Bday Trip 2018 – Why I Will Never Fly Air Canada Again (Part Two)

(I know what you’re thinking… wait, did she accidentally repost her earlier rant about Air Canada? Read on…)

In Halifax on my last day of my trip, I woke up late, loitered around in my room until a late checkout time of 2pm, and then fired up Thor, my most favorite rental car ever. I put the top down since it was a sunny, beautiful day and drove out of Halifax towards the airport. I needed to return the car with a full gas tank, but the first gas station I went to must have had a malfunctioning shutoff. I even looked at the readout thinking that it was cheaper than I expected, but went inside to pay when the pump wouldn’t dispense any more gas. It was only after I started up the car that I saw that it had shut off at 3/4 of a tank. Damn it, that meant that I needed to stop at yet another gas station before I could drop the car off!

But obviously, I really didn’t want to drop off Thor, my bright-ass orange Mustang convertible. At the car return, I lingered for a moment, thanking the car for being so much fun to drive all over the Canadian Maritimes. According to the trip computer, I had driven over 33 hours and 2600+ kilometers (1630 miles). The photo below didn’t include the first 40 minutes of driving because I hadn’t figured out where the setting was to hit reset yet.

Thor

Not even the full total of kilometers or hours driven!

It took just a minute at the Air Canada desk to confirm both flights (Halifax-Montreal and Montreal-Newark) were on time and I checked my suitcase through to Newark. It seemed that most of the dining options were prior to security, a fact I did not realize until after I had gone through the checkpoint. So, I just wandered and figured I would grab a bite in the Montreal airport between flights.

Finally, it was time to board and say goodbye to Nova Scotia. Oddly, Air Canada has an Airbus A330 to make the hour and a half flight to Montreal. (The A330 is big, like going on an overnight overseas flight kind of big.) We made our way to the lineup for takeoff…and then pulled over. Apparently, the plane’s computer was showing some error message and the pilots needed to call the mechanics to see if it was something benign or required additional mechanical inspection.

Despite me saying that they should first turn it off and then turn it back on, we sat there and waited for 20 minutes before the pilots came back on the speaker to tell us that is exactly what the mechanics said for them to do. So then we had to wait for the engines to power down and then restart. I watched the amount of layover time I had in Montreal dwindle away. Finally, after a delay of 45 minutes, the pilots said that the mechanics said it was ok to take off.

In the air, I fretted that I was going to miss my connection to Newark. I had a 6am flight the next morning from Newark back to Austin and was trying to tell myself that surely Air Canada wouldn’t jack me over twice in the same trip, right?

So in Montreal, we had to wait for the slowest group of people ever get their bag out of the overhead and glacially make their way to the door. I practically ran over groups of people to rush as fast as I could to the U.S. bound connections. Out of breath, I got into this hallway where we are forced to wait while the baggage personnel unload our luggage and put it into the system before we’re allowed to progress to U.S. Customs and Immigration. Let me tell you right now, that tiny hallway was not nearly big enough to accommodate the hundred and fifty people jammed into it. Whoever designed that system should be forced to parade through the airport wearing a dunce cap so everyone can throw rotten vegetables at him (and you know it was a dude because a woman would have made it wide enough for a damn stroller at least).

After 20 minutes, my name finally got the green light and I sprinted to Canadian passport control, then customs, then U.S. immigration. My Global Entry kiosk couldn’t find my connecting flight and told me to progress to an actual person, which took even more time. Frantic, I knew I only had about 10 more minutes to catch my connecting flight and was hoping that my stress wouldn’t be construed that I was actually planning something dastardly.

