Trudeau Airport Sucks

Brief historical preamble for those who either don’t live near Montreal or have been asleep for the last 30 years: Montreal has two main airports; Pierre Elliot Trudeau (formerly called “Dorval”) and Mirabel. Mirabel opened in 1975 and was supposed to replace Dorval, but although it’s really big (the second largest in the world in terms of area), it’s also inconveniently located. It’s way outta town. Mirabel handled all International passenger air traffic in and out of Montreal from its opening up until 1997. At that point, a “phase out” plan went into place, with international passenger traffic shifting to Dorval, which was undergoing expansion. As of October 31, 2004, all passenger traffic was moved to Dorval, with Mirabel relegated as a cargo-only airport.

All that means that Dorval, which was recently renamed to “Pierre Elliot Trudeau,” or “P.E.T.” (prompting me to refer to it as the “fartport” as “pet” is French for “fart”) has been in constant expansion mode for more than ten years. They’re shifting lots of things around and pouring lots of concrete. But one thing they seem to have been forgotten is planning.

OK, I’m being mean. Of course they’re planning. But it’s planning by people who seem to have never been to an airport. Planning by people for whom Byzantine signage and rules are not just normal but desirable. Planning by people who bought into the Segway hype and think it is OK to make people walk for hours between their arrival gate and the baggage checks because soon no one will ever have to walk again.

I’ll spare you my report on the insanity of our departure to San Francisco a couple of weeks ago. Suffice to say that we were impressed at being able to do things like print our own boarding passes from home and pre-register our luggage, but were disappointed upon arriving at the airport to learn that nobody there seemed to know what we were talking about. At best we saved about a minute (or more accurately, traded off five minutes at home to save one minute at the airport), and in fact we might have lost time as the people using the old fashioned method were passing us in the line as we tried to negotiate an interface between what we did on the Web and what really happens at the airport. It was like trying to print a Windows file on a Mac in 1989.

I’ll skip the by now tedious lamentations about the endless long walks to and from the gates. I’ll not say a thing about the massive customs clearinghouse that experienced some big delays this summer (one report had people waiting in line for four hours to get through). Instead I’ll just mention the problem with taxis.

Getting a taxi at the fartport used to be easy. You come out of customs, cross to the exit, and bingo; taxi stand. Sometimes there might be a few people waiting head of you; usually no big deal.

When Martine and I landed from San Francisco a few nights ago, we noticed that the fartport was very quiet, almost deserted. When we got to customs we were pleasantly surprised to see there was no lineup at all. We, and the people from our flight (at least those who survived the long march from the gate) zipped right through. Then came the baggage area, which was like a graveyard with only a few dozen zombies from our flight standing around waiting for the conveyor to start up.

This is excellent, I thought. We’ll be out of here in no time. As our bags came into view it was 7:45, and we had the option of being picked up by a relative who was getting out of a class nearby at about 8:00. I figured that meant we’d have to wait about half an hour, so I convinced Martine to decline the pickup.

We got our bags and went out to the taxi area. Except… there were no taxis. Not even signs for taxis. Just one forlorn looking woman who said she was waiting for a bus.

So we went back inside and found that the fartport designers had re-jigged the taxi experience for us. Oh boy. Instead of getting a taxi from the area where you exit the arrivals area, you now follow a blue and white checkered line on the floor way, way down, half the length of the building. We did so dutifully, which was easy on that oddly quiet night, and arrived at… the lineup for taxis. The big, huge, insane lineup for taxis.

There were, quite literally, about 100 people in line for a taxi.

WTF??? I have never in my entire life seen such a lineup for taxis at an airport. And that was a quiet Wednesday night, at a time when the airport was almost deserted. It makes you wonder; what the heck is it like when the airport is busy?

Noisy parade downtown

There was some kind of noisy parade in downtown Montreal today. Or maybe it was a protest. It wasn’t very clear, as everyone seemed pretty happy and they all had nice coordinated umbrellas. But there were a lot of banners for various charities and anti-poverty organizations, so who knows?

After all, it’s not like there were very clear signs anywhere to let us know what was going on. Nor were there any chants or songs to give us a clue. All I had to go on were thousands of people, lots of umbrellas, a bunch of banners, and an awful racket moving down McGill-College and turning east onto Ste. Catherine Street.

Protest or parade? Downtown Montreal

The racket came from a few different sources, including several clusters of uncoordinated drummers (both snare and bongo). Drums can be fun or annoying, depending on what they’re doing and how. But one thing that was undeniably annoying was the guy whose job was to yell incomprehensible stuff into a microphone that was connected to speakers running all the way up Ave. McGill-College.

Wow, that was loud. It would be forgivable if he were yelling things that might give us an idea of what the parade/protest was about, but no; he was some kind of radio personality type yelling “motivational” crap to keep up the tempo.

Oh gawd how I hate that kind of stuff. You couldn’t understand a word of it (and not just because it was probably in French). The booming speakers created magnificent echos among all the glass- and stone-fronted buildings on the avenue, so it was like being in the loudest echo chamber on earth while some idiot yelled blah blah blah blah BLAAAHHHH! Blah blah blah blah BLAAAHHHH! over and over again. I suppose we were all supposed to cheer on every BLAAAHHHH!

Lest you think I have some kind of phobia against civil unrest or whatever, let me assure you that the idea of several thousand people in coordinated umbrellas jamming up traffic by walking down Ste. Catherine Street is actually my idea of a pretty good time. No really. But how about a bit of explanation, and more importantly can we ditch the guy with the mike and the blah blah blah blah BLAAAHHHH!? Oh, and while we’re at it, nobody minds if you trip the guy with the devil sticks (the way nobody minds when you trip a mime).