Air Canada – let me start by saying that when I was a student in Montreal, back in the 90’s, I took Air Canada regularly and as I embarked on this trip I remembered them to be a good & reliable airline. Always felt pretty positively about them.
Not so this time. Simply awful. Failed on almost every level. Epic fail, actually.
How so, you ask? Well, let me tell you.
Things started off well. I had just spent a couple of days in Montreal, catching up with old friends and relaxing, as the period leading up to vacation was quite hectic. I arrived at the airport in plenty of time for my Saturday evening, 6:20pm direct flight to Athens. I took my time getting to my gate and did a little duty-free shopping. I meandered around, finally heading to the gate about 20 minutes before boarding was to begin. I found myself a seat, near a charging station & started to charge my iPod for the flight. So far so good! I noticed that the sign by gate B52 (yes, like the band, like the shot, like the bomber, etc.) did not read Athens, but rather some place in California…… Hmmmm….. curious. And not a good sign.
I approached the counter and inquired: is this still the gate for Athens or did I miss a gate change announcement? Their response? ‘Yes, I hope the flight to Athens is still leaving from here.’ Curious…. and not confidence-inspiring! I was left to wonder about that as I sat back down, overhearing the words every prospective traveler wants to hear: Mechanical Difficulties. Ugh. Oh dear.
I sat in the waiting area a while, with all the other passengers getting more & more concerned, but passing the time by getting to know each other and chatting about travel plans and purposes of our respective trips. Then came the announcement. The flight is delayed….. wait for it…. until the next morning at 8:30am! A 19 hour delay? Yikes. But I maintain a good outlook: I’d rather be delayed than get on a broken plane. Yes, I would lose a day in Athens, but I had built-in 4 extra days there to tool around and do the tourist thing on my own before heading to Crete for my friend’s wedding. Unfortunately, my coworker’s Greek cousin, who had offered to show me around Athens a bit was off on the day that I would now be losing, and I would no longer get an airport pickup from her, but what can you do, such is the life of the international traveler, right? 🙂
OK, what to do now? Get in line to get our vouchers for the hotel. Alright. We line up at the gate to get our vouchers. Those who live in Montreal go to get their luggage, and the rest of us wait in line. But after an hour and a half, the line has only moved forward a couple of paces….. that’s when they announce that they need the gate to board a flight that actually gets to take off today, so they’re moving our line to another gate a little ways down.
Now lined up at a different gate, everyone is out of order, so the poor people who had been at the front of the line are now at the back and even more pissed off. But we’re in Canada, where people are generally polite, so the group shows remarkable patience. At least this second line is moving a little more quickly. After an hour in this 2nd line (so after two and a half hours, total) they make a familiar announcement. OK, we need this 2nd gate to board another plane, so we need you to move again. Kinda feels like they’re rubbing it in our faces that other people get to leave and we’re still stuck here. Still at the airport. Not even enjoying our extra evening in Montreal. This time, they tell us, just go get your luggage, and keep on going but make sure not to leave the baggage claim area before getting into another line at some desk right before the exit! Ugh, OK, good attitude fading… now I’m just getting pissed off.
Well, at least there is no line to go through customs, which of course we have to do before getting our luggage. So that goes fairly quickly, and I’m left to wander around baggage claim, because, of course, we are not given clear instructions about where to go to get our luggage. A very kind and patient Air Canada employee helps me – and admittedly, my own patience was running pretty low at this point so I got a little snippy with him. I did immediately apologize, and he seemed quite understanding, and actually volunteered that I was having these problems because Air Canada promotes people too quickly, so, basically, there are a ton of supervisors who don’t know enough about how to handle these kinds of situations (the expression he used was more akin to ‘don’t know their asses from their elbows’ if I recall correctly), and that’s why travelers like me end up with all of these frustrations. Clearly, he’s not loving his employer either, so at least I felt like I was in good company in being a little irritated with Air Canada at that point!
But OK, luggage in hand, I find the desk I was directed to, and I get in line. Again. FINALLY, almost 3 1/2 hours after my flight was cancelled, I am at the front of the line. They ask for my boarding pass, and me being the tech geek that I am, I handed them my iPhone with my Mobile Boarding pass displayed on it. He tells me, OK, well there isn’t enough information on this, so we’ll have to reprint your boarding pass and give you an actual paper one. Fine. Whatever. Do whatever you have to do to get me my friggin’ voucher so that I can get to my hotel already! I’m tired and really losing patience now. So he prints out a boarding pass, and then a voucher, hands them back to me with my passport and sends me off to the shuttle that will take me to the Fairfield by Marriott hotel that they’re putting me up in. FINALLY! PHEW! I let myself be whisked away.
I get on the shuttle along with a couple of other fellow travelers, including this nice young couple that I had been chatting with in the waiting area by the gate when the flight was initially cancelled. They were going on vacation, and getting ready to spend 4 days in Athens before flying to Rome for 4 days, then, I think Paris, so they were bummed that they would be down to just 3 days in Athens, but they were generally good-humored about everything, after all, what can you do, really, right?
