The ski hill in Virginia lacked an essential ingredient. (Tom Roper photo)

The ski hill in Virginia lacked an essential ingredient. (Tom Roper photo)

Harrowing air travel continues post-COVID

The challenges of flying to a destination holiday seem to have ramped up over the COVID years. There are not enough workers, not enough planes and, of course, the weather becomes a factor.

I had decided that I needed to see my grandchildren and my daughter-in-law. I hoped to squeeze in a trip to Virginia early in December to miss the Christmas rush. You may remember the disastrous trip I was on last year as she was recovering from heart surgery.

I had come out to help look after the kids and the holiday turned from two weeks to seven weeks as she developed a serious infection and came close to death. Fortunately, my daughter-in-law survived and I got to bond with the kids. This year had a much better outcome and I am happy to tell you my daughter-in-law is doing well.

The return trip last year started me — a very impatient person who does not like lining up — on a journey of understanding and acceptance. I was at the boarding gate in Dulles airport, Washington when the attendant placed the sign ”Flight Cancelled” in front of me.

The scramble was on, another lineup. No, the flight to Montreal is also cancelled and you have to go to Chicago, then Seattle to overnight and finally Vancouver to connect with Smithers B.C. 

Can it be done? As the flight from Seattle was delayed and I was running through customs in Vancouver and pulled into a random COVID check, sweat was forming as I sprinted from the American side to the last gate (40) on the Canadian side. I’m late, 10 minutes. Can I board, I asked, trying to catch my breath. Oh, no problem, said the attendant, we are delayed 30 minutes.

Well, that was last year and it seems this year would continue to provide its own set of composure testing. The visit was less stressful, of course, as my daughter-inlaw’s health has returned and once the children were prodded into remembering Grampa Tom, all went fairly smoothly.

They live on a property outside of Charlottesville along the Rockfish river. About 10 miles up the road was the site for the filming of “The Waltons,” a TV series back several years, (check it out on YouTube).

The old store and mill are still there as a tourist attraction. We managed a trip to Wintergreen, a local ski hill about an hour south. The number of cabins/mansions up on the mountain with such a spectacular view was amazing. The only issue was the lack of a sort of essential ingredient for success, snow. Seems that was not a serious issue as they had dozens of snow making cannons spaced between the chairlifts.

OK, time to head home and this is where my patience would be put to the test. From Richmond, the only route back to Toronto was through Denver, Colorado. We were an hour late and naturally there was a new terminal. On to the shuttle train, up the escalator through customs and back down the escalator to the bus at gate C71.

I’m on the run, made it. Now we have to wait on the tarmac for a position to take off. Dang, another hour late into TO. I can do this, through customs again. What, I thought we did that? Oh well, at least there are no COVID regs. And onto the plane, feels good, should be an easy connection to Smithers.

Unfortunately there is an inch, ok, maybe two inches of snow in Vancouver. Does the word chaos describe the situation?

The departure board still read a go for Smithers, ya baby. Right up to that boarding moment and suddenly the dreaded sign ”flight cancelled” was placed on the counter. Please go to flight services and they will arrange for alternative plans.

Seems the lineup was a block long and the Smithers flight would be full for the next two days. I pulled my trump card, I have a Ukulele lesson to attend and I must get home. No luck. What to do now? Oh, I remember, the last time we faced this situation. Skip the line, go out of security and use the phones located to the right of the check-ins for departures.

Only four people ahead of me and my ace in the hole produced. A flight to Terrace the next day at 8 a.m. and Bob’s your uncle, it came together.

It’s challenging out there but it can be done. The old adage will help, “Patience is a Virtue” (and a wife willing to pick you up in Terrace).

Merry Christmas and all the best for a great new year.

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