I grabbed my passport and boarding pass from her (crotchety old) hands and set off on The Amazing Race: Toronto Airport Edition. What ensued was nothing short of a miracle, not to mention an amazing cardio workout!
Sometimes you just can’t win no matter how much you think you’ve prepared!
The long-awaited and much-anticipated vacation to visit my parents in Florida was finally here. The only thing that stood between me and the beach was two flights. Easy peasy, right?!
The first leg would take me from Winnipeg to Toronto (where I had a 10 pm to 6 am layover) and the second, from Toronto to Tampa that next morning. Given that I had an unusual seven-hour overnight layover in Toronto, I was concerned about the “connecting” nature of my commute with respect to how my luggage was going to be managed (do I collect it after landing or would it be sent through to customs?).
Being the Type-A control freak that I am, I not only took the precaution of calling the airport to confirm that it was, in fact, a “connection” but I also asked the gate agent before leaving Winnipeg if I would have to collect my luggage upon landing in Toronto or if it would just be held in the connections area. They both told me to simply go through “connections” when they open at 4:30 am and collect my bag there. Perfect!
Off I go, cool calm and collected and ready for my relaxing vacation. As scheduled, I landed at 10 pm in Toronto, ate, drank, and snuggled up on a bench for a few hours of semi-consciousness until my 6:20 am flight. Side note: Did you know that Toronto Airport shuts off all media and plays relaxing spa music over the PA system from 1-3:30 am? Quite lovely for cheapskate Aeroplan points travellers like me!
Anyway, after a few hours of shut-eye, I hauled my still-tired butt into the washroom to clean myself up a bit (which you’ll soon understand was completely futile) to make sure I was at the connections desk when it opened.
Well, let me tell you, the website and the gate agent need some new info because the Toronto Airport connections area doesn’t open until 5:30 am (damn it I could’ve used that extra hour of sleep!). Ugh!
At this realisation, I started panicking thinking that would only leave me a mere 20 minutes to get through connections, US customs AND security to board at 5:50 am. But, I figured I was first in line in “connections” so I’d probably be okay. Boy was I in for a surprise!
As I made my way up to the connections luggage counter I was rudely scoffed at and told that because my layover exceeded four hours and my second leg was the next day, my flight, in fact, wasn’t a connection at all and that I needed to go get my luggage and check in as though I was just arriving for a regular flight check-in. Are you KIDDING me? $&!@! I had called to confirm and was told the complete opposite!
By this time it was 5:42 am, which meant I now had only 40 or so minutes until my flight to paradise pushed off from the gate (I believe this is also the moment the first bead of sweat made its appearance on my pointlessly-freshly-powdered forehead).
My heart sank as I watched her mouth the words “there is no way you are going to make your flight, so you can just relax”. Relax?!? Forget that! I grabbed my passport and boarding pass from her (crotchety old) hands and set off on The Amazing Race: Toronto Airport Edition. What ensued was nothing short of a miracle, not to mention an amazing cardio workout!
Step 1 — Ask crotchety hands where I go to get my bag IMMEDIATELY. She pointed towards the “Canada Customs” exit and said, “go!” I raced down two flights of stairs when it hit me: “why am I being directed to Canada Customs when I haven’t even left Canada yet?” I get down to the customs area and start yelling for someone to help me (in total lunatic mode). A very nice lady helped me speed through filling out the customs card (which is quite a strange thing to do when you haven’t left your country yet) and running it through the automated machine in just enough time to limbo-style dash under all the line ropes, cut everyone else in line by stating my flight was already boarding and huff and puff my predicament to the agent. The agent hurried me through and pointed me in the direction of my next task.
Step 2 — Pick up my luggage from the domestic luggage counter. Sounds easy enough, right? After sprinting down another two sets of stairs, I was greeted by about ten luggage carousels in a room the size of a warehouse. And none of them were domestic! After a few laps around that area, I tracked someone down and asked him where I needed to be. “Oh, um... through the exit, down three hallways and you’ll see a small counter. That’s where you need to go.” After running as fast as I could down three very looooong hallways, the counter was in sight, and of course, it had a line-up (enter sweat beads 4 through 100). It was now 5:50 am, and my flight was boarding. I pleaded to everyone in line to go next, which they graciously allowed.
