I arrived in Cloverdale, British Columbia on December 15, 1985 and checked into the Best Western Langley City Motor Inn for what I expected to be a four-week stay. My boss phoned a few days before Christmas and broke the news that I would be stationed in BC indefinitely. And since my new position had yet to be announced, it was a perfect time to slip home for Christmas. I paid through the nose, but I was able to get a return flight to Toronto at the last minute.
After seven days of almost continuous snowfall in Southern Ontario, I was more than ready to head back to Lotusland on January 2. My flight wasn’t until 7pm, but since my brother Wayne was driving past the airport on his way home to Kitchener, I opted to get a ride with him and spare my parents a 125 km return trip in blizzard like conditions. The only catch was that I had to kill eight hours at the airport. No problem, I thought, I’ll take my new Discman and the lone CD that I owned at the time, Depeche Mode’s ‘Some Great Reward’.
After sitting around the terminal for three or four hours and listening to “People Are People” about 64 times, I approached an Air Canada gate agent and asked if it was too early to check my luggage. I didn’t have a printed ticket but the agent found my reservation in the computer system and looked at me strangely. “Sir, your flight left an hour ago.” I was flabbergasted.
The agent at the next counter overheard our conversation and said, “If that’s 3170 to Vancouver, tell him it’s delayed. Run to gate 30 and you might still get it.” And I was indeed running when I heard her add, “You’ll get your luggage tomorrow. Runnnnn.”
I have no idea how I screwed this up, but thankfully Air Canada screwed up even worse. I learned later that the cold meals had been stowed in ovens and the hot meals had been refrigerated. The flight crew noticed this just as the plane inched to the front of a 20-plane line that had been awaiting clearance for takeoff. I suspect I know how they’d handle this situation today, but in 1985 the pilot opted to return to the terminal for about two minutes while new meals were whisked to the plane. The passengers were not told why the plane had returned to the gate.
I was lucky that I was able to board during that two minute window. What I didn’t get was my normal seat in coach as it had long since been released to the standby crowd. Thankfully there was one seat left in First Class and I was instructed to take 4B. Woo-hoo, I thought, my first flight in First Class. And back then it really was First Class.
To the 30 or so passengers in First Class who didn’t notice the replacement meals being delivered to the forward galley, it was reasonable to assume that the plane had returned to the terminal to pick up yours truly.
I sank into the comfy leather seat and let out an audible sigh of relief. My rather regal looking seatmate in 4C turned to me, offered a limp handshake, and said, “I’m Iona Campagnolo. And who are YOU?”
I replied matter-of-factly, “I’m Mike Hamilton. Pleased to meet you.”
And in the pre-smartphone era, Ms. Campagnolo, a former Cabinet Minister and at the time President of the Liberal Party of Canada, had a good five hours to stew over who the Hell “Mike Hamilton” might be and why a plane had just turned around for him.