Through immigration and rushing to the gate, I happened to spy the flight status monitors…and came to a complete standstill. My mother-f’ing flight to Newark had been cancelled! In the back of my mind, I was confident that I was being secretly videotaped and I was going to end up on the stupid Just For Laughs prank show. But no, that red CANCELLED didn’t vanish…

You have got to be f’ing kidding me, I whispered to myself. Some gentleman who must have been on the same flight walked up to me. Newark? he asked. Yep, you need to go to the Service Desk over there. Good luck… I found myself at the end of a line that didn’t move an inch for over 45 minutes. I called Air Canada again while standing in line, and waited 20 minutes on hold with their excruciatingly awful hold music before a young woman picked up. Yep, she confirmed, I was SOL on getting to Newark today but I had been rebooked on a flight tomorrow evening at 4:30pm. Well, that did not work for my 6am flight I had tomorrow! I tried to get her to book me something directly to Austin to make up for the second full-scale meltdown that Air Canada had during this trip and while she was willing, apparently her supervisors are the most hardhearted bunch to walk the planet. I was truly f’ed yet again by Air Canada.

To make matters worse, they had this horrible and completely uninformed agent walking the line basically taunting us, telling us that they weren’t going to cover a hotel unless we had just come off an international flight. It took everything in my power not to lunge at this woman and wrap my hands around her neck to shut her up. Why she wasn’t actually helping the lone woman rebooking every single one of us instead is a mystery to me, but suffice to say that Air Canada personnel rank behind wardens at maximum security prisons in terms of their focus on customer service.

After standing in line for over 2.5 hours, I finally got the front of the line where the woman reconfirmed that I was on a flight tomorrow afternoon and there was nothing she could do to try to get me on the last United flight from Montreal to Newark (because being alliance members count for absolutely zero apparently). However, she did mention something about a hotel voucher and 15 minutes later, when she was trying to dismiss me, I had to remind her that she still had not provided one. Oh, here you go… Quality Hotel (which I tried to google to see if there were any bedbug issues and the damn hotel couldn’t even by found by Google). However, apparently all of our bags were being unloaded and would be available at Baggage Claim 3.

You know where this is going, don’t you? I make my way through Canadian Passport Control where I confused the hell out of the agent (Where are you coming from? Halifax. What, why are you in this area? Well, my flight to the U.S. got cancelled and now Air Canada has stranded me for the night. Can you please let me back into Canada?) Then I go to Baggage Claim 3 and wait…and wait… and wait. And then the carousel shuts off. The woman who had been behind me in the line upstairs at the Service Desk grabs her bag, looks at me standing there forlornly, says, “Oh no” and came over to give me a hug.

So I walk over to the Air Canada baggage desk and wait forever for one of the two agents to get off the phone before I can explain to them that my bag was supposed to be at Claim 3 and it is not. The man there tries to explain that all “disconnected” flight baggage gets held but when I tell him that another person on my same flight get her bag, it got more complicated. So he calls some dude working the storage and finds out that yes, all of the stranded passengers were supposed to get their bags and my bag is not where agent dude thinks it should be. With this news, he takes my baggage claim ticket and disappears to go see where it might be.

I waited 45 minutes before he returned empty-handed. No one has any real idea where my beloved purple suitcase may be hiding. “But don’t worry, it might take a few days, but we’ll find it.” I retorted that it didn’t help me right then, and that I was heading to Texas after Newark (that is, if I could change my reservation) and I had absolutely nothing, not even deodorant or a brush with me because I put too much faith in Air Canada not fucking me over twice on the same reservation. Although he claimed that the hotel should have some amenities, he finally handed over a “Sorry we lost your bag” parting gift to get rid of me.

I was basically on the verge of tears at that point and then had go through customs (no sir, I don’t have any baggage aside from the huge chip towards Air Canada on my shoulder) and then to find my way to the proper door for the hotel shuttle pick-up. I found a small group also waiting to be transported to Quality Hotel and together we waited 20 minutes before I broke down to call the hotel to see when the shuttle was actually supposed to arrive. Because other hotels had swung by twice already. After promising that someone was on the way (and apparently he drove in from Ottawa because it was another 35 minutes before he showed up), we finally all jammed into the shuttle. There were people standing in the van’s doorwell because they didn’t want to wait for the next shuttle, which may possibly arrive before dawn.

