that’ll be…OH, WAIT, what are you studying?” and when I say that I’m doing my PhD in Biochemistry they nod in agreement and let me through.
I think they even finally changed my MSc status to PhD. That took a while, but then again I don’t travel much.

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