Monday, December 17, 2007

Lessons for hassle free air travel

Despite Air Canada's constant efforts to ruin my travel experiences, I actually really enjoy airports, airplanes and travelling in general. I can attribute my continued enjoyment to three factors:
  • I follow a few simple rules for hassle free travel; arrive early, avoid layovers, don't stand behind stupid people or families in lineups, and do your strip routine before you get to the conveyer belt.
  • I have a travel toolkit that includes a book, a fully charged and loaded ipod and blackberry, and a fleece blow-up neck pillow and eye shade.
  • I've been lucky; I rarely have issues with late or cancelled flights.

This weekend, my luck changed.

I was on the road by 5:00am the morning after FirstEnergy's smashing FirstRocker Christmas party in Banff. I had to get to the airport to catch a 7:30am flight to Washington DC, via Ottawa. I was scheduled to arrive mid-afternoon and I was looking forward to watching Edward II at the Shakespeare Theatre that night. But, Mother Nature had plans of her own.
We were unable to land in Ottawa due to a snow storm and were rerouted to Toronto. Landing in Toronto, I felt like I was arriving to Echo Base in the Millenium Falcon.

The little luggage transport people looked like Imperial stormtroopers all bundled up and hurrying around outside in the blizzard.

With 397 flights cancelled, leaving volumes of connecting passengers stranded, and dozens of unscheduled rerouted flights dumping hundreds of unexpected travellers at the airport, the Toronto Pearson airport was a disaster zone. All of the baggage carousels were stalled with mechanical issues relating to luggage jams. Luggage was strewn everywhere and peole were forced to search back and forth between the unorganized piles to find their luggage. It was two hours before I was reunited with my bag, but that was just the beginning. It would be ANOTHER 4.5 hours before I arrived at my hotel, where I would wait (and pray) for the next available flight to DC.
I made it to Washington the next morning almost without a hitch - relative to Sunday, anyway. I arrived at my meeting late, but in time to make the trip worthwhile. There were people from all over the world (Argentina, Bangladesh, China, Germany, Malaysia, South Africa, Sri Lanka), many of whom have never been to Canada. I spent a lot of time trying to convince them that I do not use a dog sled to get to work and that winter in Canada is not really that treacherous. It was really just lip service though - I am going to add 'avoid connections in Canada in winter' to my list of tips for hassle free travel.


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