Christmas in Canada – snow covered trees and rooftops, crisp winter air, Christmas lights adorning homes and decorating trees, the northern sky so clear that the stars illuminate the darkness at night – a picture perfect White Christmas!
Growing up in Canada, I couldn’t imagine anything better than a white-snow-covered Christmas, and my friends in Los Angeles always love the wintery pictures I post to social media during the holiday season. However, the scenic ‘Winter Wonderland’ beauty somehow masks the often frigid northern temperatures, the cold bitter winds, the slippery and treacherous roads and walkways, and what often becomes a hellish-travel-ordeal-to-get-to destination, or a hellish-travel-ordeal-to-return- home-to Los Angeles nightmare from Hell! It should be noted that, usually, the ‘Universe Weather Gods’ don’t typically punish me with a Hell trip on both ends. Normally, only the inbound or outbound trip is a nightmare. And you know that I am knocking on wood as I type this, praying that I am not pissing Mother Nature off by articulating my somewhat fifty percent Canadian-winter-travel-half-luck, and hopefully not jinxing myself in some odd way.
As I prepare to fly home again, for another holiday season, let me fill you in on last year’s adventure back to the Great White Christmas in the North – in case you think – ‘I doth protest too much’!
Christmas in Canada – 2014
My mother convinced me to try WestJet, as they now have a flight that departs from Calgary and actually lands in my little home town of Brandon Manitoba. Normally, I have to fly from LA to Minneapolis (4 hours), change planes (always a 3 to 5 hour lay-over between flights), fly into Winnipeg (2 hours), stay overnight in Winnipeg at my brothers (45 minutes to his house and 45 minutes back in the morning), and catch a shuttle bus (a small van that doesn’t have a good heating system) the following morning to Brandon (about a 3 hour trip from the airport to my door). Yep, you read it right – 1 ½ days to get home.
Now, flying into Calgary still meant spending the night at my cousin Lori’s, but the next day I could fly directly into Brandon. And even if it is still 1 ½ days, at least I could spend the night visiting with my closest cousin in the world (as a bonus, her and her husband are amazing cooks) plus I wouldn’t have to endure the chilly, slippery, sometimes treacherous – and possibly cancelled in case of bad weather – shuttle ride home.
So Saturday December 20th, I Uber’d to LAX at the crack of dawn to catch my WestJet flight to Calgary. I hadn’t had time to eat breakfast before I left and was actually looking forward to maybe having something at the airport, and wondered what kind of yummy food was a waiting for me in Terminal Two. Once checked in, through security, I noticed that the terminal was under construction. After walking the length of the airport twice, I realized that the only place to buy anything to eat was at a make shift kiosk, with a line of people waiting in line that ran half the length of the terminal. I stood in line waiting for 40 minutes to purchase a bag of chips and a water, and then found a comfortable place on the floor to sit because most of seats in the airport had also been removed, and there were only a few places to plop your ass, so mine ended up on the floor.
The WestJet coach seats seemed comfy after the cold floor – a cold floor that had become increasingly uncomfortable as the flight was delayed by almost three hours leaving LAX. At least they had food for purchase, and more importantly alcohol. More chips, and wine – the start of a great holiday, I reasoned.
Three hours later…….Calgary ….arrived! Bag….. arrived! Cousin…. arrived and waiting for me!! A yummy dinner, great wines, and a gab fest that lasted until one am, made the long travel day a forgotten memory. I tossed and turned for the next five hours – knowing I had to get up by six am in order to shower, gulp coffee and get to the airport in time – made it a sleepless night for me. No matter, in only a few short hours I would be at home, smelling something delicious cooking in my mom’s kitchen.
Sunday morning, after a one hour ride back to the airport, finally checked in, more coffee consumed, waiting for the plane, knowing I was half way there, felt cheery and the ‘it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’ song was silently playing in my head. I just had one small hurdle, one fear to overcome that day, there was one thing I was dreading – there was one major caveat in that direct-flight-home-no-shuttle-needed flight; the aircraft was a ‘Propeller Plane.’
My mother had promised me that the ‘Propeller Plane’ was extremely safe and I had called WestJet myself inquiring as to its safety. I made my travel agent call and check out the aircraft’s safety rating. Even though I am a nervous flyer, I decided that since the overall consensus – and being that a propeller plane flew in and out of Brandon every day and the death toll was currently none – decided that my paranoia was groundless.