Naturally, the hotel is located in an industrial area with nothing around it. And it is sandwiched between a trucking company and a condemned building. The check in process took way too long and the ladies working check-in must have received customer service training from Air Canada because they were the rudest bunch of bitches I have ever seen in a hotel staff. They didn’t want to give me the promised voucher for food (the kitchen is closed and we do not have room service; here is a menu for the worst pizza place in the province and they will likely steal your credit card information…) and oh yeah, they had zero amenities (yes, we need to place an order for them, we have nothing to provide). The woman next to me looked like she was about to go over the desk to throttle someone (I would have thrown out my back giving her a boost over the counter). Sadly, I made my way to my depressing room and googled directions to the nearest McDonald’s because at that point I was about to chew my arm off, I was so hungry (remember, I hadn’t eaten at all in the last 24 hours). The nearest restaurant, let alone a McDonald’s, was 3.4 miles away and with the sketchiness of the surrounding neighborhood, I finally threw the towel in. I was going to bed hungry, angry, irritable, and close to the edge of a nervous breakdown.

The only saving grace is that United agreed to change my flight tomorrow from 6am to the last one at 8pm at no charge (just this once). The next morning, after having a nightmare that Air Canada delayed my Montreal to Newark flight just long enough for me to miss that United flight, I called Air Canada again. I explained the situation, noting that my suitcase was missing and the debacle of my inbound flight, and asked if I could go standby on an earlier flight. Of course, but you have to be at the airport, have your baggage claim check with you, and wait at the gate until the very last second before you know if you are on the flight. OK, all of these I can do. So I call the “Quality” Hotel desk to ask if there is room on the 11:00am shuttle so I could go an hour earlier.

I want you to imagine the scene. I’m in a dumpy little airport hotel room, starving, no baggage, wearing the same clothes from the day before, anxious to leave even earlier so they could turn the room over faster, and get me out of their hair. Instead, they tell me that there is no shuttle if you don’t make a reservation and because I allegedly made a reservation for the noon shuttle when I checked in, there is no shuttle at 11:00am period… WHAT?? This is an airport hotel, contracted by Air Canada to put people they’ve fucked over because they can’t get their operational shit together, and the hotel doesn’t even have a regular cadence of airport runs??? Are you fucking kidding me?

Apparently the spawn of Satan at the desk was not. So I had to wait until noon and then jam myself into an overcapacity van for the 20 minute drive back to Trudeau Airport. I go back through the security line, then back through the U.S. Immigration process (wait, weren’t you just here yesterday?) and then finally onto the sterile side where U.S. bound flights take off. I find the gate for the next Newark-bound flight (oh yes, there were four earlier in the day that Air Canada couldn’t find a space for me, thanks for nothing) and wait for a gate agent to show. And once she did, guess what? Apparently, because I had a checked bag, I could not fly standby. I completely lost it and broke down in tears. Why did the woman on the phone tell me to make sure I had my baggage claim ticket handy for you then? The agent seemed apologetic (the first and only Air Canada representative I dealt with face-to-face who seemed that way) and told me that basically I was screwed. I had to wait for my scheduled flight.

I morosely wandered the airport. At that point, I was so ticked off and upset I didn’t dare eat for fear of a ballistic stomach. It was a long four hours and I sat near the gate half expecting a delay notification to show up any minute. Although we were scheduled to board at 4:05pm, we didn’t even start the process until 4:15 and then we had to wait while 6 wheelchair passengers were laboriously taken one at a time down the jet bridge and seated on the plane. Finally, the rest of the passengers were called up and I walked onto the plane at 4:45, 10 minutes after the scheduled departure time. Then, we couldn’t push back because the tug had a broken towing arm. So we sat…and sat… and sat. At 5:45pm, a full one hour and 10 minutes late, we pushed back.

