It is a drab and dreary day on the cusp of winter, but not quite in its depths yet. The sky over Pearson Airport is slate grey, a fitting colour for the sleet that falls from it. Pearson is the second airport of five I will pass through before my journey is done. Waiting in the departure lounge, I am concerned over the short connection time I have at Heathrow airport to make my next connection, when that worry is wiped clean. The intercom announces mechanical problems which will delay the flight for an expected hour and a half. My connections at Heathrow are now moot.
When we arrive at Heathrow a few minutes before midnight the Air Canada ground staff are efficiently waiting for the five or so of us whose connections have been dashed. They have re-booked flights for us the next day, passed us our e-tickets and hotel vouchers and escorted us to airport shuttles. They do this quickly, as their shifts have ended at twelve and they are now past that time.
My new flight to Dubai is not scheduled to leave til mid-afternoon the next day, past hotel checkout time. And here our story begins. The hotel clerk asks for payment for an extra day as it is past checkout time and the airline only booked the room for one day. I politely tell him that is for Air Canada to cover, as they made the reservations in their name, not mine and they clearly knew the flight’s departure details. She tells me I must wait while she contacts the airline. I tell her that I’m leaving for the airport as I have a flight to make. The hotel and Air Canada can sort it out between themselves.
After negotiating the considerable security procedures at Heathrow, I make it to the front of the Etihad Airways check-in counter, where I am told my ticket has been cancelled by Air Canada. When I inquire as to why, I am told I have been re-booked on an Air Jordan flight travelling through Ammam. Hasn’t Air Canada told me of the change? How strange!
I again wait to get to the front of the Air Jordan ticket counter. Here, I am told that yes, Air Canada re-booked me on a flight through them and the flight has left 3 hours ago. They sound puzzled that Air Canada never informed me of the change, even though they clearly know my hotel details as they arranged them themselves. No, I answer, they did not contact me with the change of reservations by email or by cell phone. When I ask what to do next, Air Jordan advises me to go the Air Canada ticket counter. I find it but is is unmanned. I return to Air Jordan the politely offer to phone Air Canada. A message is passed to go back to Etihad as they will re-book me a flight through them. No whisper of any apology is made.
I make my way to the front of the Etihad line and am told the good news that they do indeed have a reservation for me now, just not on this flght as my previous seat had been released. Not to worry, it’s only six hours waiting in the airport for the next flight.
The flight is uneventful and I arrive In Dubai where I must spend a night in the airport for my connecting flight to Basrah, since Canadians are no longer on the list of nationals eligible for visas at the airport. After a long night and morning, I board the afternoon flight and am enjoying a sparkling beverage standing in conversation with fellow passengers when I feel the plan bank about half an hour out of Basrah. Sure enough, the pilot comes on the intercom and informs us we are returning to Dubai as the Basrah airport has been closed. Etihad re-books us on the same flight the next day but I once again have 24 hours to kill, possibly sitting in the airport as the visa problem remains. Etihad kindly sponsors me for a visa and puts me in a hotel for the day with meal and transportation vouchers. We are told the Basrah airport had been shut down because it was under mortar attack and all airspace had been closed.
A day later the flight arrives uneventfully in Basrah.
Thank you, Air Canada, for your usual level of service. A 25-hour journey has been turned into a 3-day one, all without costing me any extra for the additional hotel and flight bookings. What incredible generosity.
Please bring in open skies for Canada. Without competition on international routes out of Canada, nothing will change.