Sunday, March 09, 2008

"You can't go home again"

I suggest this should be the motto of Err Canada henceforward.

I was hoping to return with a courteous thank-you to my support bloggers and their loyal readership. That will come, in the measured, dulcet tones that my readers have rightly come to expect. But not just now.

My family and I began our journey a day or so ago, from Brisbane, on to Auckland, and then to LAX. In my sleepy state I figured that could lead to extraordinary rendition, given the warnings we had had about the place, but we were whisked through US Customs and Homeland Security with smiles and good wishes. Then to Toronto.


We're still there.

Now, the huge dump of snow arranged to remind us of our Canadian roots is no human's fault,unless we can relate it to global warming somehow. But my already jaundiced view of our national airline has been confirmed. A quick recap of our adventures so far:

We landed in Toronto an hour late--given the conditions, this was understandable. Customs and Immigration were sweet and welcoming--took us ten minutes or so, including line-ups, for Immigration, and then a forty-minute wait for the luggage carrousel to start moving. Then we were waved through Customs and the fun began.

We took our luggage to the onward transfer point. There we were told that we had to take it away because the Ottawa Airport was closed. We headed up to Departures and lined up to speak to an Air Canada rep. Upon getting through the line, we were told that the flight was going ahead, our boarding passes were good, and we'd better hustle through security. We did. The plane was just about ready to board when we got there. They proceeded by row number, the usual--then the Air Canada folks announced that the flight had been cancelled, and I swear they turned tail and ran, after telling us we had to pick up our baggage on the way out.

Back we went to the original line. We were told that Air Canada was shutting that line down, and then all staff abruptly headed off, leaving a number of us with slips of paper containing three telephone numbers. One yielded a "no service at this number" recorded message. Another, to obtain a hotel discount, gave us a voice recording to the effect that this was unavailable. The third--well, it's been a night of busy signals and, when lucky, Air Canada weekend getaway commercials.

We took a cab ride to Brampton, where there was some hotel space. Our driver had never dealt with snow before, it seems--near the hotel, he headed straight into a snowbank, and got himself so stuck that we couldn't budge him. We scrambled over snowbanks in our summer clothes, and got our rooms. The fun with Air Canada telephone numbers continued far into the night.

I thought I might try the all-purpose reservations number. No dice. "Due to the high volume of calls we cannot take your call right now. Please call back later." Trying departure information, fully automated, yielded this: "Please hold while I transfer you to an agent who can assist you." The phone rang three times and then went dead. Same the second time.

We're now heading off to the airport (I don't trust their on-line info), as soon as I can rouse my demoralized family.

No blame, as noted, attaches to the weather conditions. But Err Canada is nothing less than a public relations disaster. Why would they not provide information and advice at the scene? Why do their numbers invariably produce no results? Why can no two staff ever agree on the message? Why can we never, ever, raise a living person in the voicemail prison they have erected? If there is a high volume of calls, why not add some bodies to the telephone banks? As it is, we can't even find out if there are planes flying to Ottawa today. Another $75 cab ride looms, possibly to no avail.

I wish I had Montie Brewer's telephone number, but I'd likely be put on hold. Given my mood at the moment, though, that would probably be just as well.

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