|The best deal I could get when I booked the flight to Buenos Aires a few
weeks ago was via Toronto. I was advised in departures by a
professional 'saturation' diver on his way home to Torono that Air
Canada is colloquially known as Canflot on account of their attitude to
It's a long flight; things suddenly didn't look too good.
Actually their crews were fine, and they didn't play the trick of
forgetting to switch the seatbelts sign off so they wouldn't be hassled
by pesky passengers as happened once on an Atlantic flight I made with
Northwest Airlines. But the management.... First of all we sat on the
deck in the aeroplane at Heathrow for ages 'because of 'air traffic
problems'. It was a bit foggy so this might have been believable if a
few extras passengers hadn't got on after an hour or so. Could have
these been connecting from another flight which had been equally delayed
because of fog somewhere in Europe? I never discovered the truth but it
looked like a bit of a cheap trick to blame it on the Brits.
An hour and a half late we were off; eight hours later, with numb knees
we were in Toronto, a foot of snow on the ground, minus two. Why are
Airbus seats so uncomfortable? Perhaps I just don't fit the European norm.
Toronto Pearson has a massive new terminal building, not that we could
park next to it though, we had to go somewhere else and take a 15 minute
bus ride. Worse though, they seem to have forgotten to install any
facilities for passengers transferring to further international flights.
I'd had some sort of warning about this from the girl at the check-in
desk at Heathrow - "Things are a bit confused in Torono at the moment, I
was there last week, make sure you know what's happening to your bags."
I did as I was told. At every stage, immigration, then at the Canflot
desk in the the baggage hall, then at the customs, I showed them my bag
tickets and said I was connecting with their flight to Buenos Aires - my
bags ARE being handled automatically aren't they? Yes, No problem they
Finally I found myself in Canada, at the Canflot desk. Quite what
happens to people in this situation who need visas to enter Canada I
can't imagine. Where are your bags? they said. I explained the reasons
why I thought they had them, but no, I was mistaken. They even rang the
guy at the desk in the baggage hall who had said 'no problem' not 15
minutes before, and he denied it! Hum ho, they said, problem, -
difficult to go backwards through customs.
Time was ticking by, what with the delay in London and everything I was
resigned to missing my connecting flight and spending 24 hours in the
snow. There's a big tower you can go up in Toronto isn't there? That
might be interesting. On the Atlantic flight they had showed an advert
for the Drake Hotel which makes a specialty out of 'spur of the moment'
performance art; people cutting themselves out of large paper bags, that
sort of thing. That might be interesting too.
After a while though it became apparent a surprising number of other
people were in the same predicament as me so Canflot were forced into
doing something about it. There was one particularly excited man who
kept jumping from foot to foot repeating to anyone who would listen "my
flight's leaving in 20 minutes". Despite what it said (wrong) on my
London-issued boarding pass I still had an hour or so, so things weren't
quite so desperate. My hand baggage couldn't of course go back into the
baggage hall so I had to leave it, lap-top and all, in the lost baggage
place but because it wasn't lost he couldn't give me a receipt or
anything. Time was too short to argue so I decided to risk it and we
were led in groups of no more than two through a side-door, filled out a
form which was stamped by a bored looking bureaucrat and then through a
sort of security air-lock back into the baggage hall. My bag was there
all right, but what about my tubes? I had three five-foot lengths of old
bent one inch microlight tube for use as camera mounts which I'd
forgotten to pack in the crates last week. Eventually my escort found
them in the 'outsize luggage' place. Then we had to do the most
extraordinary manoeuvre through customs.
What are those? the Customs man said, pointing at my tubes. Once he'd
looked down them all he accepted my explanation and then we went through
a door, round a corner, and for some unfathomable reason through customs
again (they were getting used to me by this third time) and then back
into Canada. Right outside the door was a conveyor belt which then took
my bag and tubes back into customs for dispatch (I hoped) to my
It was a relief to find the lost baggage man still had my hand luggage
but I then had to go through all the rigmarole of getting out of Canada
again, metal detectors and all the rest of it. I can't recommend boots
with steel toecaps in these situations, they make you take them off
these days, and then you get an electric shock retrieving them from the
metal conveyor from the static generated by the cheap nylon carpet
against my Tesco value socks.
Our next aircraft may have been a slightly aging Boeing 767, but I can
tell you American seats, whilst still being uncomfortable, they win
hands down against Airbus' efforts.
Ten hours later we landed at Arturo Merino Benitez airport in Santiago,
Chile. Superb views of Aconcagua just before we landed. As this was
supposed to be just a short stop you'd have thought we could have stayed
on the plane, but no, all off again.
I can confirm that Santiago airport does at least have a system for
transferring passengers so we didn't have to repeat the complete Torono
thing again, my boots did have to go through the x-ray machine but it
didn't give me an electric shock this time, they've got better
quality carpets in Chile.
We flew south from Santiago down Chile for what seemed like miles before
we turned left over the Andes. Looking at the forecasts, this is
Jetstream territory so I suppose he wanted to be at full height before
turning over the mountains. Chile is incredibly narrow so you could
see the Pacific from one side of the aeroplane and the Andes from the
other. The Andes are surprisingly narrow here too, maybe only 60 miles
across, but with plenty of show and ice and forbiddingly barren, as is
the first bit of the Pampas in Argentina. Gradually it becomes greener
and turns into more intensively farmed land laid out in a fairly
rigorous grid of fields a bit like the prairie in the states. It looks
as flat too, they're combining at the moment.
So finally, nearly 24 hours since leaving home, here I am in Buenos
Aires. The customs man was as fascinated by my three old bent tubes as
they had been in Torono. Even though they X-rayed everything, Customs
men obviously think differently to other humans as I'm sure they could
have found much more fascinating things from amongst all the little bits
and pieces and last-minute spares at the bottom of my bag like the
special electric visor demisters from Neltec for Angelo's torpedo
windscreen, the spare hang-point from P&M or the three 12 volt jelly
batteries which all arrived just before I left, but that was too obvious
and they didn't ask to look.
A man with a FIAT sign was waiting for me outside to take me to my
hotel. It seems they'll be giving us no less than five new cars and two
new vans which seems a bit excessive for what is a relatively modest
expedition, it's practically one car each, but they know best.
I'm not looking forward to the return flight, but that's a few weeks
off. Our problem now is that apparently my microlight and all our
other stuff is still in Frankfurt....