Plot Twist – When the Plane Doesn’t Land as Planned

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This is how my Canadian ATM greeted me…

The trip back to Canada had started well.

We were on time at GRU in São Paulo–Guarulhos, the massive and modern airport with an IATA station code that sounds like the villain in Despicable Me. In a megalopolis of 20 million, we were expecting a huge crowd of travellers and long lineups but the pre-flight process was smooth on the Brazilian side. The only hiccup came when Air Canada claimed our two backpacks—12 kilos each—had suddenly become “oversized luggage.” Even though we’ve been checking them in normally for years and never had an issue before, we had to bring them to another counter across the airport. I kept my fingers crossed that they would show up in Toronto with everybody else’s suitcases.

We boarded the new Air Canada’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner, a smaller fancy plane with a cool entertainment system, roomy seating, large overhead bins and an overall fancier feeling. The food was the same old Air Canada crappy meals, though, and for some reason, an executive had decided the perfect child meal included spaghetti and meatballs. For anyone who doesn’t have a four-year-old, let me tell you that this is one of the meals I usually keep for the lunchbox in a pathetic attempt to let other people deal with the inevitable mess. Just imagine trying to grab sauce-soaked pasta from a small container with airline-approved utensils while going through turbulence…

Even though it was close to 10 p.m. when we finally took off, the first half of the flight was dedicated to keep passengers awake. “Earphones? EARPHONES?” “Here is the custom form, one per family… are you a family?” “Something to drink? Ice?” And of course, let’s not forget the classic Air Canada question: “chicken or pasta?” I have yet to see a meal choice that is NOT chicken or pasta—the morning equivalent is “eggs or pancakes?” and this is a tricky one because both meals look exactly the same despite being very different foods.

Meanwhile, Feng, Mark and I focused on the entertainment system and movies. Mark insisted to watch Batman—“I’m NOT scared!”—while Feng picked a Brazilian flick. I wasn’t quite sure who I was during this flight—French? Canadian? A sad citizen of the world?—so I went back and forth between Victoria, a French movie in which the main character deals with existential angst by having sex with pretty much the entire cast and the suburban couple of Keeping Up With the Joneses who definitely never had sex during their PG-rated adventures. None of them made me laugh—I was in this kind of mood.

I fell asleep as the American couple was joking about sexy lingerie without getting naked and as a French character was undressing for no apparent reason.

We landed in Toronto on time after the famous pancakes/eggs breakfast.

We were on a roll: our backpacks did show up on the carousel despite being checked in separately and the lineup at immigration and customs wasn’t too long. We would actually catch the 10:10 a.m. flight to Ottawa. We rarely, if ever, had made the connection that smoothly.

We took off, enjoy a coffee and two cookies and the plane began its descent.

“Hey folks, looks like the weather is pretty bad in Ottawa, we are waiting to see if visibility improves to land,” the pilot suddenly announced.

I looked at Feng. “Is that a joke?”

The plane did the equivalent of “learning to drive in a parking lot” for another twenty minutes, just above Ottawa.

“Sorry folks, we were running out of fuel, we are now returning to Toronto.”


“What the hell?” I asked Feng. Rhetoric question, of course, it’s not like he knew more than me.

Forty minutes later, as we were landing in Toronto, announcement was made that we would be on standby for another flight to Ottawa. “We have flight every hour or so,” said the cheery steward.

Yeah, and we haven’t slept in a week. I ain’t spending the day in the airport, waiting for another flight that may or may not be able to land because apparently, weather conditions (fog?) were not improving.

“I can’t even think of flying again,” Feng announced.

Great. We were on the same page.

We went to the Air Canada counter, and like two ornery children, we asked for our checked-in backpacks to be brought to the carrousel.

“You don’t want to fly today anymore?” the representative inquired.

“Our son is tired, we are tired… we don’t want to be on standby.”

I doubt, always blame it on the kid.

We picked up the bags and walked to the arrival hall.


“Getting a hotel downtown?”

“Sounds awesome.”

I connected the laptop to the free airport Wi-Fi and Feng browsed Expedia while I fed Mark Starbucks food with the food vouchers provided by Air Canada ($10 each, stingy bastards).

“Are we in Canada?” Mark asked.


“Are we home?”

Feng and I looked at each other. “Ahem… not quite.”

Read part II here!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Martin Penwald on

    Couldn’t they have landed in Montréal instead? I guess that being closer, Dorval was experiencing the same kind of conditions, but, it would have been easier to find a bus to go back in Ottawa.

    • There are actually very few options when it comes to flying from Canada to South America (with Air Canada, at least… and since we use our points, this is the best option for us). I don’t think Montreal was an option for both Chile and Brazil.

      But yes, when we leave/arrive from/in Montreal, we usualy take the Greyhound. It’s a nice and smooth ride, much better than flying!

      • Martin Penwald on

        Oh, yes, but I was thinking that while the plane is near Ottawa, why not go to Dorval? It is closer than Toronto. I guess there were air space constraints that forbid this option, but it sucks.

        • Oh, I see, you mean from Air Canada’s perspective. This didn’t even seem to be an option… the pilot was super casual about it, “oh, can’t land… never mind, just going back to Toronto”.

  2. When did you guys fly back?? I don’t remember having any terrible weather recently.
    Looking forward to reading part 2!! The link was such a tease!

  3. My flight to France was rerouted to Calgary instead of Vancouver, which was great since I thought I would end up stuck I. Cranbrook because of a snow storm. But instead of Lufthansa I got air Canada and “delicious” pasta….

  4. Hi Zhu,
    I was wondering what kind of backpacks are you guys using? We are planning a Europe trip this fall with two kids 2.5 and 6 months old) and i was thinking to get two backpacks instead of regular luggage. What are your recommendations?

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