I’m sure you’re thinking “why not just take the next flight?” Well you see, I had managed to text my dad during one of my relay legs asking him when the next flight was to which he replied that the next two flights out that day were already oversold, so it wasn’t an option, and I wasn’t about to spend another night in that damn airport!
When I got through explaining the situation to the agent at the alleged domestic baggage counter, her response was that I was in the wrong area and that I had to run another mini-marathon at full tilt to get to the “domestic carousel area” (a tear or two may have fallen at this point, but it was hard to tell through the sweat).
That was the third time I was being told there was no way I was making my flight and to “calm down”. As defiantly as I could, I asked how I get to the right place. It was down another two hallways, past a Tim Hortons (eh!) and through a set of doors that I had not realised were for ‘authorised personnel only’ (thank you to the poor cart guy whom I all but assaulted to beat him through the doors once he swiped his card). I burst through the entrance into another warehouse-looking carousel area, and there she was, sitting with a group of four other suitcases whose derelict owners also had neglected to pick up. I grabbed her and set off running once again (as the sweat beads had now collectively formed a steady stream down my face and chest).
Step 3 — Head back up three floors to departures to check my bag (and you can only imagine how busy that was at 6 am on a Wednesday at Toronto Pearson Airport—just kill me now!). The time was now 6:02 am, and I’d run the equivalent of just over three miles (no exaggeration). I expertly pleaded once again to cut everyone in line and go through priority boarding. Once again, whether out of fear or total disgust, all passengers obliged. I was lucky to have the BEST agent who zipped me right through when she saw how haggard and desperate I was. Once my bag was tagged I was told to head over to US Customs (the sweat stream now a full-on river).
Step 4 — Figure out how to race myself and my bag through US customs (you know, through a line of 200 people with less than 15 minutes until take off). But I did it. Pleading with more passengers, running through more hallways and one very disgusting automated customs declaration card picture, and I was face to face with the Border Officer. He was, of course, really cute but probably thought I suffered from an extreme sweating and anxiety disorder—but who had time to dwell on that?! Instead, I annoyingly answered his questions with a “can’t you see I’m late for my flight, so stop asking me these stupid questions” look on my face. It worked, and in a matter of minutes, I was running through to the security area (sweat river flowing at ‘spring thaw’ levels).
Step 5 — Sneak my way to the very front of the bag drop line and get through US airport security (again, a line of about 15 people). It was at this point that an airport security officer took me by the arm and said “ma’am it’s 6:12 and your flight is boarding at 6:20 so you’ll be fine. You can relax”. I almost hugged him (the sweat stopped me from doing so). I patiently stood in the security line fanning myself feverishly waiting for my turn.
Now, I’ve watched Border Security, and since I was no doubt acting “suspect”, I knew that secondary questioning was in the realm of possibility—but luckily I think they saw innocent desperation instead of criminal behaviour, and let me through without incident. Phew!
Step 6 — Get to my gate with two minutes to spare. My gate was the second last gate in the terminal, so I full on “Home Alone style” ran the length of a football field (purse and backpack flailing everywhere) to get there before they closed the doors. At 6:31, I made it to the gate, and the doors were still open.
My mission was complete!
I was so lucky that SO many people were so nice and graciously let me cut to the front each time, despite having a disgusting mix of tears and sweat pouring off of me.
I plopped down in my seat just in time to hear the flight crew announce, “we’ll be off as soon as they finish loading the last few pieces of luggage”. I couldn’t believe I actually made it. I smiled, wiped the sweat off my face and settled in for the flight to paradise.
Author - Amy Copper
Amy Copper is from Winnipeg, Canada. She is always ready for the next adventure.