This isn’t really about Portugal. I’ll get to Portugal, eventually. This is a thinly veiled rant about Air Canada. I know stories of troubles with airlines are a dime a dozen, but this is my blog and I want to rant. Where to start? How about 7 months ago.
Generally, we love travelling east from Halifax (once we’ve skipped over Cape Breton & Newfoundland). However, that generally means an overnight flight which we hate. The good news is that we have lots and lots of Aeroplan points. They are worth their weight in gold for acquiring Business Class seats for this kind of travel. And most Business Class travel on overnight seats provides a sleeping pod that allows you to stretch out and get a real sleep. So about 7 months ago we booked business class seats to Heathrow and then on to Lisbon. We adjusted our travel dates in order to acquire the seats, requiring us to travel for an extra day or two than we wanted. However, it was worth it. True, the extra leg room is valued. The choice of hot meals is nice. The glass of wine is fine. And the extra baggage allowance has value. But the golden prize is that for 5 hours from Halifax to London, you get to do it lying down. (I know many people do it lying down, but for 5 hours? People get real. We’re talking about flying here.). So after giving up a gazillion Aeroplan points, we booked the extra hotel rooms we needed, booked off the extra days and put it on the calendar.
Fast forward 7 months. We are due to fly out on Sunday night at 11:40. We spend most of Saturday and all day Sunday with last minute items getting ready to go. A friend has offered to drive us to the airport @ 9:00 (Thanks Jen!) and we have emptied out the kitchen of everything except a light meal to eat before we leave. Just before final shut down of all things electronic , a ping alerts me to a new email. It is from Air Canada. I will quote it in part. “Part of your itinerary has been CANCELLED. (Their caps.) Unfortunately, we were unable to rebook you on another flight.” That’s it. And then it goes on to give me a web site to access and a phone number to call. It turns out that the part of the itinerary cancelled was the flight from Halifax to London, a rather important part of the journey. Think about this for a moment. For more than 7 months this airplane was scheduled to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. With us and a hundred other people on it. And then, 4 and a half hours before departure, it is cancelled. Not delayed, not rescheduled, not crashed in the ocean. Just……… cancelled. No explanation, not even a bald faced lie. Just……… cancelled.
I try to log on to the web site to rebook. It apparently has been cancelled as well and I’m denied entry. (A theme that will repeat itself.) So I call the 1-800 number, where I am immediately and repeatedly advised that my business is important to them and that they will be with me right away. Eventually a representative came off her break and deigned to speak with me. I explained the problem and she proceeds to look for some alternatives. There is no apology. No fake sympathy. No explanation. When I asked her the reason for the cancellation she denied any knowledge of why. She said it was just…….. cancelled. Our original routing had us flying overnight on Sunday and after a 2 hour layover in London arriving in Lisbon in the early afternoon of Monday. Her first offer of a re-route had us leaving Halifax on Sunday night (if we could scramble for a 9:30 flight). We would overnight in Ottawa, fly somewhere the next day and overnight on the plane the next night, arriving on Tuesday. I think it was Tuesday. It might have been Wednesday. But it certainly wasn’t Monday. After my astonished response she assured me that there might be other options. We finally settled on something that would leave Monday afternoon for Toronto, where we would have an almost 5 hour layover and then overnight direct to Lisbon, arriving on Tuesday. When I asked her if that was Business Class, she assured me that she’d procured Premium Class seats together for which she seemed quite proud and paused waiting for me to gush my thanks. I was not familiar with Premium Class but it sounded a little Businessy and maybe even First Classy, so we said fine, we’d take it. We then settled down to enjoy our light meal, walk around our packed suitcases, remake the stripped bed, and wonder where we were going to find milk and juice for breakfast, having thrown everything spoilable out.
Monday. The next day was not very productive as we put in time leading to our late afternoon flight. Our friend who was going to drive us to the airport on Sunday night drops us off for the 5:30 flight to Toronto. (Thanks again, Jen!). Things run fairly smoothly. Upon check in we ask what happened to the Sunday night flight. They don’t know. It was just……. cancelled. We find ourselves in Toronto and make our way to the Maple Leaf Lounge to spend the next 4 hours. We were entitled to use the lounge because of the Business Class tickets we had used a gazillion points for. When we checked in there was some hesitation because we were displaying a Premium Class boarding pass. This planted the first seed of doubt that Premium Class might be neither Businessy or First Classy. But after checking the file they agreed that the booking was a Business Class ticket and we were welcomed in. (At this point I have to pause and emphasize that the Air Canada representative confirmed from our boarding pass and our flight file that we were flying to Lisbon that night. This is important as you will soon see.)
