Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Change of Luck

I ended up staying up late, figuring out how I was going to deal with a delayed return to Tokyo, sorting out what was still left for me to do in PG, and writing a blog post about the positives of being stranded. I hadn't been in bed very long, therefore, when the airline called to say that an extra flight had been added, and did I want to be on a 9:25 flight out of PG, getting me into Vancouver with enough time to catch my flight to Tokyo. Once my brain woke up enough to process this information I said yes and launched into action.

Three hours later, after dad dug out a trench through the enormous drifts on our driveway (the road was all but clear, the driveway had drifts of snow at least a foot deep in places), we set out to the airport. My flight out of PG ended up being over an hour delayed, and then once we did finally get to Vancouver we had to sit just short of the gate for nearly 20 minutes as we waited for a crew to be assembled. They obviously scraped the bottom too, as it then took three or four tries for them to connect the bridge - one impatient traveller said she could easily jump the gap if they'd let her! I left the plane and started running - I had about 15 minutes before my Tokyo flight was set to depart, and an entire airport to cross. The Vancouver Airport is in pre-Olympic renovation, so I ran through a confusing maze of boarded-up hallways. I ended up getting to the gate just as the last few passengers were boarding, with the only difficulty being finding space in the overhead bins for my carry-on.

We had to wait for a half an hour or so as they attempted to track down passengers who had checked-in but not boarded, and then when they couldn't find the passengers, locate the bags and have them removed from the plane for storage purposes. In the end, however, that delay was likely a benefit for me, as my bags ended up making it to Tokyo with me, despite my close connection. All is not well, however, as one of my bags (a large plastic container I bought to bring back an oversize Christmas present I recieved as well as all the gifts for friends in Japan) did not make it to my appartment in one piece. While it appears to have survived the rough treatment of airport baggage handlers, it had one corner shattered, the top cracked in multiple places, and two wheel coverings broken by the baggage delivery service. Happily, however, all of the contents of my bags appear to have made the voyage without mishap - including a bottle of Bailey's I was given for Christmas!

With all the crazy winter weather Canada, especially Vancouver, experienced this holiday season, there have been plenty of travel nightmares showcased on the news. I realize my tales of woe in no means measure up to those told by passengers on an AC flight that sat on the runway in Vancouver for 14 hours before finally taking off on the 5 hour flight to Toronto, or by the thousands of individuals who spent Christmas stranded in an airport instead of surrounded by family and loved ones, or the families with young children who had to deal with incredibly long delays and other difficult circumstances. I have been amazed by these tales, but even more amazed by just how badly the national airline has appeared to look. Reports of only two agents helping lines of hundreds of travellers, a complete lack of accessability that left travellers with nowhere to turn to for information, and an apparent general lack of accountablity as they blamed everything on the weather and conditions at the airport. This is while one local airline in particular came off very very well, as there were reports of monetary compensation, hotel vouchers, meal vouchers, and free pizza and pop being given out.

Despite all this, however, I was still surprised by just how virulently travellers, even those only minorly impacted, feel about the whole debacle. Travellers were not hiding their annoyance and I heard many say outright (and in front of employees) that they would never again fly with the national airline. I've got to say that with all that happened last year, and then the fall-out after my flight to Canada this year, I was feeling the same way. My return flight to Japan, however, convinced me that on the ground staff were and are doing all they can in a difficult situation. I would venture to say that the fault lies far above their heads, with top brass that have cut the number of employees, farmed out the 1-800 line to a call centre in India that cannot even begin to effectively respond to questions, and various other cost-cutting measures that have negatively impacted service and the overall customer experience. To that end, I hope that the recent troubles can serve as a wake-up call, not only to the national airline, but to all airlines in Canada, so that problems like these can be dealt with in a better fashion, especially with the Olympics arriving in Vancouver next winter!

In the meantime - well I have to unpack my bags in my small apartment and get working on all the schoolwork awaiting me as the end of term looms in the next few weeks. Better get crackin'!

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