It took me three days to get home from Kuujjuaq, and this time it was not the weather which did me in.
Concerning the first day, I don't even want to discuss the reason I was not on board. We'll just leave it alone.
The second day, Friday, after arriving at the Kuujjuaq Airport (currently under construction) a good 2.5 hours early, I was finally boarded on the Dash-8 turboprop. Looking out my window, I saw the pilot, then the co-pilot inspecting the landing gear on the starboard side. The crowd soon grew with the addition of two mechanics, and then a third. This is never a good indication of your flight taking off on time.
Sure enough, we were marched off the plane and told to sit in the terminal while they figured this one out. Now it is my firm contention that airport seating is designed by the International Order of Chiropractors to bring in new clients, and after three and a half hours of waiting, we were told that the flight was a wash, and we had to reappear at 6:30 AM for a 7:30 departure the next day. By that time, my lower back was knotting up like one of those macramé wall hangings from the 70's.
After many phone calls to my family trying to explain why I didn't make it home the previous two days, I treated myself to a dinner of "seafood" consisting of brine shrimp and pollock masquerading as crab meet, a couple of glasses of wine, and a couple of glasses of some nice single malt from Islay and the Orkneys. By 9:00 PM my back was starting to loosen, and I drifted off to sleep.
I have no complaints against the carrier, Air Inuit, for the mechanical delay. They have a near perfect safety record flying in very hostile meteorological conditions, and I would rather write off a flight if they didn't feel 100% comfortable about the condition of their aircraft. What I didn't appreciate, however, was hanging around the airport for hours on end when it was probably obvious that a part had to be flown in from Montreal.
I have a morbid fear of flying, more from a sense of claustrophobia than of actually crashing, I suppose. I mean I can tolerate the larger aircraft, Dash-8s and Hawker-Siddley 748s, but Twin Otters, Aztecs and Navahos are so cramped that I fear losing it and jumping out of the plane.
So imagine my horror when I arrived at the airport yesterday at dawn to find that the Dash-8 had not been repaired, and they were putting us on a King Air A-100
, a 9-seat turboprop which, just 5 days previously had created a state of emergency at Kuujjuaq Airport when inbound from Puvirnituq had a landing gear which refused to come down. Fortunately, this plane has a mechanical method of putting down the gear so all worked out well in the end, but the sight of that little box sitting where my comparitively luxurious Dash-8 should have been served to ratchet up the muscles in my lower back past the redline.
Since the plane was full and there was a lot of cargo in the back (mostly mine, I might add), the crew hand to rebalance the plane using the passengers. One glance at me from the co-pilot and I was relegated to the frontmost seat (how dare they call me heavy - I'm just big boned!). There was literally 4 inches for my feet, and no space for my carry-on. And I had to curl up like a contortionist so the co-pilot could squeeze past me to get into her seat. I then knew a flight from hell was ahead.
Actually, the flight itself was good - VFR
conditions and over very picturesque landscape: but it was impossible to get my camera out to take pictures. And being half in the cockpit I noticed the crew spent most of their one-hour flight playing around with the GPS - I don't know if it was training or getting it to agree with their other instruments, but with blue skies and unlimited visibility, I guess a GPS was not necessary.
But my back was in agony. Since they wanted a fast turnaround at our first destination - Kangiqsujuaq - we were not allowed off the plane for a stretch. But at least I could move aft to a seat with more room for the final 30 minute leg back home.
So today I write with a very sore back, and am keeping my fingers crossed so that it doesn't seize up completely. I spent a 10-day period last year laid up so bad I couldn't even crawl to the bathroom, and I never want to exist in such a helpless state again.
I've done some research today on the King Air 100, and have come across some some beautiful seating configurations with table trays, swivel leather seating and the like. But this is only possible for a maximum of 6 passengers. But I also came across a 12-seat configuration: unless it was a custom design for the dwarves from the Cirque du Soleil I can't imagine it at all.
Labels: Arctic aviation, claustrophobia