A ghoulish check-in

How wel do customs travel?

"Thank you for flying with us," said the ghost with a faint smile as she handed me my boarding pass. A witch sitting beside her brushed back the cobwebs on her computer and called for the next passenger. Arriving to catch a flight out of Vancouver airport on 31 October 1999, I felt as if I had come to a party without being informed that it was a fancy dress event.

"Thank you for flying with us," said the ghost with a faint smile as she handed me my boarding pass. A witch sitting beside her brushed back the cobwebs on her computer and called for the next passenger. Arriving to catch a flight out of Vancouver airport on 31 October 1999, I felt as if I had come to a party without being informed that it was a fancy dress event.

Most of the female ground staff were draped in white sheets or clad in black dresses with black shawls and black conical hats, a few of the male crew sported fangs. Meanwhile, any number of spiders, pumpkins and mini-ghouls wandered around clutching their parents' hands (one child was even dressed as a pink elephant, although I couldn't quite understand what connection that costume had with the occasion).

Before moving away from the Canadian Airlines desk I congratulated my ghost on her carefully made-up white face - it was all the more startling for the addition of a single drop of blood on one cheek. I then ventured to suggest, half jokingly, that being checked-in by a ghoul might not go down too well with anyone who suffered from a phobia of flying.

"Aw really," she frowned, causing her face-paint to crease slightly. "But it's Hallowe'en," she explained patiently as if, up until that juncture, I'd failed to grasp the point.

On board my flight, a small spider in the seat beside me struggled with her legs. I was relieved to see, however, that the flight attendants had not dressed up (or down) for the occasion. Presumably they felt that some aspects of North American culture just don't travel very well.

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