Air Canada is on my shit, or as I like to call it, my “Continental list”. (Guess which airline I hate the most.)

At this point, I’m seriously contemplating cancelling my upcoming conferences. I’m tired of the airline industry. I’m tired of their complete disregard for their customers. And I’m tired of shelling out over $200 because they can’t do their job. I can’t afford to do this anymore.

I was supposed to fly back from the GNOME documentation sprint last Wednesday. I had a 5:00 flight on Air Canada, direct from Toronto to Cincinnati. I got through customs and security without much incident. (I was misinformed about the customs procedure by an Air Canada employee, and I was selected for additional screening, but that’s all minor.) I got an overpriced chicken sandwich and sat at my gate. I pulled out my laptop and worked on the help.

It snowed in Toronto Wednesday. There was a dusting of snow on the ground when I woke up, and it really picked up as I headed to the airport. I grew up near Chicago. I understand crazy weather and lake-effect snow. I was fully expecting delays. So when they announced a delay, I sighed and kept working. When they changed gates, I sighed and walked to the new gate. When they announced they were down to one runway and there would be further delays, I sighed again. You have to deal with what nature hands you. As long as I could get home, I didn’t mind waiting.

Then they cancelled the flight. This was maybe two hours after when our flight was supposed to have left, which struck me as very early to cancel flights. They still had hours and hours to try to push flights out. Not only did they cancel the flight, they told us that there was no guarantee we’d be rebooked. Really. We all paid for a service, and they had no obligation to provide that service.

They sent us to a customer service counter behind security. Disheartened, we all shuffled down the concourse and stood in line. We waited. Then we were told that they couldn’t rebook us at that counter, and that we’d have to leave security and go through customs to rebook.

When you fly to the US from Toronto, you actually go through US customs in Canada. You’re in a special part of the airport that is, effectively, the USA. It’s usually very convenient. You land in a domestic gate and don’t have to deal with customs at your destination. But if you need to go back out of security, as we did, you have to go through Canadian customs. And they ask you questions like “Where are you coming from?” Um, “Gate 161″. “When’s the next flight?” Oh, hey, good question.

What this means is that, before you can get to the ticketing counter to rebook, you have to collect your bags. Another thing we had to wait for. When we got to the baggage carousal, there weren’t many people there. I think we were one of the first flights cancelled. But our bags didn’t come. We waited for nearly an hour and a half for our bags. Meanwhile, other flights were cancelled. Those passengers arrived, their bags came, and they went through customs. They were already out there filling up the rebooking line, while we were still waiting for our bags.

When we finally got through, we headed to the customer service desk, the one we were told to go to. There were surprisingly only about 20 people there. We waited. Airline employees told us we were in the right place to be rebooked. Then another employee told us we were in the wrong line. We had to go downstairs. More wasted time.

We went down to a mob of 300 people. I saw three employees working. If they can each process a customer in five minutes (and that’s being very generous, in my experience), that’s eight hours in line. And you just know they’re going to close when you get near the front of the line. (Yes, it’s happened. See paragraph 1 about my least favorite airline.) Eight hours to not even talk to anybody about the flight that they’ve already said they probably won’t even rebook? No thanks.

So I found a couple of guys who decided to drive the next morning. They offered to let me tag along. (Dean and Tony, if you happen across this blog, you helped a stranger in need, and I thank you.) But we were driving at 5:00 in the morning, so I had to get a hotel room. The only hotel near the airport with rooms available was the Crowne Plaza. Five hours of sleep at the Crowne Plaza: $172 USD. (This blog post is already too long, so I won’t go into how badly they screwed up when I tried to get a quick bite to eat at the bar.)

Here’s the kicker: While driving to the hotel, there was no snow. It stopped. This was not a surprise. Every TV in the airport is showing CP24. All the passengers were looking at the radar on their smart phones. We all knew the snow was going to stop. I have a hard time believing Air Canada didn’t know as well. And we could see two planes coming in for a landing at the same time, which means they got more runways open.

Flights were getting out. My friend Phil got home to the UK, and he flew later than I did. The snow stopped. The runways opened. Why did they cancel our flights? Because we were a small flight without enough passengers to care about. It wasn’t profitable to try to get us home. We didn’t matter. And that’s what pisses me off the most.

12 Responses to “Air Canada is on my shit list”

  1. Elph Crospy Says:

    Sorry to hear that, Shaun. Glad you (finally, after an absurd delay and many shenanigans) got home safe.

    Your work on GNOME is so important and, too often, under appreciated. Thanks for everything you’ve done for us users! For every canceled flight and 5am drive across international borders with strangers, there are thousands of people reading your documentation and discovering awesome new features in their favorite applications thanks to you and the rest of the documentation team.

    You make GNOME great. You make GNOME usable. You make my mom happy to use Yelp instead of calling me at work for help on her computer. Thank you so much!

  2. Anon Says:

    I had a similar thing happen earlier in the year. The flight was delayed but we eventually boarded the plane only to be told the flight was cancelled an hour after we got on the plane. I will say my experience following was different (I had a connecting flight also with Air Canada) as they put us up in a hotel and put us on a flight the next morning and gave me a credit note for a percentage of the total cost of the flight… The rumour among the passengers was that the plane was too empty so that’s why the flight was cancelled.

    Wasn’t this covered by your travel insurance though?

