The Airport Sprint: Failing Forward in Action

Sometimes everything has to go wrong so that it can go right.

The monstrosity of a plane which took us from Casablanca to Montreal

The Ghana JFs stumbled into the Montreal airport last Saturday night having barely slept in the past 48 hours for the last leg of our flight home.  After slowly disembarking the absolute whale of a plane that carried us over the Atlantic Ocean, we had an hour and twenty minutes to clear customs, check in and re-enter security.  This was a tight timeline.  Little did we know, it would get even tighter.

Upon entering the airport, Kat and I steamrolled down the hall and left the other JFs behind.  We power-walked through passport control, proceeded confidently past the baggage carousels, launched ourselves out of customs, and beelined for the connections desk to acquire our boarding passes to Toronto.

Let’s all remember that we’re working on a previous 48 hours which included a combined hour of sleep, a four hour tro tro ride, tearful goodbyes, two flights, and a seven hour layover.

At the Air Canada connections counter, we asked for our boarding passes to Toronto.  We also inquired about our bags.  We had been assured before leaving Ghana that we wouldn’t need to retrieve our bags in Montreal, but wanted to check on this just in case.

Joke’s on us – we were supposed to retrieve our bags in Montreal. First point of contact in a country, sighed the connections agent, you always need to bring your bags through customs. Duh.  Kat and I internally smacked ourselves.

The connections agent directed us to call the Royal Air Maroc baggage attendants using a dedicated phone line down the hall from the connections desk.  After a few attempts, we got through to an agent who agreed to meet us with our bags at a security checkpoint near customs.  We worked our way into bowels of the airport, found the designated checkpoint, and waited.  After a half hour nerve-wracking wait, we got our bags.

Bags in hand, we now had two minutes until they would close baggage acceptance for our flight.  Knowing this, we ran with hiking packs rattling from the security checkpoint on the ground floor, up the stairs, down the length of the airport, to the Air Canada bag check counter. We got there just in time – actually two minutes late, but the baggage agent said it was okay.  Hooray!  We just had to proceed around the corner, the agent explained, then get out our passports out and zip through security.

Hearing passports, my heart sank into my shoes.  I smacked my jeans pocket, feeling for the small blue book that I knew wasn’t there.  I forgot my passport at the security checkpoint in the airport’s innards where we had retrieved our bags.

At this point, Kat and I mutually and silently courageously freaking committed to getting on this plane.  I took off back towards the bag room.  She trusted my dedication to get back in time and waited with our bags.

I sprinted headlong through the Montreal airport, dodging confused children and bemused adults.  I zigzagged down the hallway to the security checkpoint, grabbed my passport, and returned back to the baggage counter at whirlwind speed.  Somehow, miraculously, the baggage agent informed us we still had time.  We were hustled to the oversized bags section, where we lost a couple minutes with the oversized bag process (scan your bag, pick it up, place it on the conveyor yourself).  The baggage agent then bade us on to security with good luck.

At this point, we were in serious trouble – we had five minutes until our gate closed.

We sprinted to security, ducked under the security cue tapes, and actively started begging people to pass through ahead of them.  Surprisingly, amazingly, they all were okay with it. People are wonderful creatures.  The security guard ushered us to the front of the fastest cue.  I never would have had the guts to do this whole begging bit before my placement.

After throwing my carry-on bags on the security belt, I hastily proceeded through the metal detection gate, which beeped.  Silly me – I had left my phone in my pocket.  Removing my phone from my person, I backtracked and tried again.  No luck – the gate still beeped. The buckles on my Birkenstock sandals had foiled my plans.  Beeping on both attempts of entering the gate meant by protocol that I had to be searched.  I also had to wait for a female security guard to complete the search, despite my protestations that I didn’t care.  This ate up a few more precious seconds.

A pat-down and wand wave later, I’m grabbing my things to run to the gate, when what do I see but my laptop being pulled aside for drug testing.  Hilarious.

Kat makes the crucial decision at this point to sprint to the gate solo.  I learned after the fact that she got there just before they were about to give our seats away to standby flyers.

Laptop gets swabbed.  T-1 minute until gate close.  I grab my laptop and sprint at full throttle towards the gate.

As I round the corner, I see Kat throw up her arms and emit a victory yell.  Through a combination of team effort, trust in each other and decisive action, we got on that freaking plane.

Everything went wrong, but if it hadn’t gone wrong, it wouldn’t have gone right. The other Ghana JFs didn’t make it onto the plane.  They had to wait longer for their bags before clearing customs (as they didn’t forget them like us).  They weren’t running through the airport out of panic.  Because of this, they didn’t make the baggage cutoff for the flight.  Our series of mishaps lead us to our ultimate success.  We failed forward.  If you’re heading courageously in the right direction with the support of people on your team, you never know what’s possible.

I’m home everyone!  This is just a silly little story I wanted to share.  It’s somewhat representative of the whirlwind that was my last few days in Ghana, where I saw a sea turtle give birth, slept minimal hours and got sand permanently stuck in my toenails.  I’ll be sharing more about reintegration and reverse culture shock, as well as further insights about my experience, in the coming weeks.  Thanks for reading 🙂


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