When I first started planning my trip, I immediately surfed all the flight aggregators to find the cheapest possible route. Through a combination of Skyscanner, Vayama, Google Flights, and a number of individual airline websites, it was soon apparent that going through London would be my best bet.
I was oh-so-wrong
After 24 hours, 5 different airports, 3 flights, and 2 shuttles, I had finally reached my destination. And while I may have saved a few dollars/pounds/kronor, I hadn’t taken into account the physical and psychological costs of these runarounds.
My first connection was fine. I had a quick stopover in Halifax, and then a 10 hour flight to Heathrow. The Air Canada flight itself was pretty great: I didn’t have a seat-mate, they provided me with a free mini-bottle of wine, which helped me sleep through 8 of the 10 hours while intermittently watching episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
So far, so good
I go through customs, pick up my bag—which is thankfully waiting for me—and make my way over to the Heathrow Central Bus Station, where I purchase my shuttle bus ticket to Stansted Airport. The shuttle would take me 1h45mins, meaning I’d get there around 1pm. I had booked a later flight just in case I’d encounter any previous delays, and was booked to leave Stansted at 6:25pm. I figured that worst case scenario, I’d be a bit early for my flight, which can only be a good thing. Right? Guess again. Stansted is literally the worst. Let me rephrase: Stansted is the worst before you pass the security gates. But because of the sheer number of flights that depart this small airport—mostly run by budget airlines, including my flight with Ryanair—you can only check your bags in about 2 hours before your flight departs. I say “about” because in reality it all seems like a pretty arbitrary process, but I’m sure there has to be a method to their madness. And thus began my 3 hours of pointless wandering—there were no available seats to be found as they seem to be rationing them for the upcoming winter or something—and trying to find a free table at the sole restaurant/café/bar was fruitless. The staff is…let’s just say “difficult.” And there are crying/yelling/running british children everywhere. And I mean everywhere. And their tracksuit clad parents don’t really seem to be paying attention to them.
“It’s fine,” I think to myself, “soon enough you’ll be able to check your heavy-as-shit bag, go through security, and be on your merry way.” Which is generally what happened next, but not before the jet lag kicked in.
I’m very very human
In all my extensive planning, I had obviously discounted the jet lag, figuring I was superhuman and that jet lack was only for lesser beings. It is not, and I am painfully human. I was yawning left and right and drowsy as fuck. I’d managed to sleep a bit more on the shuttle over, but it only exacerbated my tiredness. I couldn’t even make sense of my own thoughts, which probably explains why I bought a duo of champagne bottles at the duty-free (which, come to think of if, wasn’t even that great a deal.) But I wanted a gift for my hosts and I love champagne, sue me.
Check-in time finally arrives, and I am finally able to shed a bit of weight. I make my way over to the security area with my pre-printed boarding pass (never EVER show up for a Ryanair flight without your boarding pass printed, unless you want to shell out 50 Euros) only to find a hoard, a literal hoard, of people all trying to push themselves to the front of what ended up being a random system of lines. I was longing for the Montreal Airport, with its timer that tells you how long you’ll probably wait and organized line system. But turns out it went by relatively quickly.
Things are finally starting to look up.
I finally make it to the passenger terminal, and quickly walk around trying to find a restaurant where I can sit down down, grab a bite and a drink, and finally sit on something other than the cold airport floor. But every single restaurant is fuller than the next. Which one isn’t? Obviously the “American themed” restaurant. Fantastic. Aside: Is there anything worst?! Why would anyone want to emulate a country where culture goes to die? So here I am, sitting at Coast to Coast: American Restaurant and Bar, pounding down pints of shitty beer (we’re in Britain for god’s sake, and all they serve is horrible American light beer with the obligatory tap of Guinness) while eating even shittier food, all while trying to arrange my Stockholm arrival plans using the airport’s spotty internet that I had to pay 9£ for, because obviously they only offer 1 hour of complimentary internet that doesn’t actually work.
And boom, before you know it, I’m tipsy
Which is fine, if anything, it makes everything a bit better. I make my way to my gate, which is like, a thousand miles away (cue Vanessa Carlton song) and place myself in line. I notice the girl in front of me has a Harry Potter Deathly Hallows tattoo on her nape, and emboldened by my few pints, I decide to chat her up. She’s Swedish with an Australian accent, having lived there for the past year with her New Zealander boyfriend who joins us. We chat about anything and everything, and all my previous annoyances dissipate. We load the tiny plane that they somehow manage to cram like, 600 seats in (ok, maybe not, but you get the point). I figure I might as well keep this buzz going and order an expensive and warm Heineken, and finally doze off into a well-earned nap. It’s dark and late when I land, but I already know Sweden is going to be amazing. I buy a ticket for the shuttle for a certain amount kronor, having no idea how much I actually just spent, and make my way downtown where my friend Jake is waiting for me at the T-Centralen T-bana. I’m officially in Stockholm.
So while a direct flight from Montreal to Stockholm now seems like the obvious choice—and the choice I would definitely make if I were to undertake this specific route again—my “thrifty” option made for an interesting journey. I actually didn’t save that much money, when you start adding up the cost of the shuttles + the pure waste of hours, but the whole journey did make me realize “Wow, you’re really doing it.”