Locked Out of Canada


Locked Out of Canada
By Gillian Kendall

When a newly arrived passenger gets left behind the pack at the Vancouver airport, Canadian hospitality disappears behind a series of cold, locked doors.

Canada travel story
Flickr Creative Commons photo by Robert Scobie

In Sea-TAC airport, waiting for the short flight to Vancouver, everyone on their cell phones was talking about food. I overheard a mother on the line to her kid: "Tell Daddy, so he'll know what to do for dinner."

A nearby man used a gentle tone, asking a preschooler about her day: "What did you have for lunch, honey? Oh, I would have liked that too."

A woman was giving her change of arrival times to someone picking her up: "I won't be there for about three hours, so you just go ahead and get something to eat."

A bearded hipster speaking with enthusiasm, probably to his partner, "Did you get some of that fish? Go ahead and get some!"

In short, everyone boarding the little plane seemed to be speaking my language. Flying at low altitude north from Seattle at sunset, the man seated next to me — a philanthropist who was home visiting from his work in Indonesia — told me which roseate peak was Mt. Ranier and which was Mt. Baker, ("It's the glacier peak," he said, as if I'd know what that meant), and explained that the cold-looking "river" below was part of Lake Whatcom. The matte gray Bellingham Bay had a thousand inlets and islands, all the land embroidered with houses and fringes of boat docks. The sky turned a sexy rose color and then the sun set and the sky darkened, so that as we were landing in Vancouver all the streetlights shone bravely and the bridges looked like diamond cobwebs linking the land masses.

Mount Ranier
© Tim Thompson

Our 30-seater airplane (not a jet) landed at what seemed a remote outpost of Vancouver airport. Miles of runway stretched in all directions, and the closest building looked like the backside of a large factory, unmarked except for a small awning. I was one of the first to disembark and head down the metal steps and towards the building, but after crossing the tarmac, I realized that I'd left my carry-on in my seat.

I had to trot back and ask permission to re-board. I wasn't allowed to, but a flight attendant retrieved my laptop bag and brought it to me. She then hopped into a crew little bus and merrily departed with the rest of the flight staff, leaving me alone in a man-made wilderness. All I could see beyond the gray clouds of my breath were runways and bright landing lights.

By the time I'd trudged back across the wastelands to the awning area, no one else was there. No one else was even in sight, in fact. I was at a major international airport but it was as deserted as the moon.

A sign with an arrow said, "Baggage claim," but it was next to closed, locked doors, and the arrow pointed to a blank wall. Confused, I went in the other direction, up a wide double flight of clean concrete stairs. It was very cold in there, there were no cheerful Welcome-to-Canada signs or indeed signs of human habitation, and it seemed like a Siberian prison. I felt as if I were in a video game where I'd missed the clues. "Choose your own adventure! Do you try to batter down the locked entryway, return to the empty plane, or try the dark staircase to your left?" At the top of the stairs were more heavy metal doors like castle gates, also locked solid. My loudest knock produced only the tiniest of sounds, and everything human was instantly absorbed by the cold air and concrete. Maybe I was in some kind of sadistic reality-TV show, where I had to figure out how to get back to civilization.

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