Winning the Cockpit Lottery to Winnipeg

Travelling all over the world on a plane has made me fall in love with flying as a whole. I love all the things normal people don’t usually enjoy about travelling. I love the wait at the airport, boarding a flight, eating airplane food, and the takeoff and landings. To top it off, with the job I have at Air Canada, my work revolves around aircrafts and all of its parts. I have this passion about travelling and the experience of flying that I never take these trips for granted, ever.

The Long Journey

I planned a trip to Winnipeg a few weeks ago to visit Max during one of his business trips. I had also visited him back in February for his Edmonton trip and it was quite a thrill squeezing a weekend trip and returning to work on Monday. For Winnipeg, I was dealing with a bit of a gamble. With Air Canada and most airlines, employees fly on standby – this means that you’re not guaranteed a seat until everyone has checked in and that there are extra seats available. Although it could be very stressful for certain people who like to stick to their rigid plan, the key is to really not expect much and go with the flow. If you get on, good. If you don’t, just make a plan B ahead of time – either fly out somewhere else or stay home and treat yourself, which is what I had planned to do when I thought I wasn’t going to get on that flight to YWG.

This was definitely a gamble because there was a very small chance of even getting on any flight out from Montreal that day. It had coincidentally fell on the Friday leading into everyone else’s March Break (aka Spring Break). To top it off, Montreal had been hit with a snow storm the day prior, which led to cancelled flights and people being booked for flights the following day – falling on Friday. To put my conscience at ease, I had already mentally prepared myself to be denied boarding and go home to spend the entire weekend watching Netflix. That day, I had taken a half-day at work to increase my chances of getting on any flight out to Winnipeg.

  • 1:35pm flight – Overbooked – No seats available
  • 3:00pm flight – Overbooked – No seats available

Have you ever watched the film Terminal starring Tom Hanks? Yep, that’s what it felt like. Although it wasn’t days, I was wandering around the airport for nearly 7 hours walking from one gate to another hoping to get on a flight. Finally, I sat at the final gate for a flight at 7pm – the final option available to fly to Winnipeg (whether it included a layover or not – and thankfully this was going to be a direct 3-hour flight).

As I sat at the gate watching people slowly crowd around, I mentally made a quick count of the number of people versus the seat capacity of the aircraft and I knew immediately that I wasn’t going to get on this flight. Right before they began to board the passengers, the gate agents announced that the flight had been overbooked, and they were looking for six volunteers to be re-booked for the following day for a compensation of $2400 + hotel expenses. It did not take long for six people to show up at the counter, and that’s when I started messaging Max and my parents to let them know I wasn’t getting on the flight. My father was already on his way to pick me up at the airport, but I had decided to wait at the gate until he would be about 5 minutes out.

As I watched the gate agents prepare the boarding process and the anxious travellers lining up, I suddenly heard my name being called. I immediately stood up completely stupefied and made my way wiggling through the crowd until I got to the counter where the boarding agent began questioning if I worked for the airline and what my role was. As I began to explain, another agent came over and asked for my employee card. I was puzzled as I had absolutely no idea what was happening. Everything was moving quickly and two minutes ago, they had just paid six individuals a lump sum of money to give up their seats to accommodate others. There was absolutely no way that there was a seat for me, especially knowing there was probably 20-30 people who were on the standby list with me who couldn’t get on. The boarding agent who had taken my employee card left with it on the plane and came back a minute later to tell the other agent “It’s a yes, print her a new boarding ticket”. She handed me to the ticket, I thanked her, and slowly backed my way out of the crowd and then stood to the side – still dazed. I looked at the ticket and it had no seat number allocated besides a marking “J/S”.

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Upon boarding, I showed my ticket to the flight attendant who said, “Oh, follow me” and then we walked right into the cockpit! I was in complete shock at that moment when I entered the cockpit, and the flight attendant introduced me to the captain and the co-pilot. Words were not coming out of my mouth and if it did, it came out scrambled. I’m pretty sure before I even introduced myself I said to them “I feel like I just won the lottery!”. I was still in disbelief that this was even a thing, and I was waiting for the flight attendant to tell me that they found a seat for me in Economy at the back somewhere. Nope, that did not happen. As she unfolded the third occupant seat (also known as the observer seat), I sat down and just started looking at everything around me like a child walking into an amusement park for the first time.