At that point, I had been doing frantic calculations in my head trying to figure out exactly when we would actually land and how much time I would have to get off the plane, wait to see if my suitcase made an appearance (and if not, find time to file a claim for a missing bag), run to the Air Train and take the train from Terminal A to Terminal C, get to United’s desk to check my bag in (in the timeframe that they would accept luggage for the flight – that is, if I actually had my suitcase), go through security, and make it to my gate before the doors closed. It was not looking like a leisurely stroll in the park.

We took off and I immediately switched on the seat back monitor to keep an eye on our flight’s progress. The woman next to me was fretting about being late because her husband was coming from work to pick her up. I was like, at least you know you’re going to make it home tonight – shut it. But of course, outwardly I looked sympathetic. Meanwhile, I was thinking of the two prepaid hotel nights (one in Halifax at the beginning of the trip and the one in Newark last night) that I had forfeited already and mentally watching my bank account dwindle as I was looking at yet another hotel night in Newark and a change fee from United (who I doubt would have been considerate enough to waive two change fees).

Just as I thought there might a snowball’s chance in hell that I would maybe get into Newark before 7pm, I felt our plane begin to circle for a holding pattern. I almost burst into tears at that point because if you’ve ever been stuck in a holding pattern over Newark, you know that you could be up there for a good couple of hours making circles. The pilot came on to tell us that we were in a hold because air traffic was changing runways and he had no idea how long it would take. The woman next to me got huffy and by that point, I was unable to summon any sympathy for her situation.

So I mentally started talking to my Dad, asking him if he could please pull whatever strings to help me make my flight home that night. Lo and behold, a few minutes later I felt the plane straighten out and before I knew it, we were in our final descent into Newark. Wheels down at 6:42pm. The taxi to the gate seemed to take forever and then the slow herd of passengers getting off the small plane seemed to take longer than that; but at 7:01pm, I was in the airport walking briskly to baggage claim and wondering if I might be able to pull this off after all.

The wait at baggage claim was excruciating, not only because it seemed to take the Air Canada baggage handlers forever to get the bags to the carousel, but I also didn’t know if my suitcase had been recovered from wherever it had been misplaced in the Montreal Airport and loaded onto my flight. Finally, at 7:18pm, my beloved purple monster made an appearance. I was so excited and relieved to see him, I actually exclaimed out loud (yes, a few people looked sideways at me). Forgetting that I still need to be careful of my back, I hauled him off the carousel and took off running to the Air Train station. I even carried my suitcase while walking up the escalator to make the train that was just about to pull out of the station. Two stops later, I was hustling down the staircase and hoping that I wouldn’t trip while carrying my suitcase because I was banged up enough and ran over to the Elite check-in to drop off my bag. “Just under the wire,” tutted the agent. I breathlessly explained that one of their alliance partners was responsible for making me late. Thankfully, she took the suitcase and I made the dash to the TSA Precheck line that was 25 people deep.

Through security finally, I took a glance at the time. I only had 5 more minutes to get to the gate that was located at the furthest point in the terminal. Ignoring my aching back, I walked/ran and dodged other pedestrians like a running back in a football game evading tacklers. I got up to the gate, only to discover they were late boarding… Seriously…

I made it onto the plane with a huge sigh of relief. My horrible Air Canada experience made for a great story that elicited sympathy from my row-mate who bought me a snack box as well as a flight attendant who was so relieved that United wasn’t the cause of my problems, she bought me a drink. We landed in Austin after midnight and I was ready to kiss the ground, I was so happy to have finally made it home…

While I loved Canada and want to visit again someday, you can bet your ass I will never fly Air Canada again. I would maybe have given them a pass after one horrible day and unexpected overnight; but two in the same trip is symptomatic of much bigger issues, both operationally and in regards to the customer service I experienced. Don’t say I didn’t warn you (twice).

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