June 05, 2006

I used to like Air Canada.

As Scott had never been to Montreal, home of my Alma Mater, I invited him to accompany me when I had the opportunity to travel there on business recently. We arrived on a Saturday and enjoyed three days of strolling and eating and drinking before I had to settle down to do some serious recording-secretary business. After a day and a half of furious note-taking, my job was done. Our flight home was booked for Wednesday at 9:00 pm.

On the afternoon of our departure there were thunderstorms in both Montreal and Toronto, but our flight home was still due to depart as scheduled. Scott and I arrived at the Montreal airport before 7:00. Due to an earlier power failure there was no air conditioning and the terminal was sweltering. We checked our bags, located our gate and lined up for about twenty-five minutes to buy not-so-cold beverages from a slow and irritable clerk. We then returned to our gate, where we stuck to our seats and fanned ourselves with our boarding passes. We soon heard that the 7:00 and 8:00 flights to Toronto had been cancelled due to the weather, and people began milling around hoping to get onto our flight. Sure enough, our flight was cancelled, too, and almost instantaneously most of the Air Canada employees vanished. Those employees who weren't quick enough were swarmed by sweaty, impatient would-be passengers asking what to do next. Some people were told to line up to re-book their flights, others were told to claim their luggage, and still others were advised to call Via Rail.

After standing in a static line at the Rapidair desk for what must have been an hour, Scott and I gave up and decided to find our bags. We trudged down to Arrivals, where we stood at the conveyor belt and watched the same suitcases go by over and over again. Lining up twice to talk to the shrugging baggage-desk employee was fruitless, so I ambushed a man with a reflective vest and a walkie-talkie and gave him our claim tags. He disappeared for a few minutes (probably on a smoke break, Scott figures), then returned with the tags and no luggage. "I've looked everywhere. They must be in Toronto." Odd logic, seeing as the flights to Toronto had been cancelled, but he offered no other explanation.

Exhausted and frustrated, we decided to look into accommodations for the night. No need to go into detail about how we got on the wrong hotel shuttle (how were we to know there were two Comfort Inns in the vicinity?) and were lectured by the driver, who drove past the hotel we wanted on his way to return us to the airport shuttle stop. Grrrrrr. You'd think a guy could be a little nicer to two folks desperate for a couple of toothbrushes and a change of clothes.

When we finally reached the correct hotel I called Air Canada from our room and a reservation agent cheerfully but incompetently rebooked our flights for 11:00 the next morning. I then called Air Canada Baggage and was instructed to return to the airport to look for my luggage myself. I tried to force the fellow on the phone to open a claim for my luggage, which is what the reservation agent had suggested, but he sounded so disinterested that I doubt he was even writing down any of our information. Deeply regretting my earlier decision to pack my meeting notes in my checked luggage, I resigned myself to being fired if my suitcases failed to show up. I had a very restless night's sleep.

Scott and I returned to the airport early the next morning. I obtained my boarding pass from the automatic check-in kiosk (why line up when we had no luggage to check?) but I couldn't print Scott's pass. We lined up to speak to the sole agent on duty, who was confounded by what he saw when he looked up Scott's reservation. "But Sir," he said to Scott, "You're already here." As it turns out, that cheerful reservation agent the previous night had booked Scott on a flight from Toronto to Montreal. It took a good half hour for that to be straightened out. As the crowd in line behind us grew increasingly impatient, Scott stood at the counter with his arms folded, loudly making remarks such as, "And THIS is why I normally fly WestJet."

I fretted about our missing luggage all the way home, wishing I had checked my laptop rather than my meeting notes. Once in Toronto, I stood hopelessly at the luggage carousel while Scott went off in search of that most elusive of beings, the helpful Air Canada employee. During his quest, what should Scott find sitting on an unattended cart in the middle of the Arrivals level but one of our three missing bags. He quickly snatched the bag before it could prove to be nothing but a mirage. We did eventually find our remaining bags after an airport employee led us into a back room full of luggage and indicated that we could take whatever we pleased. Scott asked him how long our bags had been at the airport and the man replied, "I don't know. When I got here this morning, it was a complete disaster." That just about says it all.

No comments: