Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Toronto: Airport: Livestock Management

Cattle crossing near Spaceport America, New Mexico. March 2010.

I took the last UP train of the night from Toronto's Union Station to the airport, which was 1:00 a.m. So that put me into the airport about 1:30 a.m.

My envisioned itinerary
  1. Arrive airport.
  2. Move through airport security.
  3. Move through US Customs
  4. Find departure gate.
  5. Plop down til departure time circa 7:00 a.m.
Easy peasy. 



The three tests

In the age-old tradition of having to pass three tests of one's character, fortitude, or wit to reach one's destination, so it was at the airport. In this case, fortitude was the necessary quality.

Test 1

Feeling pretty good upon arrival at the airport - stage one complete: uneventful trip to airport, timely arrival.

Stepped smartly down to the security area.


Not open. Wouldn't be open for several hours.

Virtually no seating options in the vicinity, other than a handful of chairs or the shiny floor.

I joined a tiny family of earlier-than-I stalwarts at the short bank of chairs. Blessedly, the chairs were just outside a restroom.

So, here's one of the downsides of traveling solo. You can't just stake out your spot in the as-yet-to-be-formed queue and then wander off to sightsee in the airport or go get a cup of coffee or even go to the restroom. You've either got to make friends fast with your waiting neighbors, asking them to watch your stuff or your little turf, or you've got to tough it out with boredom.

When you've got a travel partner, you can tag team each other, which is quite nice.

Fortunately, the restroom in this staging area was right next to the little bank of chairs, and my neighbors were congenial. So I could leave my carry-on bag on my seat under their watchful eyes, and slip into the restroom as needed.

We were the earliest arrivals of the day, and at a certain point, airport employees raised a barrier strip that kept passengers from entering the area where my neighbors and I sat.

This resulted in some frustration to new arrivals, as they were stopped by the barrier strip, almost within touching distance, but on just the other side of the boarding-pass machines. Plus no seating. And no one available to answer questions. And no discernible precise spot to begin a queue.

Fortunately, my neighbors and I were not evicted.

Some scofflaws on the other side of the barrier crossed the border in search of answers to their questions. Power to the people, I say. As long as they don't get in front of me in the line that would eventually be born.

But why put travelers under unnecessary stress?

I can accept that an airport (even a large international airport in the largest city of Canada) doesn't  operate its security process 24 hours a day. But given that the downtime is the norm, and given that travelers act in predictable ways when they expect one experience and receive a different one, there is no excuse for the lack of:
  • Useful signage about hours, when a door will open, where a line begins
  • Seating for travelers, especially for those who have physical impairments, or who tire easily from standing, or who feel ill, or who are traveling with children
  • Access to the nearest restrooms (which were on the wrong side of the barrier line)
  • One employee in the vicinity who is ready to answer questions

Yes, I know that one employee costs money. But if that one employee can soothe anxious flyers, this will pay off down the assembly line when the queue does open, with more pleasant - and therefore more efficient - processing through airport security and customs.

Goats at market in Gonder, Ethiopia. April 2011.

Test 2

Eventually, the magic hour rolled around and we could line up outside the transportation security door.

There was a slight glitch for me when coming through, but it was quickly taken care of and because I was toward the beginning of the line, I popped through on the other side fairly soon.

Only to be poured into a blank corridor that ended in a locked door with no instruction about what to do or where to go next.

Hahahaha, you'd think that the Canadian airport transportation security and the US Customs folks would coordinate their opening hours, right?

Fuck, no.

Consequently, our herd found itself in a bottleneck paddock waiting for some cowboy to open the gate into the next pasture.

Test 3

Time passed slowly, as it always does in the land of uncertainty. When will this end? What if I need to use the restroom?

Furthermore, when trapped between airline security and border customs, we've got to mind our attitudes, body language, words, so as not to attract unwanted attention by The Man.

In due course, an official unlocked the door, opened it, and allowed us to clip-clop through.

To another corral, albeit with seats, a restroom, and a drinking fountain.

There was another locked door between us and US Customs, with no guidance about timing or process.

For awhile, we milled about curiously, while generally maintaining a cluster near the door that would lead us (hopefully) to US Customs at some unknown moment. You can be sure, no one of us wanted to lose our place in the line, when a line could, at some point, be permitted to form.

We emitted discreet baa's and moo's among ourselves about the whens, whats, and wherefores to come. We chewed our cuds quietly in a display of non-threatening compliance.

Presently an official arrived, who told us to find a seat while we waited. Some of us did so; others of us did not wish to give up our places in the as-yet-unborn queue, thus remained standing.

Shortly another official arrived who was kind of an asshole in her abruptness and lack of useful information.

Overall, the impression I had was that the officials acted as if this was a new and unusual scene for them, not one that happened every flipping morning.

In other words, no good signage, no good process, no respect for the human needs of the people passing through. All of whom have the basic need to urinate at various points in a day, some of whom have mobility challenges, some of whom have young children, some of whom have disabilities that affect interactions or movement or understanding.

No excuse for this.

Oh, so, finally that last door got unlocked and we could pass through to US Customs.

Tests survived.

Toronto complete. 

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