Your bags are on the way!
By MARTY SEED
AFTER a pleasant visit in Halifax with friends and family I decided to come back a day early. I booked a new flight home on Delta that would connect through Boston, leaving at 3:20 on Saturday Dec 21. The weather in Halifax at the time was very pleasant which provided no foreshadow to the storm approaching, literally and figuratively.
I arrived at the airport a good two hours before my departure with my father who was also flying that day to Toronto. We had a quick lunch together and said our goodbyes and checked into our flights and went through to security, him to domestic departures and myself through to the International area. All indications were that there was nothing amiss with my pending departure until about 15 minutes before boarding time when I noticed that the gate agent still hadn't shown up to our gate. 20 minutes later people were starting to get concerned and questioning other airline's gate agents. The agent was delayed at ticketing with a passenger and the plane coming from Boston was delayed leaving Boston so we should just sit tight and wait for more information. Not too long after the announcement our gate agent finally arrived and informed us that the plane was indeed delayed arriving in Halifax but was in the air and should be arriving in an hour. After waiting for 45 minutes we were then told that the plane out of Boston was canceled due to a snow storm in Boston that prevented it from taking off thanks for the convenient lie. All the passengers were told to leave the US departure level, clear Canadian customs and collect our bags and return to the ticket desks for rebooking. With about 50 people in line and two agents working I knew this was going to be a long process. Sure enough the first people in line was a family of 5 trying to get to Miami in time to take a cruise on Monday morning. They engaged one of the ticket agents for close to an hour working out different routes. When I got to the desk I found that the earliest they could get me out would be on Tuesday morning. Since I still had my original ticket to fly out on Sunday with Continental I decided to just take that and cancel and get my money refunded from Delta. It was now close to 10 pm and I didn't want to impose on any of my friends at that late hour to come and get me from the airport. I found a nicely discounted hotel online and took the Airporter bus back into town.
After a good night's sleep at the hotel I took a shower and found that I was unable to turn my head to any degree left or right without causing considerable pain. I figure that I must have pinched a nerve lugging the shoulder bag and laptop case around the day before. My good friend Dave was kind enough to drive me out to the airport again on Sunday in time for my flight on Continental. Arriving at the airport just after noon for the 3:20 flight to Newark I got in line to check in. After a brief time in line we found out that the flight was now canceled due to a snow storm in Newark which was causing a ground stop there. The line was now for rebooking. After 2 hrs in line to rebook I was told the earliest they could get me out was Tuesday morning. I asked if they could check and see if they could get me through to Atlanta through Toronto on Air Canada. They found me a seat on the 8:30 flight to Toronto and layover night in Toronto and catch a 6 am flight to Atlanta. I figured I would just stay in the airport in Toronto so I agreed to book it. At 4 pm I went to Air Canada desk and checked my bags in for my 8:30 flight and found out that it was now delayed until 9:30. I was concerned with this flight going later because there was a violent storm said to be coming into Halifax later that night. With my fingers crossed I hunkered down and read or watched movies until it was time to go through security and up to my gate. Still in quite a considerable amount of pain I made my way to the gate at 8:45 and found out that the flight was now delayed to 10:30. The storm had arrived at the airport bringing snow and hurricane force winds. The outlook was grim for our flight as other flights out around our gate were canceled but they assured us that they were still trying to get us out. At 10:20 the emergency alarm at the airport went off on an intermittent ring, an announcement came on and said that if the ringing turned to a continuous ring that we should evacuate the airport. Two minutes later it did and we all made our way down from the departure level and out the front doors. The weather outside was extreme to say the least, wind howling snow with such force to make even the largest guy brace himself against it at an angle. A few minutes later they informed us that it was a false alarm and that we could all return inside the terminal. Hundreds of frozen travelers trudged back in and again had to clear security to return to the gates. The 10:30 pm delay pushed to 11:30, then 12:30 am. At 12:45 they canceled the flight and we were told to return to the baggage claim to get our bags. We were all handed little sheets of paper with Air Canada's 1-800 reservation number and told to call to try and rebook a flight. That's all that was offered to us to do. The weather outside was so bad that they were having trouble getting bags off the plane and into the terminal. It was 2 am before they got all the bags in all except mine. I tracked down a baggage guy and he found out that my bags had been put on an earlier flight to Toronto and were at the baggage office in Toronto too bad they couldn't have put me on that earlier flight too! I was told by the baggage guy that the best thing to do was wait until the morning ticket agents arrived to rebook my flight as it would probably be next to impossible to get through to the 1-800 number. The gate agents were to arrive for the morning shift at 3:30 am so I took up my spot in line, about 30th in line, soon after others got the same idea and there were approx 250 people in line waiting to rebook. At 4 am the power went out in the airport for 10 minutes. The agents arrived at 4:30 and at 5 am they proceeded to announce over the loud speaker that they would not be rebooking any flights for anybody and we should just continue to try and get through to the 1-800 number the same number that not a single person in line had been able to get through to since 1 am!!! I figured that since my original flight was with Continental I would head back to their desk and find out if they could do anything for me.