    • shaunm Says:

      I’ve never had travel insurance. I’m not generally a big fan of insurance. To me, it’s like betting against yourself. You pay into a big pot, and the only way it pays back out is if something bad happens to you. The odds are against you. The insurance companies wouldn’t be in business otherwise. Unless the potential expense could bankrupt me (e.g. medical costs), I’d rather take the money I would put into insurance and put it into an interest-bearing account, where it’s working for me.

      • Numpty Says:

        In Europe, at least, you’d be due a few hundred dollars compensation automatically, travel insurance or not.

  3. jhs Says:

    Hmm, sad to hear that. I mean, I spent about 7 hours at this airport because Lufthansa wasn’t able to print the correct time on their tickets and two hours snow delay but apart from that it looked to me that Toronto’s Airport didn’t have much trouble with the snow. They had space for deicing four planes at the same time.

    The U.S. really in need of European passenger regulations [1] which basically make sure you either get something to eat when delayed more than 2 hours, are able to take the next scheduled flight or get a hotel room. This even works most of the time even if it doesn’t help when you arrive so late that there are no more trains/busses/whatever to bring you home from the airport…

    [1] https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Regulation_261/2004

  4. Dave Says:

    The problem with Air Canada is no one knows if they have the power to make a decision or not. The staff at the Toronto airport are probably the worst of them all

    I flew into Toronto very late, and after going through Canadian customs, Air Canada blocked me from re-checking in my luggage to get on my domestic flight as they told me I would never get through security in time to get to the gate. Later I found out, they held the flight for me for 2 extra hours at the departure gate, waiting for me to get through security, mean while Air Canada was putting me up in a hotel.

    In that same trip I saw senior Air Canada staff come onto floor and scream at their employees. The employees ignored their employer as they said they couldn’t tell exactly what flights they were being yelled at for. Not exactly a functional company. I believe the yelling was because I flight was waiting for me, and I was getting escorted through security, and instead being sent to a hotel.

  5. Olivier Says:

    My answer to that is a full-service travel agent.. Last December, I was in Bangalore for the last foss.in. It snowed in London, so about 12h before my flight, I got an email from BA, luckily I had bought a local SIM card with data, telling me that my flight was cancelled. Not only the London airports were closed, but so were most of the airports in the northern-western part of Europe (you know, where all the big airports are). So anyway, I called our travel agent’s 24h help line and he looked it up and said “ohh, it’s pretty bad, I can’t find a flight right now, let me call you back in 10 minutes”.. To be honest, it took me 20 minutes, but he did call back with 3 possible routes to rebook me on..

    Lennart, who had bought his ticket on Expedia, also called his “travel agent”, they offered to refund the unused return bit of his flight. So he went to the airport, they did find him some kind of solution, but I heard it was quite a trek for him to get home…

    So the moral of the story is, spend a bit for a real travel agent and your stress level when travelling will go down quite a bit.

  6. bochecha Says:

    A few years ago I was flying back from Chicago to Florianopolis (Brazil). Guess which company was the cheapest? :)

    So I flew from Chicago to Toronto first, but our plane could not land because it was raining too much. We finally landed, but I had missed my correspondance to Sao Paulo (both Air Canada flights) because of that.

    I went to the counter and they put me into the next flight: 24 hours later.

    That’s right, there is (was?) one Air Canada flight from Toronto to Sao Paulo per day, it was around 10pm at the time, which means that because my flight had been delayed for a bit less than 1 hour, I had to wait 23 more!

    At the counter, they very calmly explained to me that they wouldn’t pay for my hotel because it wasn’t their fault: it was due to bad weather which they don’t cover. However, they could direct me to one of their partner hotels where I could have a discount for the night. Cheapest one: 100$ the night, discount included.

    I was a student at the time, so I couldn’t afford this. The lady seemed nice, so I tried “crying” a little and asked if there was a quiet place in the airport where I could get some sleep, and she said with a smile “sure, Terminal 3 is closed at night, so you can sleep there. You’ll see there are probably some people already sleeping there”.

    I was stunned. They actually are used to directing people to an Airport terminal for spending the night. o_O
    (and there were indeed quite a few people trying to sleep on the incomfortable metal benches there)

    However, she was very kind (in case it’s not clear enough: this is irony) and gave me an Air Canada “SOS kit”: one white tshirt “I ♥Air Canada” (I used it as a floorcloth), some soap, some clothes soap (are there really washing machines in airports?) and more useless stuff.

    The next day, when I finally boarded the flight, I was stunt and scared to see how old and dirty the plane looked.

    Once in Sao Paulo, I was supposed to take a 10 hours bus to Florianopolis, which I had obviously missed without any hope of reimbursement. At this point I didn’t really want to spend so much time in a bus, I was exhausted and craving for a shower, so I bought a plane ticket instead and quickly flew back to Florianopolis.

    All in all, I arrived more than 50 hours after departing from Chicago (which I had reached after 3 hours of bus from Champaign). I can’t sleep in planes (or in the Toronto airport terminal 3 for that matter), so you can imagine my exhaustion. Since then, not unlike you, I opened an “Air Canada list”.

  7. James Cape Says:

    Ahhh, good to know (in a weird way) that I’m not the only one with a Continental List.

    DC to Chicago in only 31 hrs (or a 12 hour drive)

  8. behdad Says:

    Yeah, Air Canada seriously sucks. Next time you get stuck in Toronto though, send me a msg. Cheers.

  9. Glasich Says:

    I share your feelings about Air Canada, I had a full price ticket to London booked on the flight and they DOWNGRADED me to standby because they had overbooked the airplane!


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