18 April – over the Atlantic

This is a first for me. It’s shortly after 8 PM and we have left Montreal for Paris. I am sitting comfortably in the cabin of an aircraft at 35,000 feet, entering data into my iPad. I have it on aircraft mode, of course , so that the wireless capability is off. The theory is that my wireless transmission could fool the aircraft’s sophisticated navigation system and autopilot into doing something wrong.

Of course, Air Canada doesn’t need my help to screw up. Last year an Air Canada pilot woke up from his approved nap over the Atlantic on a night flight much like is one, saw Venus, thought it was a light of a nearby aircraft and took emergency avoidance action which put 16 people into hospital on arrival. It was reported as severe turbulence (which it was) but implied that it was weather (which it wasn’t).

I had that experience in a car many years ago. We, a group of RCAF pilot trainees, were driving at night from Claresholm to Calgary at night on a long straight highway. I was asleep sitting beside the driver. I woke up and realized (I saw) that there a vehicle head-on to us and closing fast. I grabbed the steering wheel to pull it to the right. Fortunately, the driver was awake and alert and held on to the wheel. He was not happy with me.

We now know what happens in these situations. There is a part of the brain, the amygdala, part of the limbic system, which gets the message about threats faster than the conscious part of the brain. (It is part of the ancient mammalian survival system – you don’t have to know exactly what it is if it appears to be a threat). I would guess that the Air Canada pilot’s reaction was the same as mine – an immediate response, even before thinking about it, to an apparent threat.

I am traveling on Aeroplan points and, since I have quite a few of them, I am in business class. That means that I am sitting in a little comfortable pod, just big enough for one but with every comfort known to man. One of the comforts is that the seat reclines fully into a bed, so I will get a few hours of good sleep before we arrive in Paris in the morning. We lose 6 hours on the flight, so it won’t be a full 8 hours of sleep, but enough to allow me to get quickly over the inevitable jet lag.

The pod has a real downside, in that each passenger is effectively isolated from every other passenger. Since the plot is to sleep, that is not a problem for this flight, but since l often like to chat with interesting people, it could be a problem under different conditions.

The food in this class is excellent. There was an appetizer, then a salad, then four choices for a main course: grilled AAA beef tenderloin, roasted chicken, grilled sea bass or Porcini mushroom and ricotta ravioli. each was accompanied by wonderful options. The sea bass, which I had, was offered with fingerling potatoes, grilled vegetables and cherry tomatoes. I passed on dessert; an apple, blueberry, strawberry and rhubarb streusel tart, not because I didn’t want it but because I was tired and wanted to sleep. I can’t imagine and don’t want to know what they had in steerage.

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