Dancing with Aeroplan

Ah, Aeroplan – we meet again.

For better, for worse, in good times and bad, wrestling with Air Canada’s Aeroplan has become a yearly (bi-yearly, when I’m lucky) tradition. That’s what you get in long-distance family relationships. We live in England, my parents live in Canada. Therefore, about every nine months (give or take several months), I look up flights that can utilize the generous donation of my parent’s flying miles.

Normally this isn’t a problem. London to Ottawa is a fairly steady route – but when it comes to the busy periods, those times of the year when everyone is pushing and shoving to ride a plane, well, flying becomes a bitch.  

Last time it was a Christmas blocked-out period, anxieties over a chemo deadline, and trying to fly when everything and everyone was saying, ‘it’s not gonna happen’. This time it’s far less intense. Zsolt and I will be leaving Hungary toward the end of August, and we were hoping our arrival in Canada would correspond with my parent’s cottage vacation.

Okay, honestly – this is 100% no way like last Christmas. Last Christmas it was essential that I go home before the 15th of December. This time around we’ll be going to Canada whether or not the holiday cottage plans work out. So that’s fine. Therefore, what’s my problem?

Ah, just the same as ever. Every time we have a date (the 25th, the 28th, the 30th) and wait, say, one day to make sure it jives with my family back home-BAM!– Aeroplan does a little dance and the flights for that day are GONE.


This is not a life and death situation. I love being able to fly for less. One-way tickets are astronomical in price when not bought with points. I should be thanking Air Canada for all the free (plus tax) rides they’ve allowed me over the years (or rather, thank my parents).

It’s more of an irritation than emergency. Actually, it’s no emergency. It’s like your little brother sitting in the back seat of the van and flicking your ear every five minutes. (Hi, Dan.) Annoying, but ultimately I’ll stick by them.

Eventually this will be sorted. That’s the beauty of life – one way or another, stuff works out. And so, it’s back to the Aeroplan website. After all, every relationship demands a little work; and when it’s good, it’s so very good.

Home safe

We made it! Many hours later and here we are again – Southampton, UK – cosy in our flat thanks to Denise and her wonderful touches. How nice is it to walk into your home after a month away, feel its warmth, see desserts on the table (and a beautiful pile of fruit), have milk for your tea and then crash into bed?

How nice?

Incredibly nice.

Zsolt and I both had safe flights, and we found each other easily. Apart from a crashing GPS system and a few minutes of motorway panic, all went smoothly.

So now it’s on to the next phase of recovery, coupled with the next phase of our lives. Within the upcoming six or seven months we’ll have a thesis defence, uprooting of home, touring of Europe, graduation, and immigration. MAN what a blockbuster year ahead.

No place like home

It’s six in the morning and the house is silent. Almost silent, I can head my dad sniffling in the other room. Silent and very dark, where are all the streetlights?  I’ve been up for an hour and after many attempts to crack the password on my mother’s computer, have given up the battle and pulled out a sheet of paper. Well I am home. Home sweet home, and let me tell you this: it feels really, really good. That’s the short version. Here is the long. . .

Zsolt and I woke up yesterday morning around 6.30 am . . . the past two days are the earliest I’ve risen over the last six months. Early bird gets the worm, but the late bird snuggles in bed. Who doesn’t like to snuggle? (Particularly when the heat has been turned off and beyond the sheets is a freezer-like climate.)

So we get up with the intention of leaving for 7 am, by  7.36 we are in the car and rolling. It was a typical drive to the airport with lots of traffic and iron bladders.

Wohoo! Dad is awake and offering the password – I’m switching to the computer now and creative freedom! Typing is glorious. And wow, Mom has a whole lot of icons on her desktop, and a really stunning mountain range picture.

Where was I? Driving. Airport. Check in. Right.

Checking in was not a problem. There was a momentary debate over whether I was cleared for departure, but no trouble ultimately because, of course, clearance had been organized the day before (PS – springing last minute arrangements on people who are sick/tired/whatever is really poor customer service and most certainly a practise that needs to be changed).

