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A Sleepless Flight Later – Montreal-Nantes with Air Transat

Self portrait in Nantes

“Is he your son?

“Depends… what did he do?”

Neither offended nor amused, the PAF border police officer darted a glance at me and stamped my passport in a deliberately slow gesture that spoke of years of training in inefficiency in the French administrative system.

I would never crack a joke in front of a US or Canadian border officer but it felt natural to do as a French, as if I had to prove I was once one of them. I always find it funny to queue in the “non-EU passports” line and get a “Nantes — Atlantique” stamp, considering I was born here.

French citizens were fighting around the baggage carousel to get as close as they can to suitcases that weren’t theirs, while foreigners were patiently waiting by the one and only bench (one which, naturally, someone had stacked bags). No one seems particularly stressed out or rushed. Nantes isn’t a main hub like Paris CDG, there are no connecting flights to take. Besides, we had landed earlier than planned.

The three of us just stood there, yawning.

It had been a tiring flight.

The Greyhound bus dropped us off at Montréal—Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport. We checked in, went through security, then spent a couple of hours in the “Air Transat wing” at the far end of the departure hall. Most restaurants and shops were closed and overexcited kids were throwing way-past-bedtime tantrums or being taken to the bathroom for a final pee break before the flight.

The first boarding call was for “families travelling with young children,” i.e. pretty much half of the passengers. It was easy to tell first-time travellers with their bulky car seats, Ziploc bags full of kid-friendly activities, carry-on luggage with brand-new tags overflowing with diapers, pajamas, snacks and toys. The rest of us know that there are only two ways to deal with kids on board—let them watch movies or cross fingers for them to fall asleep right away.

We had the three middle seats. Behind us was a family with two young kids and in front were three French ladies who spent the entire flight sighing and complaining.

As soon as we sat down, we noticed it was very cold in the cabin. I thought it was just me—I’m always cold—but Feng was shivering and other passengers complained as well. On most airlines, you get a blanket and a pillow but Air Transat makes you pay for such luxury. When flight attendants first walked up the aisle selling them, no one was ready to fork out $9 for what other airlines provide for free. Ten minutes later, when it became clear the air con would stay on, flight attendants walked down the aisle and these comfort kits became a must buy. I gave in as well and bought the fucking blanket. Good thing we had brought our own earbuds—you gotta buy these too.

I remembered from last year that hot meals are no longer provided for free. Instead, Air Transat advertised “chef-inspired meals” for $25. I didn’t see anyone buying them—we all waited for the free ham-and-cheese sandwich (for breakfast, you get a 0.5“-thick slice of pound cake… at least if you look awake when flight attendants walk by with the food).

I don’t have high expectations when it comes to airline food—I’m fine with nothing or the usual bag of pretzels on domestic flights—but you do get hungry at one point on a transatlantic flight. Bringing your own snacks is complicated (security is tight) and airport food is expensive.

Overall, Air Transat didn’t impress me this time. The aircraft was old, seats were squeezed together and service was non-existent—even getting some water was difficult.

Mark slept for a couple of hours but Feng and I didn’t have a chance to. Flight time was only 5.45 hours with only two hours of “quiet time” in the dark, without flight attendant distributing sandwiches or selling duty-free products.

And then, there was the crying kids. As parents, we’ve all been there—kids cry, it happens. However, the family behind us just kept on repeating in a sing-song voice “shhht… don’t cry…” to their two young children. I’m sorry, but at one point, you have to find the root of the problem. Change a diaper, feed the baby, give him a pacifier… I don’t know, but don’t let them cry for two fucking hours!

We landed in a cacophony of bawling and just like that, we found ourselves on the other side of the Atlantic.

Time to get this French holiday started.

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