Air Canada is on my shit list

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.

Mallard can do that?!

Phil mentioned the future of Desktop Help, but he was sparse on details. Let me fill in the blanks. With Mallard, we worry mostly about structure and content, and we leave the rendering details to Yelp. Sometimes we want to influence the style, and for that we use Mallard’s style hints. But sometimes, just sometimes, for very special pages, we want to inject some pizzazz.

We can do that too. Watch:

This is using some custom style hints and a very small Mallard extension, which falls back gracefully thanks to Mallard’s well-defined rules for extensions and fallback.

This is still a work in progress. And with work continuing into the night at the help hackfest in Toronto, it’s very much in progress.

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The Open Help Conference focuses on how we can provide better help in open and collaborative communities. It’s not just about documentation; we’re also interested in participatory support for (and by) users. Please share your experiences, whether it’s about documentation, support, or communities.

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Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States
This work by Shaun McCance is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States.