Oddly enough, despite hanging out with a considerable number of exiles who returned for the holidays, I heard few complaints about airlines. Which, in and of itself, should be considered a Christmas miracle. You go to a pub and have a few drinks and inevitably someone is going to complain, especially about Air Canada.
Yet, I heard little. Perhaps they all flew WestJet.
This holiday season Cathy flew three airlines while I managed to hit four. So from best to worst, here's how we rank our travel on the airlines.
1. WestJet – It was my first time flying with them and I liked them for the little things that I suspect regular fliers of the airline like them for. The satellite TV, the fact that flights left on time and tended to arrive a bit early (I got into St. John's 20 minutes early) and the very friendly stewardesses. However, they also went above and beyond for the two of us, especially Cathy.
My flight into Ottawa was delayed (more on that later), so I literally arrived 10 minutes before my flight to Toronto was departing. Complicating matters is that my luggage couldn't be forwarded on to WestJet, meaning I was supposed to get my luggage, check back in, clear security and then run to the gate in 10 minutes. Clearly this wasn't going to happen. Instead, they let me check in at the gate. My luggage was picked up at the carousel (admittedly by a First Air rep) and arrived in St. John's 12 hours later. I was given a $100 credit to use next time I book a ticket with airline because of the delays with my luggage, even though it wasn't their fault.
Cathy had deeper troubles. Boo decided part way through the Toronto to St. John's flight he had enough of the carry bag he was traveling in (because of delays, Cathy was unable to get him out of the bag for a break for many hours) and promptly shredded it. WestJet was very understanding (so were the other passengers) and let Cathy keep the dog on her lap for the rest of the trip.
Sadly, the same thing happened coming back. Despite being tranked and the purchase of a much more expensive, and theoretically sturdy, travel bag, Boo still shredded it. Again, they let Cathy keep him on her lap until she reached Toronto. Once there, they had a hard carrier waiting and made an exception to their no pets in the baggage hold for the short haul to Ottawa. Cathy was very grateful for how nice they were during a very stressful situation.
The only negative for WestJet was they lost Cathy's luggage to St. John's and it took four days to arrive (Mitigated by the fact that Visa allowed Cathy to spend $500 to get close and toiletries to cover her until her bags arrived). Also, they forgot to tell her that the $100 credit was available (You can either get the baggage delivered to your house or take the credit. She had them delivered because she didn't know about the credit). But it's a minor point. They did a good job during a busy time of the year. Grade: A.
2. Air Canada – Honestly, Air Canada gets the second place because of lowered expectations. I expect to get crappy service in uncomfortable planes and for something horrific to happen that will screw up my travel.
Instead, the planes were new and comfortable. The St. John's – Toronto flight had touch screens so I could watch a variety of TV shows or movies. So I spent the three hours watching "The Illusionist" (very good) and the first half of "The Queen" (also, very good). The Toronto – Ottawa leg actually saw the plane arrive early, which was helpful as I had a short window to catch my flight to Iqaluit.
The only negative; they wouldn't let me check my bags through to Iqaluit, even though Canadian North is a partner with Air Canada for "security reasons." Still, I have to give Air Canada a shocking grade of A- .
3. First Air – The airline nearly finished last for the simple reason that both Cathy's flight and mine were late leaving Iqaluit. Cathy's was 20 minutes late going, meaning she had to scramble to catch her flight in Ottawa. Mine was 45 minutes late leaving, so I figured I was a dead duck in Ottawa. And with planes packed I had a very real scare that I might not get home for Christmas.
Instead, with about 10 minutes left in the flight, they moved me to the front of the plane, so I was the first one off. They had someone waiting for me at the gate, and ran me down to the WestJet gate. The guy also told me he would go and pick up my bags and get them checked in at WestJet. They wouldn't be on the plane I was catching, but they would arrive in St. John's on the next flight. Sure enough, my bags were waiting for me at the airport 12 hours later.
Oh, and First Air's plane was clean and they do a little thing like give you actual food during the flight. I choose the chicken over the Bison meatloaf. Grade B.
4. Canadian North – It's not that the flight was bad. It left on time and arrived early, which is normally all you want from an airline. Although the arriving early caused problems in Iqaluit. First Air's flight got in just ahead of ours, which meant chaos in the terminal as there were too many people there at once and the baggage carousel couldn't handle all of it at once.
No, it was a few little things. The fact that they wouldn't reserve a spot for Boo so Cathy didn't know until she got to the airport whether or not she could fly with the dog. That the plane felt a little more cramped and dingier. Oh, and both meals had egg in them, which meant Cathy couldn't eat them. But that's as much our fault. You can reserve a specific kind of meal when you book the ticket.
It's not that Canadian North was bad, just less above and beyond that we saw with the other airlines. Grade B.