Travel Chaos

In the United States, Wednesday, more than 10,000 flights were delayed or canceled due to a problem with the Federal Aviation Administration’s computer system. A similar computer glitch in Canada supposedly had no effect on t5ravelers’ plans – maybe because our system is already in chaos.

Canada’s Transport Minister is to appear before a House of Commons Committee today to explain what has gone wrong with travel in Canada and how his government is going to fix it. The issues that he promised would be fixed after travel chaos in the summer have not gone away, as thousands of holiday travelers discovered the past few weeks.

Flights delayed, flights canceled, baggage missing or lost, it was a familiar tale. Other than righteous indignation, I doubt the government knows what to do – or they would have fixed things already.

I flew during the holiday season. I have no regrets. The experience was not fun. My flights were delayed. My luggage didn’t arrive home when I did.

But compared to what the media have been reporting, I had it easy. If I had to do it over again, I would have done the same thing. I think. At the time I didn’t know what I was doing.

Which explains why my luggage stayed in Toronto while  I traveled on to Ottawa. I made my connecting flight. My bags didn’t.

In Cairo I asked if our bags had to be picked up when we changed planes in Toronto, or whether they could be checked straight through to Ottawa. The clerk thought for a second and said, yes Ottawa

It has always been a mystery to me how Canadian airports work. Or don’t work.  That may be because I don’t fly often enough. Or because the rules change frequently. But as I filed the notice for missing luggage, some of the mystery was revealed.

Turns out my bags were never going to Ottawa without me first picking them up in Toronto. That’s not the way it is done at Pearson Airport.  Unless you fly Air Canada.

Turns out Air Canada has an agreement with Canada customs. Passengers connecting in Toronto don’t need to retrieve their bags and go through customs. All others must do so. Which is time consuming

With ninety minutes between flights it was always going to be a tight connection. When the plane left Warsaw more than an hour late, it seemed impossible. (You know there are already problems when a flight from Cairo to Ottawa goes through Warsaw. It isn’t exactly a direct route.)

Still, at Pearson, secure in the mistaken belief that our bags were checked through, we scrambled to make the flight. We had 20 minutes to clear customs, go through security (again) and get to the next flight.

I hadn’t been concerned about the connection because I knew there was a later flight if we missed the scheduled one. Except, looking at the departure screens, that flight was canceled. If we didn’t make our flight, it was sleep on the floor at the airport. Again.

Been there, done that. It isn’t recommended. Furthermore, given the ongoing travel chaos in Canada, who knew when we would actually get a flight home if we missed the scheduled one. It might have been days

So we ran. Jumped the queue at passport control. Did the same thing with Border Services. And again to leave the arrival hall. Not to mention at security for the next flight. Which we made, with five minutes to spare. We’ll, maybe a little more – it was delayed about 45 minutes after we boarded.

We were told by an airline agent that our luggage would never have made the flight, probably not even if our flight has been on time. Supposedly Pearson uses an older baggage handling system, no chance of rapid transfers. We were also told we had done the right thing in racing to make the flight and not waiting for our bags. It was probably cheaper for the airline too in not having angry customers looking for hotel rooms when there were probably none available.

The bags eventually showed up, one after four days, the other after six. Judging from news reports, a lot of luggage was delayed over the holiday season – we were not alone. Certainly we could see dozens of unclaimed bags when we arrived in Ottawa where normally you might see one or two.

It was the right move to abandon the luggage, even if we hadn’t known that’s what we w3 doing. Given a choice between my own bed and the airport floor as a place to sleep, I’ll choose home.

It might have been different if it had been an outgoing trip. As it was, I didn’t mind waiting a few days for my dirty laundry.

I am still curious though why Air Canada customers don’t have to pick up their bags at Pearson when the rest of us do. Can you see any logic in that?

5 comments

  1. Neil Remington Abramson · · Reply

    Companies that offer services, and expect you to pay for them, should provide them. It shouldn’t be a crapshoot. There is something seriously wrong with a system that has recently provided such nightmares for its paying customers. In addition, there is no useful oversight when companies can cancel services, provide no refunds, and a government agency tasked with consumer protection is so burdened with claims that there’s no point appealing to them, and if they rule in your favor, the companies can simply disregard the ruling.
    If I fly, it will be only on ANA or Air France, or Lufthansa, which. I have found reliable in the past. Neither Air Canada nor WestJet (and Sunwing is a joke) score high on customer service, and government oversight s pathetic.
    The fact that you survived is irrelevant to the poor quality of service provided for the non refundable price.

    1. I have never flown ANA – most of my travel has been to Europe. Sometimes I have had no choice but Air Canada (with the same problem when I lived in Germany – sometimes Lufthansa was the only option.), so I resign myself to being late. My experience has been that AC flights are late about 90 per cent of the time. I haven’t always had the best of experiences with Lufthansa, but European consumer protection laws meant that compensation was automatic.

      1. Neil Remington Abramson · ·

        It’s interesting to me that customers are accepting these new “crapshoot” rules of the game since they are more and more routinely not receiving the advertised service they are paying for, nor refunds, nor the published terms of the passsenger bill of rights alleged by the government to protect their interests.
        In the past, airlines operated with great efficiency and effectiveness. I used to be a “road warrior” and could almost always rely on airline competence. Now, I wonder if airlines and airports simply do not have the capacity to handle their crowds of customers, or lack the personnel needed for satisfactory throughput? What is the “real” problem. It’s not just weather. Yesterday it was a computer glitch and the question was whether computer systems were antiquated and needed upgrading. Whichever way the solution, it looks like incompetent management. And, as a result, people are not getting what they thought they were paying for. Is caveat emptor the only satisfactory short term solution? What’s the long term solution, and when is that going to be accomplished?

      2. Post pandemic (which we are more or less) people are desperate to travel. They are willing to put up with more because they are so thankful to be able to go places previously denied to them.

        Certainly there is a personnel issue. Airline and airport workers were laid off by the thousands during the pandemic and many found new jobs. They aren’t coming back. But the travelers have,which leads to delays.

        Increased flight choice through budget airlines has also lowered our expectations. Now a family who wants to sit together on a flight may be asked to pay for that’ll privilege. Even the major airlines are nickel and dimeing their customers.

        And some of the problems stem from corporate greed. Sunwing knew it had a pilot shortage and flew people to Mexico knowing there was no plan to get them back to Canada if there was a weather issue.

        Ironically, my most relaxing flights were during the pandemic. No crowds at the airports and flights were always on time.

  2. pgallan@magma.ca · · Reply

    Hi LorneInteresting and timely articleI just returned from Bangkok as a party of 5 due to medical emergency (multip

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