Saturday, April 14, 2007

Kafka's airport

Do not be tempted to change planes in Montreal en route to the USA. Who could have known that it would be such an exceptionally awful ordeal?

In blissful ignorance, we had accepted the Star Alliance option of flying Air Canada from Paris to Boston via Montreal. It was a bad start when Air Canada's Charles de Gaulle checkin desk insisted that, despite our long-standing booking and early arrival at the airport, we were destined to "the last seats on the plane" and hence, had to sit separately in central seats at the back of the plane. It was decidedly unimpressive, if not repulsive, to unfold my airline blanket after removing it from its plastic bag and find it absolutely covered in long blonde hairs. Such things seem par for the course these days. The cabin service was adequate and the seven-and-a-half-hour flight was pleasanty uneventful with good movies.

The big puzzle was when the stewards handed us all Canadian customs forms and said we had to fill them in - despite the fact that Canada was not our destination. There was considerable debate among incredulous passengers, but the air stewards just kept insisting, explaining that we had to collect our baggage on landing and go through Canadian customs. It seemed a bit odd.

But it came to pass. Of course, one of our bags was last off the carouselle, giving us some anxiety about our two hours of change-planes time. Little did we know that we would need every minute of it to stand about in slow cattle grid queues going through the most bizarre airport protocol in the world.

It turns out that Montreal takes transit passengers but does not have a transit area.

It is an airport designed by Franz Kafka!

The only way to get to the next plane is to go through all the formalities of entering Canada and then go through the formalities of leaving Canada and then go through the formalities of entering America. Hence we queued and queued in the cattle grids, firstly for Canadian Immigration stamps, then another queue for Customs. Then, lumbering along with our luggage, we had to follow signs around the airport to a Departure area where we had to queue at a checkin again, to show boarding passes, then fill in new Customs forms and join another cattle grid queue for US immigration and yet another cattle grid queue for customs before being able to part with the luggage and queue in another massive cattle grid for Security checking. By this time, we were not only cutting it fine to catch our plane, we were absolutely ga-ga with the infinity of zig-zag ropes and queues snaking to and fro across these endless hallways - and utterly mind-boggled that there was such a thing as a modern International Airport without a transit area.
If I was a gibbering cot case at the end of this absurd, impractical and insulting queue torture of officialdom, how on earth did old and frail people cope? Or mothers with bubs and toddlers?

Montreal, nice city that you are, you should be ashamed at this treatment of transit passengers. It is uncivilized and inhumane. Pure Kafka.

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