As someone who handles technical data for aircraft maintenance and its parts, I was beyond intrigued to be sitting inside and in front of all the parts and switches for things that I work with on a daily basis. I just couldn’t stop looking at every single thing inside the cockpit. Not only was I incredibly lucky to have this kind of rare opportunity, but I got lucky with the pilots too. We spent the next three hours talking about all sorts of things, and the Captain had spent much of that time explaining all the functions and roles of the switches and buttons, and how certain mechanisms in the aircraft worked. He was so detailed in his explanations – I was able to see his passion for flying right through him. They also asked about my job and my role with Air Canada. They were so genuine and kind people who took interest in my story too. I had told them about my journey of waiting 7 hours to try my luck at a flight to see my boyfriend in Winnipeg. The Captain then asked where I was staying, and when I told him I was staying at the Delta Marriott downtown, he immediately told me that the flight attendants were staying there too and that he would ask them if I would be able to catch a ride with them upon landing. And that’s exactly what ended up happening

In the Air

The rules were simple. No talking and no taking pictures or videos during takeoff and landing. However, they allowed me to take pictures while we were up in the air. Right before takeoff, they handed me a headset to be able to hear the communication between them and the ATC (Air Traffic Control). And then I was all buckled up, headset on, and ready for takeoff! Words can’t ever describe what the takeoff felt like. It just felt so unreal – like a scene from a movie. We were on the runway and then as soon as the tower gave us the go, we were speeding and then jetting up through the sky.

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As soon as we reached a stable altitude and all things checked out fine on the pilot’s end, they turned off the seat belt sign, and so we took off ours as well. When we were high up above the clouds, they turned down the light in the cockpit and they told me to look out the window. I got up and walked around the tight space to look out into a sky full of stars. I was able to see the bright moon ahead of us as though we were flying into it, and then there was another bright star right next to it. Apparently, it was Venus. The pilots were trying to show me the constellation, and I was immediately able to spot the Orion and the Big Dipper. I couldn’t believe that just an hour ago, I thought I was going home for the weekend, but instead at that very moment, I was stargazing with the pilots in the cockpit. It was a truly surreal experience. I even got to see a plane fly right above us!

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This was my face after getting 3 hours of sleep because of my evening job at the cinema, waking up to get to my 6am day job at Air Canada, and then waiting 7 hours at the airport, to having full adrenaline pumped through my body while all of this was happening. Yep, I was restless for the next several hours after.

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For those wondering how this was all possible, I later asked some of my co-workers about my entire cockpit experience. Apparently, after the events of 9/11, they stopped allowing anyone into the cockpit during the flight – including the flight attendants. Prior to that, they used to let people sit in the observer seat, and sometimes they would even leave the door open mid-flight. Nowadays, they strictly limit it to employees and it’s only with the approval of the Captain – which is why the gate agent had taken my employee card on board. Also, the flight had to be completely full. As soon as there’d be a seat available on the flight, regardless of the class, I’d have to sit there. Also, the J/S that was marked on my ticket meant jumpseat.

Basically, anyone’s chances of ending up where I did on that extra seat in the cockpit was extremely rare. My co-workers, my boss, and even those who had worked for the company for 45 years had never had that opportunity come around and I guess the fact that I was also travelling alone helped too.

There are no words to describe how I felt that day. It was truly an unforgettable experience and one that I can look back on and not take any of those moments for granted. I wish there was a way that I can thank the entire crew from that flight to Winnipeg that day. From the gate agents, the flight attendants, and the pilots, they were such incredibly kind human beings who took care of me from point A to B.

Thank you for the incredible experience, flight crew AC373 ❤

*Side note: For anyone wondering, I did have time to call my father to let him know that I was flying out, so he drove straight home! 🙂

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