So we settle in for a long wait. Start reading some books, charging some electronics etc.. After an hour or so, I remember a piece of mail that I had intended to mail from the Halifax airport. It wasn’t that important a piece of mail but I had some extra time and was looking for a diversion. I asked the Air Canada agent in the lounge where the closest mail box was and she advised me that it was in the main terminal on the other side of security. I confirmed with her that if I went out to mail the letter, I’d be able to re-enter through security and that my boarding pass and passport would be sufficient. Yes. I let Claire know of my plan, and exited through the security doors about 20 feet from the lounge.
The mail box was a little farther away than I remembered but that’s fine. In fact it was up past the International Departures area. Hmm. International. As I walked back to the security area from which I had departed, I walked by a horrendous line up for International Departures (Double hmm, International), breathing a sigh of relief that I didn’t have to deal with that. I arrive at security and display my boarding pass and passport and was promptly turned away. I was told that this was domestic departures and my boarding pass was for international departures only. My protestation that my wife was sitting in the lounge inside with all of our carry-on luggage fell on deaf ears and I was asked (told actually) to take it up with the Air Canada agent “over there”. The agent appealed on my behalf but had no better luck than I. He then walked me back to the Air Canada ticket counter and handed me off to an agent who couldn’t understand why I had been in the domestic departures lounge when I was waiting to depart on an international flight. I replied that if I had known there was a different lounge I would have been waiting in it and wouldn’t the Air Canada agent in the lounge know the difference? She allowed that you would think so, but in any case here we were. What to do? She said the only course of action was for Claire to pick up all the luggage and also depart the area whereupon we would then have to re-enter security through the International security. How would we accomplish that? She would call the lounge, have her paged and thrown the hell out. (My words not hers) So five minutes later I was talking to a bewildered Claire, telling her to pick up all of our belongings, and leave the lounge and the secure area. Which she did. This was sounding less and less Premiumy all the time. So shortly, we were reunited and heading for the International Departures. Ah yes, the horrendous line up. We proceeded to spend the next 75 minutes kicking our luggage along the slowest line up in the world. That’s not quite true. We could recall a slower line up several years ago leaving New Delhi airport in mayhem. In fact I think I recognized a couple of the screeners from that night. Maybe not. We were now beginning to worry that we might not have enough time to get back in through security to catch our flight. But not to worry; there were 4 or 5 Air Canada agents there to expedite things. However, other than scurry around and talk to each other on walkie talkies, I’m not sure exactly what they did, other than pull families with young kids out of line and expedite them. It seemed like we might have enough time to create our own young kids and get expedited ourselves but then remembered; um, never mind.
Finally we got through and managed to make the flight in time. We arrived at the gate to meet four travelling companions from Halifax (who you will be introduced to later) who wondered where we had been. Now let me review. If Air Canada had advised us that we were entering the domestic lounge in error, some two and a half hours earlier, we would have had a leisurely 10 minute walk and a leisurely 2 hour relaxing period. But that leisure was just ……. cancelled.
Oh well, water under the bridge. All that remains now is to get on the plane, wait for takeoff to have the bed turned down and settle in for the night. We’re in Zone 1 of course, so we get to board early. However, as we board the plane our sleeping pods are nowhere to be seen. In fact our seats just look like…. seats. They are in a separate section than the rest of the plane though. Which is nice. It takes me awhile to figure out exactly how Premium differed from Economy. What you get is the inch or two of leg room that the airlines took away a few years ago. And you get a blanket. And you get a pillow. And that’s about it. So basically, Premium is what Economy was before Economy was something else. Sub-Economy? This was so not worth a gazillion points! And to add insult to injury, of course, this was a much longer flight being Toronto to Lisbon rather than Halifax to London. So the restless night ensued. Instead of 5 hours of sore necks, sore backs and cold feet, we had almost 7.
But we made it. We were sore. We were bone tired. We were a day late (paying for our non refundable hotel room) but they did get us there safely. I give all the credit in the world to Air Canada. They do usually land safely. Oh I forgot. We did have a “continental breakfast” included. I’ve attached a picture of the entire array of choices. The entire array of choices.
So I’ve decided to take action. The usual proclamation is to say “I’ll never fly Air Canada again” However, I have all these Aeroplan points to use. So I think I’ll say it but not mean it. Like everybody else. Also I’ll write a letter. A blistering letter. They’ve probably never received a letter of complaint like this before and I imagine that within 48 hours I’ll receive a personal phone call from a chief executive apologizing, crediting me a gazillion points and maybe a couple of free passes anywhere Air Canada promises to (but doesn’t ) fly. I’m going to delay sending the letter until we get home so that I’ll be there to take the call.
In the meantime we’re in Portugal and our trip has begun.