As I bundled up to run out to the plane (it was too small and insignificant to pull up to a real gate, and could only be entered from a little icy metal staircase out in the boonies of the airport terminal), held my breath as we took off. As it was just my luck, I was seated in a window seat facing the engine, the giant propellers my only view for the next two hours. The hum of the propellers was loud, and once we were safely above the clouds, the noise didn’t exactly lull me to sleep.
Two hours later, we were almost to Brandon, and the pilot came on the loud speaker to inform us that Brandon was experiencing unusually warm weather. And because of this freak-of-nature-December-heat-wave (it was actually zero degrees Celsius as opposed to the normal -40 degrees Celsius), the airport was under a dense fog caused when the icy cold snow met the warm air, and the result was zero visibility. Unfortunately, the propeller plane was not equipped with the technology it needed to land in this obscure-never-happens weather situation, and they had decided to circle and wait for the ground fog to lift.
One hour and 15 minutes later, still circling the city of Brandon, the pilot came on again and said that it appeared that the fog wasn’t going to lift, and as we were running out of fuel, they had decided to fly us to Regina Saskatchewan to fuel up and out wait the fog. The groans from the passengers were louder than the noise from the propellers, and in case you aren’t familiar with Canadian geography, we had already passed Regina on the way to Brandon. So that meant we were turning this propeller-bird around and heading back west, 45 minutes in the direction from which we had just come.
By the time we landed in Regina, I had been on the prop plane for almost five hours: A plane so small that you can’t even stand up without hitting your head on the ceiling, equipped with a very wee bathroom at the front of the plane, with a small toilet and no room to move or turn around in, with no running water to wash your hands; a plane where only cold snacks are the only available choice as there is no mechanism to heat food. Yet….they kept us on the plane for about another hour sitting there waiting. The pilot apologized that everything was taking so long, he said that since 9-11, airport security was tight, and the airport wasn’t sure how to deal with passengers ‘re-entering’ a secured area.
Okay, the Christmas music was officially turned off in my head. I was starting to get mad and annoyed. And I had to pee. Half the plane had to pee. I mean seriously, were they thinking that a terrorist would be on the plane flying to Brandon and that Regina Saskatchewan was going to be under attack? Let’s just say I don’t think that Brandon Manitoba is a terrorist target, and even if for some obscure reasons it was, no terrorist would brave a Canadian winter…..only Canadians will brave a Canadian winter.
Finally, in hour six of my journey, the small now familiar little metal stairway rolled out onto the tarmac, and the 70 passengers on board ran into the airport. I wanted to call my mom, I wanted to call my mom and cry. And of course, I hadn’t paid to have an extra package on my cell phone, so I couldn’t use it in Canada without having crazy roaming fees, and had to beg a fellow stranded passenger to use her phone.
The Regina airport was bigger than Brandon’s airport, but was definitely smaller than your average Walgreen’s drug store. There were two places to get food: a Tim Hortons where you could get coffee and a donut, or a bar where you could get alcohol and popcorn. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I decided that alcohol and popcorn was the better choice of the two options. As I waited, making friends with now other stranded passengers from my flight, hopeful that the fog would clear and at least I would have dinner to look forward to with my family, munched on my greasy popcorn and sipped my horrible crappy bar Cabernet.
Three hours later…..THREE HOURS LATER…..they made an announcement and called us back to the gate. The attendant waited until everyone was back (which only took about two minutes because like I said, well, picture a Walgreens), and announced that they had decided to cancel the flight.
WWWWWHHHHAAAATTTTT????? At which point, the American girl in me reared her mouthy head, and in a loud voice, I said, “Are you fucking kidding me? You are going to cancel the flight and leave us stranded here? That’s so fucked up!” The rest of the timid Canadian passengers all looked at me with a ghastly look on their faces, and the attendant said ‘excuse me young lady, there is no need for language like that.’
Was HE fucking kidding me? After no sleep the night before, and a day from hell, they were cancelling the flight, and he expected to see the polite Canadian girl say ‘Oh gosh, oh no, well…okay, okie dokie, you betcha!’ He went on to say that we had the option to get off the plane, take our luggage, and make our own way home – which he didn’t recommend as the roads were treacherous and it was blizzardy with zero visibility – or they would fly us back to Calgary and try to get us out on a flight the next day or two.