The ladies at Continental were as helpful as can be and put me on the standby list for the 6:30 am flight to Newark, I was 5th on the list not a good number. I took a spot on a bench and tried to sleep for an hour, the airport was cold and the bench certainly not comfortable. I managed to actually sleep for 10 minutes. I made my way back to the Continental desk at 6 and found out that the four people on the standby list were going to get on but that was all. There was another flight scheduled for 1pm and I was put on stand by on that one and was 1st in line on the list so chances were good. The flight would get me into Newark but I would have to layover in NYC until the following afternoon to catch a flight to Cleveland from the LaGuardia airport and then on to Atlanta. This was ok with me as I had a friend in NYC that could put me up for the night.
The airport kept announcing canceled flights throughout the entire morning and then eventually shut down all flights until at least 1 pm. The earlier 6:30 flight that I had missed by 1 person had been cancelled and those folks were told to rebook, the four people ahead of me for that flight were now 5th through 8th on the list for the 1pm flight some things just aren't fair or funny.
At 12:30 I found that I was awarded a seat on the plane but now the plane was delayed an hour due to icy conditions on the runways. I cleared US customs again for the second time in three days with the same customs officer as I had on Saturday who had no sense of humor of course. There is a new terminal in Halifax for US departures and it is quite nice and the entire airport offers free wifi which helps to pass the time. Every half hour an airport official would come out to tell us that the runways were still bad and no flights were allowed to take off. He told us there would be updates every half hour on the runway conditions and we just had to hold tight. At 6:30 pm we were told that they were allowing a flight from Boston to land and that if they were allowing a plane to land then take offs will also be allowed, a great cheer went up through the terminal and hopes were raised for the first time in days. Sure enough that Boston flight got in and they got it boarded and it got out. We were told we would be next to board. They got us all on the plane and locked it up announcement that the runways were bad again and we had to hold at the gate for 30 minutes, a chorus of groans rumbled the plane. After 40 minutes the plane taxi's out to the runway to test the runway and whether the brakes will stick on the icy runway. All the while I'm thinking should they really be testing this with 50 people on the plane!?!?! Well the pilot announces that the runway is good and we de-ice and finally are prepared to take off FINALLY WE ARE IN THE AIR!!! We make good time to Newark, actually arriving 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. When we taxi to the gate we find that there is a plane still at our gate. Thirty minutes later we finally get to our gate and can get off the plane. What can go wrong will go wrong. A wave of relief passes over me, after nearly 30 hrs in the Halifax airport I am just so happy to be in another city! I take a cab from the Newark airport to downtown Manhattan where my friend lives. A shower, muscle relaxant, and a pain killer and I am down and out quick.
It is now Tuesday and after a good breakfast and walk around lower Manhattan I make my way out to LaGuardia airport. My flight is at 4:15, I inquire about direct flights as a standby but none fly out of Laguardia, only Newark figures! Try and get on the 2:30 flight to Cleveland as a standby but it's overbooked oh well, worth a shot. Scheduled flight boards and departs on time and arrives on time!!! I arrive at 6 pm in Cleveland and my flight to Atlanta is scheduled to leave at 7:30, enough time to grab a bite to eat and have a smoke. Back to the gate and wait for the boarding call. Flight is delayed landing from Atlanta due to freezing rains and is delayed until 8:30. New announcement, flight was re-routed to Pittsburgh and is now scheduled for 10 pm departure. At 9:30 they close the Cleveland airport for the night due to the freezing rains. I am rebooked the following day and offered a "discount" for the evening at the airport Ramada Inn, 50$ for the night doesn't seem like a bad deal so I take it. The airport shuttle to the hotel is said to be in 45 minutes, by this time I am fed up and just want to get to the hotel and jump in a taxi. I ask the driver to deliver me to the Aiport Ramada in and his response floors me "Do you happen to have the directions to that hotel?" How the heck can you be an airport taxi driver and not know the local hotels?!?!?! He thinks he has an idea of where it is and we head out. Sure enough he goes the wrong way but we stop at another hotel and get directions. Thankfully he is a very friendly and considerate cabbie and the charge was minimal. We pull into the Ramada Inn and I am wondering what the room rate was discounted from, must have been 52$ cause this place is just a hair above being classed as a "Motel-no-tell"!