I checked three bags and arranged for a buggy to pick me up from the lounge. Yes, I walked my little butt through security despite worries that I’d be too tired. It was fine – no looks please, because I felt in control (and it was not a long walk at all).

Zsolt carried my bag up to the security point and we said goodbye. That involved a lot of hugs and a lot of ‘I love you’, which is as it should be.

Points to Zsolt for getting us to the airport really smoothly. He was the perfect early morning driver 🙂

So there goes my husband for a month. He had he own little journey to conquer after dropping me off. The poor guy had to drive to Gatwick, drop off our car in one of the nearby villages (we rented a parking space for 40 pounds; that’s less than a pound a day and significantly beats Gatwick parking fees) and afterward catch a train over the Gatwick. By the time he caught his flight to Hungary, I was at home in front of my Canadian fireplace. Talk about a lonnng day.

Meanwhile, back at Heathrow, I was enjoying the first class lounge. Hello, I had no idea stress-free travel existed.  For a whole load of money (or a whole load of points, as in my case) you get to skip much of the security drama, are given a quiet area with breathing space and comfortable chairs, and there’s a buffet with breakfast cereals, drinks and assorted snacks. Man!

Totally awesome. Totally worth it. Zsolt’ll be upset because my pallet has now sampled a finer type of flying, and you know I’ll be craving it again! *a girl can dream : )

When due to board I took an electric buggy to the gate. That was odd – I sat at the back beside an elderly gentleman and looked out at the people we passed (like sitting in the trunk of a car, which I did once at a debating tournament and was given a taxi ride through Toronto with my legs sticking out the back window).  People would watch us passing, and I would watch them shirk into the long corridor. It felt a little like a parade, but without the waving.

Which bring us to the flight, another example of stress-free flying. I once heard that animals are given more space during transport than people on airplanes. While this may/may not be true, it certainly makes a difference to have a little room. The flight was still tiring (must be related to pressure change, altitude, radiation etc), but the experience was pleasant. Key perk was the full flat bed – an excellent addition to the miracle of flight.

So after all that trouble Air Canada finally treated me well, though I did pay them to, but I suppose that’s the case for many services.

At the border I think I was meant to wait for a wheelchair. Bugger that. I hopped off the plane (with a sideways glance at the wheelchair attendant) and floated over to security. Words were said at customs, at one point I blurted out, “My husband’s Hungarian!’ when asked why I was alone. Thinking back, that doesn’t quite answer the question, but communication becomes difficult when exhausted. There was also confusion over whether I was bringing in a jug with or without water. “A water jug” I said. “A jug with water?” she asked.  Maybe she had a point, no rule says that water jugs need water – they could hold juice or wine or sangria.

Anyhow, customs was fine.  And once through my luggage appeared on the carousel almost immediately. First class service.

This next bit is the best – my favourite moment when arriving home. The parting of glass doors, with Mom and Dad on the other side.  What a frigging good and rewarding moment. We hugged and were teary eyed and couldn’t say too much. If you know the Ottawa airport international arrivals area, then you know it’s a bit of a stage. People come through the door, and everyone watches as family reunites. There’s always an audience and yesterday they had a little Brunelle-Family reunion show.

Oh! And Mom gifted me with a Canada hat and scarf, which matched perfectly the Canada mittens I was given (thanks Sandie!) to keep warm.  Plus, there was a cup of Tim Hortons tea. Oh Canada!

Going home – being home – was emotional. On top of the long day, it’s been a long six months and finally reaching my goal was somewhat beyond words: aching, smiling, crying, holding, talking, laughing, loving. It felt almost too much.

Downstairs in my bedroom there is a waterfall of paper cranes. Beautiful. A thousand paper cranes with which to make a wish. And a wish has been made. Thanks to Christina and her folding team for their thoughtfulness, and to my family for hanging them up. They’re quite something to see. I may even need to post a photo once the camera is unpacked.

And so that brings me to now – this dark morning.

The ground outside is white with snow. Dad is now in the kitchen eating breakfast, and I think I’ll go over to join him.

Despite the ups and downs, I’m so glad to have kept this goal. It feels wonderful to be home.