Tuesday, June 15, 2010

An Open Letter to Air Canada

Dear Air Canada/United,

I traveled on Flight 5150 from Chicago to Vancouver on June 14th. No, strike that. I attempted to travel on Flight 5150 on June 14th. I was 90 minutes into my three-hour drive from Champaign to Chicago when I received a phone call. Someone at Air Canada had spun the "Wheel of Travel Misfortunes" and my flight had landed on "cancellation" as opposed to just "endlessly delayed" or "staffed by boarding agents who are deeply offended that you asked them to waste a full 12 seconds of their time changing your seat to an aisle seat despite the fact that you have explained to them that you are sorry to bother them, but your recent surgery makes it impossible for you to sit in any other type of seat."

Well, damn. I was trying to get back to Canada for my grandma's funeral and did not want to spend another night getting my soul drained out of me by the great succubus known as the O'Hare International Airport, wind up getting further delayed the next day (because I'm pretty sure that if a flight ever leaves on time from O'Hare, there will be a full task force set up to discipline whatever eager beaver tried to make the rest of the flights look bad), and missing the service. I decided to go to O'Hare and seek my fortune. When I arrived to the United counter and found only 7 or 8 people in front of me (many of whom were in groups), I figured that Lady Luck had smiled down upon me. How long could it possibly take to serve 8 people?

Oh, 96 minutes, give or take a few excruciating seconds. As I waited, the woman in front of me (a former flight attendant) kept wondering aloud why it was that our flight was one of the only ones canceled. And how was it possible that an 8:30 pm flight to Vancouver could be canceled because of weather when an 8:20 flight to Seattle was running? And how could it be "weather-related" when it was sunny in Vancouver (she phoned to check) and sunny in Chicago? The plane, she said, begins its journey in Chicago, so it couldn't have been delayed from another airport. All excellent questions! And all questions I tried to ask to the boarding agent. For my efforts, I earned several eye-rolls, a side-eye, and the phrase "it's weather-related" repeated with varying degrees of apathy/sulleness. No explanation. No elaboration. Not even a "sorry your whole day has been ruined by some random decision made by someone thousands of miles away." It was like talking to that Eliza/Alize psychologist emulation program.

After ninety minutes of standing, I was already sore and cranky. I did, however, get on a flight to Seattle with the intention of traveling the next day to Vancouver. I grabbed a hotel (thank you, Hotwire!) and got a few hours of sleep, then woke up groggy thinking, "Well, at least it's just a quick flight to Vancouver. How bad can it be?"

Now, keep in mind that traveling with a hip replacement is already pretty ridiculous. For the rest of my life, I'm going to have to arrive at airports an extra 20 - 30 minutes ahead of other people, so that the good ladies at Homeland Security can give me the special pat-down grope-fest. Multiply that over a lifetime, that probably translates into an extra week of my life where I'm subjected to the phrase "Now, I'm going to use the back of my hand to clear the breast area." (As if my cleavage was a highway in Afghanistan that needed to be swept for mines!) And that doesn't include the fact that airports (with all their walking, standing and sitting in uncomfortable positions) are not exactly "hip friendly."

I therefore do not need any more meaningless standing in line, and I especially did not need to stand in the "line" that greeted me at the United counter in Seattle, which was less a "line" and more of "a throng of people struggling to print their tickets off a row of broke-down boarding kiosks, while two agents randomly appeared at different kiosks at different times, so that tracking them down was like one of those video games where the zombies appear and you have to shoot them without hitting the innocent bystanders, except instead of "zombies" it was "boarding agents trying to go on break" and instead of "innocent bystanders" it was "similarly dressed boarding-agent underlings who do not have the power to help you and will scold you not to 'speak in a big voice' if you try to talk to them over the din of other shouting people" and instead of "shooting them," you have to "shove your passport in their general direction while pleading for help." I'm sorry, but bread lineups in Soviet Russia were run with less chaos.

After 30 minutes of trying to foist my passport on whomever would help me (spoiler alert: no one), a nice agent finally took pity on me. I explained to her that I was standing in the line in the first place because the self-check-in machine was freaking out about my itinerary change and wouldn't let me check in. The problem that Air Canada had made for me yesterday had spawned little baby problems, which because of the general understaffing and over-chaos-ing had turned into big problems, since I was in danger of missing my flight. The nice agent was sympathetic and literally 3 seconds later, I was booked. Yes, that thirty minutes of standing, jostling and passport waving was to correct a problem that could have been fixed in the time it took for the person on the other end of the customer-service phones by the self-check-in kiosk to say, "You'll need to talk to an agent in person."

I thought my problems were over. I thought I would board the 30-minute flight to Vancouver and be done with it. I, however, had underestimated Air Canada's incredible appetite for the ridiculousness. Five minutes before I was set to board my plane to Vancouver, my flight was again mysteriously canceled. Why? Never found out. Maybe the numerology of the flight number was off. Maybe a monkey drew a number from a hat. Maybe the pilot was watching an episode of "Maury" that was really heating up and he couldn't bear to leave without finding out which one of 10 guys was the baby daddy. I will never know. I do know, however, that I was transferred on to a different airline's flight, which was leaving in 15 minutes from a gate across the airport.

Another passenger and I therefore ran (well, she ran, I gimped at a fast pace) through the various modes of transportation needed to navigate the Seattle airport. It was like an episode of "The Amazing Race," except instead of winning a million dollars, we won exactly what we had already paid for. When we got to the new gate, there were no tickets waiting for us because the agent hadn't called ahead, but somehow (miraculously!) after some confusion and more boarding-agent ennui, we got on the plane and landed in Vancouver.

Now, I have said in the past that I will never again fly Air Canada. I said it after you refused to let me gate-check my basketball wheelchair. I said it one of the million times someone was rude to me. I said it after you tore a gaping hole in my bag on a flight to Paris, then spent a full year losing the bag in different "repair departments" and directing me to increasingly snarky customer service representatives until the window for getting compensation had expired. But now, Air Canada, I mean it. You and I are done. Going from Chicago to Vancouver should not require me to spend 36 hours of my life trapped inside a Kafka novel. I am taking my business to West Jet, where they're at least friendly whenever they have to inconvenience you.


- Arley

1 comment:

  1. Actually as a chair user I've found WestJet to be awesome.