I was now trembling with fatigue and frustration, and noticed that most of the hearty Canadian passengers on board had chosen to figure out a way back to Brandon – the five hour drive across the blizzardy-zero-visibility-icy-roads seemed a better bet than the ‘let’s try and get you on a flight AT CHRISTMAS on the already-fully- booked-one-flight-a-day planes heading to Brandon.’ I borrowed my new bar buddy’s phone and called my mom sobbing saying that I thought my best option was to befriend a fellow passenger and head home. She said the roads were awful and begged me to go back to Calgary, adding it would literally kill her if something happened to me on the way home.
It turns out that Canadian mothers are full of ‘Jewish Guilt’ as well, so heading back to Calgary it was going to be for me, in fact only 9 passengers all together decided to head back west. My new bar buddy was also heading back to Calgary, as she lived there and at least could go home, so once again about 1 ½ hours after all the luggage was unloaded, I bundled up again, walked up the icy metal stairs, and headed back on to the propeller plane for another 90 minute flight.
The flight attendants felt sorry for us, and handed out free drinks and food, but I was so tired and upset that it hardly took the edge off. By the time we landed in Calgary it was 10:00 pm, I had left my cousins at 6 am…I was exhausted. I barely had the energy to go and get my bag, and I had the choice of sleeping in the airport lobby or finding a hotel. Somehow I knew that it if didn’t lay on a bed that night, that the next day a TMZ worthy meltdown was likely to happen, and I didn’t think an orange jumpsuit would be a good holiday memory.
One hundred and eighty five dollars later, I had a room at the hotel at the airport, and all I wanted was a bath, and to sleep. I emailed my travel agent getting her to waitlist me on any configuration possible for the next day and told her that if I didn’t make it home on Monday, then I was heading back to LA. I wasn’t going to be one of those people interviewed on the news waiting in the airport for five days trying to get home. Chinese Food take-out seemed like a perfect Christmas option number two to me.
Of course, I never slept, I tossed and turned because I had to be back at the airport by 6 am to waitlist myself for flights. The next morning, back at the terminal gate by 7 am, I found my new 9 friends again – each hoping that we would somehow get on a flight into Brandon – we waited patiently for some sort of news.
And then, a Christmas miracle happened – or more likely, WestJet had a situation, a Christmas-bad press situation. You see not only were we stranded in Calgary, but a whole plane full of people who were leaving Brandon could also not depart yesterday for their holiday travels. WestJet informed us that they had decided to bring in a plane from somewhere else to fly us into Brandon. I didn’t even know if I should believe them, and it wasn’t until I was back on board that I called my mom and said it looked good for a 2:30 pm pick up that afternoon in Brandon. I was optimistically Christmas hopeful at this moment.
Two more hours across the prairies, me praying for cooler temperatures and no ground fog; believe me, the screams of glee from the nine passengers was deafening when the wheels touched down on the small landing strip at the Brandon airport. I was home. My mom and sister were there to get me. I had been traveling for 72 hours. I was exhausted. I could barely speak.
But…..I was home for Christmas. And at the end of the day, that was all that really mattered. And the trauma slowly lifted as I ate my mom’s home cooked happiness, slept and watched TV and enjoyed the beauty of the Canadian Christmas winter topography. And, I prayed that the ‘Universal Weather Gods’ would not punish me with a return trip from hell – which turned out was only 4 days away as the 3 days of travel had eaten up half of my vacation time. I had 3 days at home before on the 4th day I had to head back to the little metal stairs and sit on that damn propeller plane for hopefully, only, 2 hours!
So as I get ready to pack for my annual Christmas trip home, brining essentials in my carry on in case I am stranded somewhere, at the end of the day I know that arriving safe is really all that matters. And if braving holiday travel and the cold means that I get to spend that one special day with my family, then all the drama and bullshit that goes along with getting there really doesn’t matter, does it?
So, I am wishing you all out there the happiest holiday season, wherever you go and for whatever you celebrate, I hope it is full of love. And I pray that during one of these ‘Christmas in Canada’ winter wonderland trips home, you don’t see me on the news being hauled off in cuffs with only an orange jumpsuit to look forward to for the foreseeable future! Or if I do, at least you might have some empathy as to ‘why’!
Ho ho ho…Merry Christmas…Joyeux Noel…. Feliz Navidad… Happy Hanukah!!!!