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With airports, small & dull beats hectic

Ottawa’s airport, in some ways, might as well be a bus station.

Ottawa’s airport, in some ways, might as well be a bus station.

It’s small enough that passing politicos find it difficult to dodge the media. This is where elusive Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, for example, got scrummed last September about his ill-advised listeriosis knee-slappers.

And it’s dull. A frequent and perceptive flyer I know describes our humble plane stop as “entirely without charm or soul. I cannot think of anything unique, interesting, quirky, luxurious or otherwise worthy of text.”

I think this may be its greatest virtue. If the airport was the most memorable part of your trip, something probably went wrong.

Last year, the Airports Council International’s service quality awards rated Ottawa the second best small airport in the world. Halifax took first place.

On a recent flight, all the usual petty oppressions — removal of shoes, confiscation of verboten bottled water and shaving gel, no joking under penalty of law — are observed, but it’s all done in a low-key, sensible, Ontarian way.

There’s nary a frantic passenger in sight. We are bored, resigned, a bit cranky and waiting for it to be over. Soon, blandly and without a hitch, it is.

I land next in Chicago’s hectic O’Hare International Airport, and run down one endless concourse and up another just in time to miss my connection.

I am directed to a so-called service desk. Nobody from the airline is in sight, but I can stand in line for a phone and taste the thrill of flying standby in booked-solid holiday traffic.

The loudspeaker advises me that today’s terror threat level, courtesy the ever-fearful U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is Orange. No specific threat, just generalized low-level official panic.

There’s no place like home, but our small, dull airport isn’t perfect. Ask the passengers who stewed for 12 hours last March on the tarmac, trapped in two Cubana planes without food, water or toilets. They’d been redirected from Montreal in bad weather, and on landing, ignored by airline and airport alike.

A glitch in my return to Ottawa is far less dramatic. It’s New Year’s Day, a little after 9 p.m. We deplane only to find our entrance to the airport is locked. Down a ramp we go and find ourselves in the departure lounge, which is abandoned and locked up tight. It’s unexpected, but nobody’s visibly nervous. Several are laughing at the goofiness of our predicament. At Orange Alert O’Hare, it might be different.

A member of the ground crew soon arrives to unlock the friggin’ door. Small, dull, and (mostly) efficient: What more could you ask for in an airport?

– Steve Collins lives, writes and walks in Ottawa.

 
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