Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Going nowhere fast

Location: Ontario, Ottawa
Industry: Transportation

Short of the plane being hijacked, I have a hard time imagining things going worse than they did on my trip from Ottawa to Sao Paulo earlier this year.

Guaranteed a seat on the flight by a travel agent near my office, I arrive at the airport weeks later to find the 7 pm Air Canada flight I'm scheduled on is overbooked. I can't get on. I point out I've got a connecting flight at 9:45 pm in Toronto, so I can't just sit here. Don't worry, the Air Canada desk tells me, there's another flight at 8 pm.

Except it, too was overbooked.

Visions of the trip coming to a crashing halt were interrupted by some official-looking sort coming up and telling us there's a flight leaving for Toronto in a few minutes at the other end of the terminal, and it should have space. Run-run-run-run ... only to learn it, too, was overbooked after all. As I was leaving the gate area, the guy at the desk called out to me to confirm I was the one who had a connecting to Sao Paulo? Yes. There's a flight back at the other end (where I'd left from) and they should have a seat for me.


Of course, there was no seat available.

Fortunately, someone who didn't need to actually be in Toronto until the next morning, arranged to have their ticket swapped for mine by Air Canada such that I could have their seat and they'd leave later (which for, thanks).

Arrived in Toronto with only fifteen minutes to catch the connecting flight, but there was no hurry - it was half an hour late arriving. We boarded and the plane pulled away from the gate, only to sit there, and sit there ... until, about half an hour later, the intercom came on and the Captain informed us there was a problem with the hydraulics and he was in communication with the tower to see if it could be resolved internally. An hour later he came back on to say it couldn't, so mechanics were coming to see if they could fix it from outside. A couple of hours later, no they couldn't and we had to file back into the terminal where, at 3am were informed there were no flights available. We'd have to wait until the morning.

Air Canada did offer hotel rooms for people, but since we didn't know when the flight was going to be, most stayed in the terminal. $3300 shelled out (economy class, yet) so I could sleep on the airport floor. Oh, and I spent almost an hour trying to get change with which to call my friend in Sao Paulo, waking her up to inform her I wasn't going to be there on time. The people at Toronto International don't seem to think having either a change machine, or a telephone card selling machine available would be a good idea. The latter can only be had in a business ... which is closed overnight.

At 9:30 am we got on, but the snowstorm, which an evening departure would have avoided, had arrived, so we had to wait another hour-and-a-half for the plane to be de-iced.

All of this to say the first day of a very expensive trip was shot as we arrived twelve-and-a-half hours later than scheduled thanks to Air Canada not doing adequate preventive maintenance on its aircraft.

It gets worse. As the Air Canada flight leaving Guarulhos airport in Sao Paulo for Canada ten days later left the gate, it suddenly stopped and we sat there, and sat there. And it was getting hot in the plane. Even Brasilians were complaining. Then came the intercom starting up and the Captain apologizing for the delay, but there was a problem with the secondary power, and some systems, such as air conditioning weren't working. Stuck in a tin can, in a tropical country, during the summer ... and no air conditioning. *sigh*

Definitely the WORST trip I've ever been on, and most of the fault lying at the feet of Air Canada's screwups.

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