10/29/2012 04:30 EDT | Updated 12/28/2012 05:12 EST

Maygan Sensenberger Airplane Incident Brought The Wrong Kind Of Fame


OTTAWA - As her face flashed across television screens throughout the Saskatoon airport's boarding area, Maygan Sensenberger slunk a little lower into her seat.

An aspiring actress and model, she'd always dreamed of being famous. Just not like this.

All Sensenberger, 23, wanted to do was get home to Ottawa after pleading guilty to causing a disturbance on an Air Canada flight she took in August along with her 69-year-old husband, Liberal Sen. Rod Zimmer.

But her sensational case — she was accused at one point of threatening to kill her husband — had attracted intense media scrutiny and public interest. Even pictures from her Facebook page were reprinted around the world.

So here she was, sitting in the departure lounge, her face splashed on television. Total strangers were snapping cellphone photos. Airports, once her favourite places, were suddenly a lot less fun.

"It gave me a taste of what travelling is going to be like," Sensenberger said during a recent interview in her husband's Senate office.

"Are people sitting around me thinking I'm the crazy Air Canada lady?"

As a child, Sensenberger dreamed not of infamy, but of stardom, play-acting roles from movies in her bedroom. Nor did she imagine herself falling in love with a man four decades her senior.

The age difference between her and her husband drew stares from the day they met in Toronto four years ago. She was 19, working as a nanny in Barrie, Ont., and was with her employers and their son for the day.

Zimmer, a Liberal senator from Manitoba, happened to pass by and tried to strike up a conversation. Sensenberger said she was initially unimpressed by this lanky, suit-clad fellow — nor did she really know what a senator really did.

But they exchanged cards, and when she got home, she sent him an email. Coffee ensued, then dinner. Soon, they were confronting the reality that they might be more than friends. But what were they to do about the age difference?

"We were saying, 'How can this work? I was raised right by my parents, I don't have daddy issues, my parents love me,'" she said.

"He was raised right by his parents; he's not a cradle robber or whatever the mean names they have ... But after a while, we had to be, 'It is what it is.'"

The relationship culminated in not one, but two marriage proposals: the first atop a revolving restaurant in Toronto, the second — the one she'd always wanted — beneath a willow tree in a park.

Still, it turns out the sentimental one is Zimmer, who dismisses those who question the couple's age difference. More people should have a relationship as meaningful as theirs, he insists.

"People always talk about the age — well, am I supposed to marry someone 105 years old with no teeth? Where's it written?" he said.

"It's just — I can't explain it, except it's magical."

The couple had been on the way to Saskatoon for his mother's interment the night of the fateful flight. Neither will discuss the details of precisely what happened.

Witnesses reported Zimmer was in medical distress and Sensenberger equally distressed when she felt no one was giving him enough help.

Zimmer suggested the whole thing was his fault after he tried to convince her his health was fine.

"I said, 'If you keep asking me, you're going to give me a heart attack and kill me,' in a joke, and everybody laughed around us," he said.

But when the plane landed, Sensenberger was charged with endangering the safety of an aircraft, uttering threats and causing a disturbance. The first two charges were eventually dropped and she was given a 12-month suspended sentence with probation after pleading guilty.

Both say the Crown, the police and Air Canada all overreacted out of fear they'd be accused of giving preferential treatment to a Canadian senator. They insist they never asked for any special treatment either during the court case or after.

Together with Zimmer's Senate assistant, Sensenberger had been working on a plan for months to launch a local acting and modeling career before trying to break into bigger markets. But she insists she doesn't want to capitalize on her sudden notoriety.

"They were telling me this is the time to get an agent, this is the time to ride the wave, and I was like, 'This is not a wave. This is not something good. This is terrible,'" she said.

"I'm not going to exploit some crappy drama that happened between my husband and I and almost kept us apart."

At first, Sensenberger planned to lie low for a while. But she quickly got bored.

So she started sending out head shots, and soon landed her first acting role in a an short independent film about a country ruled entirely by women. She followed that up with a role in another independent movie where she plays a gay woman who reconnects with her father.

She intends to keep at it, while learning to navigate Ottawa's political waters.

The couple don't plan to have children of their own, though they are interested in fostering or perhaps adopting. For now, they're content doting on their dog, a Shih Tzu-Yorkie mix named Tinkerbell.

The Air Canada incident might be what Sensenberger is known for now, but it won't be how she's remembered, she vows.

"I plan to be big," Sensenberger predicts. "It might take me 40 years, but I'm never going to stop."

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