Exhausted and stressed I find that at least they have a tavern attached and I make my way there for a couple of pints to ease the evil. The name of the bar is "Froggies" and the crowd is mainly blue collar union people with a few stranded travelers intermixed. Everyone is very friendly and shares their travel nightmares, I win the worst travel story of the year award which gets me a free pint knew something good would come out of this trip!
The next day, Christmas Eve, I catch the shuttle to the airport, my flight leaves on time and arrives on time in Atlanta. My 5 day travel ordeal is finally over not quite. In the terminal I stop at the Air Canada baggage office to check on my bags turns out they are still in Toronto and nothing has been done to have them forwarded to Atlanta. Please call the 1-800 number they say, they will be able to help you. I call them and the line is constantly busy.
On Christmas day I finally get through to someone and they assure me they have updated my file and will most definitely have the bags delivered to me in 24 hours, 36 at the latest. On Saturday my bags have still not arrived and I call them again. This time the agent says that the bags are definitely still in the Toronto office and cannot explain why they haven't left there, then she asks me to kindly "please give it a little time", "no, ma'am I have given you six days of my bloody time!" I respond in kind and ask to talk to her supervisor. Her supervisor is equally inept and suggests that I continue to call back everyday since he can't get through to the office in Toronto. I do that with no success until Dec 30th when a representative from Air Canada calls to inform me that they have indeed found one of my bags and it was on it's way to Atlanta that day. I inform them that why were they just telling me now that the bags were "lost" when the file continued to say they were in an office in Toronto. He couldn't answer that. I abruptly hung up on him and decided that if you're going to get things done with Air Canada you have to do it yourself or at least enlist your family. On Dec 31 my Mother was to fly out of the Toronto airport and my brother would be driving her out. I asked them to check for this mystery baggage hostage room and see if they could talk to someone about forwarding the bags on to me. Sure enough I received a call from my brother Nick saying that he had found the room and asked what my bags looked like, describing them he found they were sitting right in front of him. He requested that the bags be rushed on to me in Atlanta and the agents there were happy to do so. On New Years Eve at 10pm I receive a call from Air Canada baggage delivery asking if they could leave the bags at my garage door and the bags are finally home. Thinking the comedic farcical trip to finally be over I enjoy my New Years Eve celebration with friends, but there is one more final bit of comedy. The next morning I receive a call from Air Canada baggage services, apologizing for the amount or time my bags have taken to return to me, but they have found my bags! "They are on a plane as I speak sir and you should have them in the next day, two at the most". Laughing uncontrollably I hang up on the agent. He immediately calls back:
"Sorry sir, I think we were disconnected"
"Nope, I hung up on you because you Muppets have no idea what is going on and if I talk to you one more moment my head just very well may explode."
"I am sorry for the inconvenience we have caused but your bags are on the way and I just need to verify your home address."
"You dumb idiots my bags are sitting in my garage " click
On Jan 6th I receive this response from Air Canada Customer Service the last line in her email is the first truth they've told me. Since I will never travel with them again, all my future travels with them will be satisfactory!
Dear Mr. Seed:
Thank you for your email. We were sorry to learn that your luggage was not available for you recently but glad to know that it has since been returned to you. Please accept our sincere apologies.
We recognize the inconvenience which may result from delayed baggage and every effort is made to ensure that our passengers' baggage travels with them. Unfortunately, this cannot be guaranteed as there are too many variables involved. Airline Tariff regulations therefore preclude liability for consequential claims if baggage is delayed.
Please be assured that every baggage mishandling is fully reviewed so that we can identify and correct any shortcomings. We sincerely regret the adverse impression you have received.
Once again, we offer our sincere apologies for the inconvenience you may have experienced. We trust that all your future travels with Air Canada will be completely satisfactory.
Baggage Claims Specialist
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