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Northern 'bear' restores joy in airline travel.

I have been flying around Northern Ontario for most of my life. I once made an offer of marriage in the Dryden airport parking lot, which, as I recall, was declined. I have survived landing on Ramsey Lake with Ron Arnold days after he got his pilot's license. I have frozen to death flying Max Shapiro's Voyageur Airways into the Toronto Island airport in the early 80s. I have done luncheon runs out of Sudbury with Jimmy Simmons for beer and fish in Killarney, and endured all manner of NorOntair flights I prefer to forget, not to mention Air Canada's various offerings over the years.

Bill Plaunt (he owned CKSO Radio and Television years ago) and I used to be regulars on Voyageur. The pilots used to say, as we sat frozen in our seat belts, that heat was extra. They seemed to know Bill and I had traded newspaper and television advertising for airline tickets. They only turned on the heat for paying customers.

Flying is not as much fun as it used to be. We have all lost our sense of humour. Setting aside the indignities of the big search, the airport charges, random security checks, weight restrictions, no food, no drink, no movie, you now-have the option of catching a life-threatening disease (SARS), for which there is no known cure.

With all of this in mind, you can image my joy when I discovered a few weeks ago that Bearskin Airways was instituting a daily schedule from Buttonville Airport in Toronto to Sudhury. I could not believe my good luck. Buttonville is about 20 minutes from my office. You can park your car without charge, you can walk into the airport and someone might smile at you, there are no lineups for anything, security must be endured, but is not surly or invasive, and people generally seem to care that you have a positive experience.

It is basically a teaching airport, interrupted occasionally with scheduled flights. I am told the only reason the airport has not been transformed into housing at great profit to the Sifton family who own it is that Frank Stronach from Magna, which has its head office around the corner, said he would move out without an airport close at hand.

I am grateful to Frank.

I arrived last week for my first flight to Sudbury.

I was abnormally upbeat.

I left my office and was at the airport in 20 minutes. Perfect.

There was room for parking and I was exactly 300 feet from the entrance to the terminal. Perfect.

I approached the Bearskin counter and they smiled. I sald "I am delighted to be here. I am flying to Sudbury."

I think I also said "And isn't it just a great day."

The girl seemed to blanche slightly. She gathered her strength and said "I'm sorry to say we've had an equipment failure and we've rerouted you through Ottawa" I stood in stunned silence. My joy, my good will, my love for everyone and everything Northern Ontarian disappeared in two seconds.

I went from starring in a Viagra happy-talk commercial to anger.

How could this be; they just started this route?

Then I hit below the belt. I said "Why not reroute the Ottawa customers to Sudbury?" Was this another blatant snub to Northern Ontario?

I sulked.

I remembered how much I hate flying.

I skulked off to await my fate.

I was just sitting down when the nice lady behind the counter came bounding up to me and said "Listen, everyone's arrived and we are going to leave 15 minutes early. Let's go."

Shock and awe.

We took off at 2:30 p.m. At 3:08 p.m. we were preparing to land in Ottawa.

They gassed up and had the plane turned around in 12 minutes.

There was one awkward moment as the one other Sudhury passenger contemplated getting off the flight to go the bathroom. I held my breath as the captain explained the intricacies of going in and out of security at the, Ottawa airport. It was enough to persuade him to trust his bladder.

At 4:30 p.m. we landed in Sudbury.

We hold the international record for flying from a provincial capital to a national capital to a nickel capital.

So there you have it. Northern hospitality and chutzpa in the middle of Markham.


Michael Atkins is president of Northern Ontario Business Ltd. He can be reached by email at
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Article Details
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Author:Atkins, Michael
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:May 1, 2003
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