It turns out that my next assignment is to go and do a Pilot Proficiency Check, back in Canada on a different airplane. Rather than flying this one all the way north, I'm to fly to an airport that has airline service and just park it for a while. I smile when I see where that parking lot will be.
I've been to this destination before, almost ten years ago now, in a tiny single engine airplane. I remember turning right off the runway onto the apron and the tower controller welcoming me in. He told me there was no need to switch to the ground frequency, as it was just him, and he was just leaving. He asked me where I wanted to go and I said, "I just need some fuel and a place to park for the night." He cheerfully gave me detailed taxi directions that boiled down to "slight left turn, they're right in front of you." There I was given literal red carpet treatment at a friendly little FBO. They'd never remember me of course, but it would be fun to be back.
So now I'm in a bigger airplane, with a lot more hours in my logbooks, going to the same place. I call up the approach controller as soon as terrain permits radio contact, and I am immediately vectored north and then south to be sequenced behind a regional jet descending from above me. I don't turn in to follow as soon as I'm cleared to, and stay a little above the normal glideslope to avoid wake turbulence, but still feel a couple of bumps on short final. The jet seems to linger on the runway, but is clear on the taxiway before I touch down. There's a slight tailwind in addition to my deliberately high approach. I don't stomp on the brakes to make the first available exit but turn off quickly at the next one. I came from the north before, and now I'm coming from the south, so I know it's a left turn to exit the runway, but, wait ...
I don't recognize this place. Am I even at the right airport? The taxiway diagram shows the tower and the terminal, and they're there, but the terminal the jet is taxiing towards is the wrong shape. And what are all these other buildings? The airport I was supposed to be going to was in more or less wasteland. You hear about people landing at the wrong airport from time to time, but damn, did I do that? The ground controller clears me to taxi in and call Unicom. I can see one FBO from here, and it has the right name. It turns out that there are three FBOs sharing the unicom frequency, so there is a moment of them stepping on one other as they respond to my call, but they all offer the services I need and I just pick one. I'm still shaking my head in bewilderment as I get out of the airplane. I've arrived at the right airport, according to the chart; the only way to get to the airport I remember is to go back in time.
A man marshals me in to parking. (I'm carefully not calling him a kid, because that would make me feel even older). I remember the first time I was here I was nervous about rolling towards a marshaller standing in front of my airplane, because the propeller was on the front. Now it's just the radome that will poke this guy in the head if my brakes fail. I like this better. I finish my paperwork, take my gear and lock up the airplane. Inside I give the FBO contact information and ask them to keep the my key in their safe. That's in case it is a different pilot who does the pick-up. They will let me park there and keep an eye on the airplane including sweeping the snow off if it starts to pile up, for five dollars a day. That's a better rate--and better service--than I get on airport parking with my car, most places. I also plan to bring them some Tim Horton's doughnuts when I come back.
They drive me through a construction zone to the new terminal, and I look at the flight schedule I found earlier on Expedia. I haven't booked a flight in advance because I didn't know when I needed to leave until I got here. United has the next flight out, so I get in line at that counter. I tell the agent my destination and show her the Expedia itinerary with the various flights I have to take to get there. She seems confused by it. I tell her it's okay if she can't sell me the ticket I need for the connecting flight on a Canadian carrier, I just have to get to my destination.
"So you want a reservation?" she asks.
"Uh, well sure. I want to buy a ticket to go on your airplane." Is it called a reservation if it's not in advance? I dunno.
She says she can sell me the ticket right to destination, including the Canadian flight. It won't be for the same price as shown on Expedia, though. I accept this, and in fact she comes out with a price that is two dollars cheaper than the Expedia quote. I suppose Expedia builds in a service charge. But then she tells me she has to charge me a separate $20 service charge.
What's the service charge for? It's for selling me an airline ticket. I have to sign a separate receipt, marked Special Service Charge. Apparently when this major airline sells you a ticket valid for transportation on one of their airplanes, that's a special service. I understood when meals, pillows, upgrades, drinks, and lounge access are special services, but if selling me an air ticket is a special service, what's their core business? It's so hilarious I can't even manage to be annoyed.
It turns out that the airport has free wireless, so theoretically I could have said "just a moment" and wandered off to buy the ticket online, and saved $18. Next time.
The airplane for the Canadian airline I was connecting to arrived late. I saw the old crew get off before we boarded, and the FO was a woman. Even looked a little like me. That's the job I didn't get. Sigh.
An all-male flight crew took over the airplane and delivered me safely and competently to my Canadian destination. They didn't even lose my baggage. Not that I'd expect them to, it's just that I need to introduce this link which shows the durability of cats, the fallabity of TSA baggage scanners and the compassion of strangers. I'm trying to imagine my initial reaction if I had been the person who mistakenly opened that suitcase.