We get in line at the hotel check-in, and the staff is looking surprised. The airline is sending them more people than they had anticipated (and in fact more than they said they would be able to take!) But they were able to make it work, though they would now be fully booked. They kept looking over at the doors, hoping there wouldn’t be another shuttle-full of people with vouchers coming over. I finally get to the front of the line, only to discover that the boarding pass the airline had printed wasn’t mine. They had given me someone else’s boarding pass. And that meant that my voucher was in someone else’s name. And clearly marked NON-TRANSFERABLE. Fabulous. I can’t go back to the airport because the counter where they gave me my voucher is in a secured part of the airport, and I wouldn’t be able to get there. And it’s getting late & I’m tired. I can’t get through to Air Canada by phone. So I just ask the guy at the counter to, please, just give me a room and I’ll pay it myself. I’ll just have to sort it out later. Thankfully, the really nice guy at the desk (I wish I remembered his name to give him a shout-out – something similar to Mario, but not Mario….. if anyone from the hotel ever reads this, young guy, dark curly hair, braces – give that guy a raise!!!!) was sympathetic and found me a good rate for one of the few remaining rooms.
So finally, I’m in my room. I have less than 12 hours before my flight is due to take off, but at least I can rest my head for a while, I have free internet, so I can check my flight status, and if it is delayed again, I can chill in the room a bit, and the room is clean and comfortable, so it’s all good. The hotel doesn’t have a restaurant, so I order some food to be delivered from St. Hubert (complete with a pair of Labatt Blue beers, because, boy, do I ever need to take the edge off by now!) and after I order, I call Air Canada. I get placed on hold, of course, and I just leave the phone on speaker and go about my evening. My chicken is delivered about a half hour later…. I’m still on hold. I eat my chicken. I’m still on hold. I drink a beer. I’m still on hold. After about an hour and a half to two hours, I FINALLY get through to a person, explain my situation and ask what they can do to fix it, since they gave me the wrong boarding pass and voucher. The nice girl on the phone agrees with me that this totally sucks and should never have happened…. and then she directs me to the complaint section of their website, where I promptly submit a complaint email. I show restraint and don’t use any foul language, though it is a detailed complaint. It would be 16 days before I receive a response. And the response tells me that they would pay up to $100 (CAN) for the room. Oh no. I have not yet finished this fight with them, but I fully expect to be fully reimbursed for the room at the hotel THEY sent me to, with the voucher that THEY gave me that I couldn’t use. Granted, I think the difference amounts to about $20, but that isn’t the point. I didn’t choose the hotel. I did not upgrade to a luxury suite at the hotel THEY sent me to. They WILL pay for my room. Completely. But I digress, I’ll get back to telling my travel tale.
So I wake up in the morning, after a decent night’s sleep, and the first thing I do is check on the flight. 8:30 has now become 10:20 (still AM, thankfully!), so I take my time, and get ready a bit more slowly. I head over to the airport, and look to check in for my flight. The check-in area is pretty empty, but I see people from my hotel & flight so I go and get in line behind the. It’s the nice young couple that was going on vacation. They look at me and they guy says “wait, are you just getting here now?”…… Uh oh. Bad sign. Yes….. I knew the flight had been further delayed so I didn’t come for the first “delayed time”…. why? Well, as it turns out, the plane that they are putting us on today is 45 seats smaller than our original plane, so a bunch of people have been bumped. Oh no! Was I one of them??? I still didn’t know! The girl looks at me and said, yeah, we got bumped and now we’re going directly to Rome and skipping Greece altogether. She told me she thought that they only helped to re-route them because she began to cry and was very upset. I felt so badly for her, but at least they were able to get on the flight to Rome. I hope that they were able to enjoy their trip, hassle-free from this point on!
I flag down another Air Canada representative and tell her my messed-up voucher story. She takes my passport, and the other person’s boarding pass and voucher that I had been given and leaves, promising to straighten this out. I’m a little nervous because now I’m in line, without yet knowing if I’m on the flight, and someone just walked away with my passport! Ah the power of an airline uniform at the airport! I’m waiting, and the family in front of me shares their saga with me. Air Canada has lost their luggage. But wait, how did that happen? We haven’t even left Montreal, and they weren’t transiting through – they had checked their baggage in IN Montreal! How did they manage to lose the luggage that quickly?? And they couldn’t even tell them where their baggage was!
OK, I was feeling a little better at this point, because at least my personal possessions had not been lost while still in my departure city…. you have to be thankful for the little things, right?
The Air Canada representative comes back with my passport and with some news: I have not been bumped off of my flight! I had been hoping for an upgrade, to make up for the voucher snafu, but at this point I’m glad I’m even still going at all! They apparently just bumped off the last few rows of the plane, and I was just forward enough in the plane to make the cut off by a few rows. Suddenly I’m glad I usually try to pick seats as close to the front of the cabin as I can!
I wish the nice couple luck with the rest of their travels, and off I go to get through security and go to my gate. I see a few others who had been housed at my hotel, and we swap stories. I get some sympathy for my voucher issue, and in return give much sympathy to the woman who got her dinner out of the little refrigerator by the check in counter (to use the dining portion of her voucher – what else can you get for $10-15??) who then proceeded to spend the whole night vomiting. But we’re all just thankful to be getting onto a plane. And I will say this for this whole misadventure…. when we all de-planed and were getting our luggage in Athens, having arrived at 6am on Monday instead of 10am on Sunday, it was like we were all old friends. We had suffered through this trying journey together, and it was a bonding experience. We took our vouchers for 25% off our next flight booked on AirCanada.com (many swearing up and down that they would never get used because they would NEVER fly Air Canada again), and went on our separate ways wishing each other well, and feeling unusually united for a large group of strangers, all wishing Air Canada one heck of a lot of ill-will.
Hmmm….. sorry, this wound up being quite a wordy post! But I’ve vented, and now I feel better. If you’ve made it through this entire post, thank you for sticking with me! If not, I can hardly blame you. I promise my next post will be more concise! And less gripe-y!
Yours, feeling like a burden has been lifted now that my story has been shared,