Cooke is seen standing, arms open wide, eady to give someone a hug.

What’s the only thing you need after an exhausting flight into Toronto Pearson Airport? A hug from grandma – even if she’s only acting

A recent commercial shoot for UP Express at Canada’s largest airport showed that amid the hectic rush of landings and departures, a pause to go to the airport, meet a traveller, and make a real human connection can see spirits soar. Even for someone hired to simply act the part.

Flying can sometimes be a lonely way to travel – if no one is there when you land back on solid ground.

Stepping off a plane, there’s only one thing, besides a bathroom break, you really need.

It’s a hug from grandma – even if she’s only playing the part.

Recently, Metrolinx filmed a series of airport passenger arrivals to promote UP Express’ Meeter and Greeter ticket – a four-hour return ticket for the price of a one-way journey, geared toward people meeting loved ones at the airport.

Cooke is seen standing, arms open wide, eady to give someone a hug.
Darlene Cooke, a veteran performer brought in to act as a beloved grandmother in the UP Express Meeter Greeter campaign. (Metrolinx photo)

Because we all love the airport reunion – whether you’re the traveller coming off the plane, or the person on the ground, eagerly anticipating the arrival.

The premise involved bringing in actors to play the part of grandmothers – and one grandfather – to welcome real travellers and interact with those waiting to greet those landing. These were unscripted moments that melded into real world emotional memories inside the nation’s largest airport.

Each day, about 135,000 passengers travel through the airport. But the individual encounters – of warmth, humour and touching exchanges – that were suddenly captured on the shoot inside Terminal 1, surprised many. They included Darlene Cooke, a veteran performer brought in to act as a beloved grandma.

“The most memorable (moment) and the one that I think of to this day, was a young black woman, in her early 30’s who was descending down the ramp,” Cooke recalls.

“Being a black woman myself, I was immediately connected to her. We were family. We made eye contact and I held my arms open to her and she flew into my arms as if we were a long awaited beloved family member.

“She was emotional, sad, scared, worried, confused and needed a soft place to fall. I was her soft place.  I don’t have a daughter, but in that instant and to this day, I felt as if I were her mother.  I wanted to make her feel safe and reassured.  To this day, I still want to connect with her.”

Before taking on acting, Cooke spent 12 years interacting – rather than acting – with air travellers, during her duties as a flight attendant. But it’s the single hug with the stranger on the UP Express shoot that stays with her.

“I don’t know her circumstance, I only knew that for our brief moment, I made her feel loved and safe,” Cooke, who has worked with the likes of Morgan Freeman, Ben Affleck, Bridget Moynahan and Christopher Plummer, recalls.

“We were both crying. It was very real and as I (recall it now), I am crying.  I don’t believe anyone was at the airport to welcome her, except me.  I’m glad it was me.  I needed her to be OK.  Not just in that moment, but today, tomorrow and always.”

Someday, says the mother of two, she hopes she meets the stranger again.

A woman gets a hug from one of the actors, as a man looks on with a smile.
Travellers, and those waiting for arrivals, were given a warm hug, thanks to the actors taking on the roles of professional greeters. (Metrolinx photo)

No, she says, she won’t be giving up acting to hang around the arrival gates of Pearson. But for that day, and that exchange that crossed from performance to personal connection, Cooke said it did her heart good.

The Welcome Committee campaign will run throughout the holiday season, on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, in addition to some key online publications.

To check out additional spots from the campaign, just click here.

And for the main video of the campaign – featuring Cooke – here it is.

To find out more about the Meeter Greeter tickets, go here.