Our flight is scheduled to depart at 1:10p but all advice we’ve received is to be at the airport three hours in advance. Ben Gurion security screening is reputed to be extensive and slow; plus, we were unable to check in online so we’ll be arriving without boarding passes. We finish breakfast and catch a cab when we were aiming for, just a few minutes past nine.
The cab ride is quick and when we arrive at the airport we find it not all that crowded (we’d been warned that it can be crowded for holiday travel), at least not at 9:30a. We enter the departures hall and descend to arrivals in order to return our rented SIM cards. While we headed to the gates I looked for another drop-off place, incidentally, but didn’t see one. It would have been nice to have a local phone for another hour or two but that didn’t seem to be an option. We return to the arrivals hall and find the queue for checking in. There’s a security check here but with more security staff than travellers just at this moment. We’re asked why we’re visiting Israel, whom did we speak to, and if I have a security check letter from work. I do (one for each of us) and in exchange for them and another two minutes we’re through the first round of security checks. We enqueue at the Air Canada check-in line (had we boarding passes we could have skipped this part) and … there we wait, for about 30 minutes. The check-in counter is not staffed until 10a (three hours before their first flight of the day, perhaps?) and this wait ends up as the longest queue we idle in.
I should say “queue” only in notion, not in practice. The travellers lined up single-file while waiting but as soon as the Air Canada staff arrived many people in the back of the line went straight to an open counter. We hadn’t queued up along barriers or anything, so it’s reasonable to have had several queues all at once. Someone earlier this week told me that a mark of an Israeli is that they don’t wait in orderly lines. I’m seeing that pretty clearly. Melinda and I end up following suit, though, and manage to be the first customers at one of the counters. A few scans of the bar codes on our passports and we have boarding passes and are sent on our way. I look back as we leave and see a long line at the first security check, which I think I could have passed by nonetheless with my security check letter, but I’m not sure. Perhaps this crowd is just the “exactly three hours early” crowd.
Past the check-in counters is the airports “Buy and Bye” area, a line of duty-free shops and a few eateries. Nothing that especially excited us, but non-travellers could go this far as well. We pass through and enter a second security check, this one the typical one found in airports with a metal detector, X-ray machine, 30” TV showing how to take one’s laptop out of one’s bag, and a wait of 5 - 8 minutes. No need to remove shoes and no mention of liquids or gels. We pass through and head to the gate.
Ben Gurion airport has three terminals (A, B, C) connected by hub in the center, and in the hub are shops (eateries, a book store, etc.). We find our gate at the end of B terminal, which is also the designated smoking area, so the waiting area air is stale. I take a few walks around and stop at the bathroom a few times (I picked up a bug, probably from drinking reclaimed water; I was fine by the time we were in the air to Toronto). I buy a Conceptis Puzzles book printed in Hebrew; I can manage the puzzles without reading these instructions (sudoku, kakuro, and battleship puzzles). We eat lunch near the gate and pass the time.
Our flight is delayed about 20 minutes but no big deal. The expected time to embark draws closer but there’s been no announcements about pre-boarding the families or first class. Then we hear an announcement: “Now boarding Air Canada flight 79.” The whole boarding area stands up and I see even a few people run to the gate. Melinda and I quickly press forward, because the early bird gets the overhead bin space while the last one in checks their baggage. Again, Israelis seem not so good with queues. We push on, find our seats, and manage to find pretty good spots for our luggage, too (better than on the outbound flight when we were among the last to stow our luggage).
The flight leaves with an about 30 minute delay but that’s not too much time lost. I pass the time on the flight watching movies (Happy Feet 2 has a simple and unlikely plot but the rendering and animation of the various species was really well done; The Sting is a “classic” con movie and still fun to watch 40 years on) and doing some puzzles, while the six year old in front of me opens the window shade every 5 minutes to check that the outside is still outside. Yes, it is, and it’s very bright, especially for those of us napping. But I do the same with the window later on, as we fly over Greenland. The ice fields and glaciers are an impressive sight. I’ll see if my photos turned out at all well.
We land at Toronto at 6:53p local time, about 25 minutes late. Our connection is tight but when I asked Air Canada for “SFO to TLV” this connection is what they provided -- I trusted them. So the original layover was 90 minutes but the flight delay shortened in to 65 minutes. And in the end that’s about the shortest time that’s possible to make this connection. First, we taxi for about 10 minutes, seemingly back the length of the runway then around one or two terminal buildings. Melinda and I are seated in the back of the plane so it’s several minutes of other people fussing with their luggage to disembark ahead of us. One passenger gives hugs to the flight attendant as he leaves -- less talking more walking! I guess he didn’t have a connection. We walk briskly up an escalator, along a hall, and along the express people mover (that’s a riot to power walk along -- you’re moving at a good run at that point). We head to the F gates which are connections to US destinations. We have no checked luggage (thankfully) else we’d have to pick it up at this point. We wait at US Customs -- the US has a deal with Canada to do US customs here in Toronto. Neat, I guess, but more waiting for us. We ask if we should cut to the front but the usher says they’re strict about doing that only for flights departing in 30 minutes, and ours leaves in 34 minutes at this point (see how the time goes by?). We pass customs, hand our declaration card to another person, and head to US Security. Another metal detector (this time with shoes off) and x-ray machine. We try to cut ahead but the security staff rebuff us (“talk to the airline”). The line isn’t too bad by our estimate so we decide to wait; I also figure, turns out correctly, that our terminal is just on the other side -- we’re close. They check boarding passes and passports as you put your luggage through the scanners, and Melinda was lucky enough to be randomly selected for the full-body imaging screening. Not what we needed right now but I collect her things while someone in a back room looks over a fuzzy scan of a human. Another passenger cuts ahead of us at this time and I guess, correctly, that she’s also a Tel Aviv arrival en route to San Francisco. Melinda gets the go-ahead and we all race to the end of the terminal (it would figure to be the end, no?). We arrive at gate 67 as they’re making a “last call for passengers on flight 759 to San Francisco” and we board. The overhead space is mostly full but it hasn’t been compacted yet, so with some adjustments we find room for our luggage very near us. I use the lav on board (no time to visit one in the terminal) and get a cup of water from a flight attendant. We entered the jetway at 7:43, about 50 minutes after we touched down on the inbound flight, and ostensibly 17 minutes ahead of our planned departure time. While waiting in our seats the fight staff announced that they were waiting for several more “connecting passengers”, and later revealed they were all on the inbound Tel Aviv flight (with us). Our flight ends up pushing back at 8:10, 10 minutes late, and still leaving six people behind, because they didn’t clear Canadian customs in time. Ouch. So, the lesson I’ve learned is, plan for at least 120 minutes layover at Pearson airport, as 90 minutes can become 60 and that’s just not enough.
The final leg of the travel was fine. Melinda slept for most of it, I watched Tower Heist (modestly amusing but unremarkable), dozed, and solved a few kakuro. We’re home now, the house is as it should be, and I’m looking forward to sleeping in our bed (so much smaller than the King bed in our hotel, though!). We’ll see if I’m bright eyed and bushy tailed at 8a tomorrow morning.