Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bad weekend

I'm still not feeling great and I think we've moved beyond jetlag and into something else. A summer cold or something. Still, I am getting tired earlier than normal. When we hit Rome, we took a four hour nap around 1 pm, got up, took a walk around the area for a few hours, came back to the hotel room and slept another eight hours. After that, we were fine.

And yet, here it is three days after landing back in Canada and I still feel very much out of sorts. I read somewhere that jetlag tends to be worse going one way over another. I believe it.

Anyway, I mentioned that Saturday was a bad day. I know everyone has bad travel experiences and I certainly don't want to make ours sound like it was something catastrophic. We got to Ottawa safe and sound (albeit with a few bumps along the way). But compared to some of the travel days I've had, this was certainly one of the worst.

How was it bad? Let me count the ways:

1. We arrive at the airport about 2.5 hours early. Two hours is the norm for international travel, but this was Italy, so we figured the extra half hour wouldn't hurt. It didn't. We went to the terminal the directions told us to go to. However, the American airlines have created their own "bunker" terminal that you have to shuttle to in order to check in. Mildly annoyed, we hop on the first bus of the morning.
2. Arrive at Terminal 5, "The Bunker" and go through the first security check of the day...that will allow us to check in. Yes, we had to go through security to check in. First time my new passport is commented on. "It looks good in white."
3. Despite being there more than two hours early, we are told the flight is sold out and there is no way we can sit together. Vastly annoyed.
4. Hop on Bus #2 back to one of the main terminals, where we make our way to a small gate area that will clearly not hold all the people on the plane.
5. Becomes apparent that the plane will be late leaving as there is no plane parked at the gate. We have a 90 minute layover in Newark before our flight to Ottawa. Now looks in jeopardy.
6. Passengers are herded passed the gate, only to go down a flight of stairs to a third bus of the morning, which took passengers to a plane on the other side of the airport. Only one bus is shuttling the 200 or so people across the airport.
7. Not exactly the friendly skies. Continental Stewardesses (or "International Customer Service Managers" as the pilot called them) are snappy and grumpy. A British lady sitting next to me is shocked. "Continental is my carrier. I fly with them all the time and I've never seen them this disorganized or rude." She promptly attributes it to being in Italy.
8. Miraculous, the plane leaves only an hour late. Pilot assures us time will be made up in transit.
9. Two good things. First, the nice British lady volunteered to switch seats with Cathy so we ended up together. Secondly, Continental had something like 350 movies you could watch on the screen in front of you. Made killing the 9.5 hour flight pretty easy.
10. We arrive in Newark about 20 minutes late. Things now start to get very bad. When I booked the tickets I was ignorant about the complexities of coming from one country to the US and then leaving for another. I figured it would be pretty straight forward. Ummm, no.
11. Passport control line-up is massive. We wait nearly an hour to get through. Homeland Security officer has to go and ask if they will accept my temporary passport. Minor stroke occurs. They accept it. With the 20 minutes late arriving, we now have 10 minutes to catch our flight.
12. Hitch #2...your luggage isn't automatically forwarded to your next flight. So we have to pick it up, check it in and clear security again.
13. Breaking a trend for the day, the Continental flight to Ottawa leaves on time. We're not on it. It's the first time in either of our lives we can recall missing a flight.
14. Go to Continental desk and try to catch a later flight to Ottawa. Informed there are no other flights for the day to Ottawa. Mild panic sets in.
15. After 40 minutes rangling with the computer, clerk manages to get us on a flight to Ottawa on Air Canada. It will get us in at 1:15 am. We both manage to not weep.
16. Go to Air Canada desk and ask if we can get on earlier flight. Defying expectations, staff are helpful and get us on a flight through Montreal that will get us into Ottawa at 9:15 am.
17. Balancing out the karma, when we get to Montreal, discover that Air Canada has lost our luggage. We're both exhausted at this point and ready to start killing people.
18. We clear security again. I've lost count at the number of times people have looked at my passport. Estimated number around 15. Airports are very paranoid these days.
19. Arrive in Ottawa, report luggage missing. Clerk at desk says we should have it by noon on Sunday. We get some Wendys, pick-up some toiletries and clothes at Wal-Mart, go to bed and breakfast I booked for a nice romantic weekend before parting for the next month. Slip into coma.
20. Wake up early Sunday morning and unable to sleep later because of jetlag. Report luggage missing to Visa, who give us each $500 play money to buy new clothes. Promptly spend a good chunk of it.
21. Go catch Batman as a way of relaxing.
22. Return to b&b around 6 pm. One piece of luggage delivered for us. Name on bag is Mohamed. Call 1-800 to say they deliver the wrong bag and ask where ours is. Asked if we're sure that it's the wrong bag. Cathy manages to not climb through the phone and kill the person. Told to call back in a couple of hours and they would know more.
23. Call at 9 pm. Still no idea. I decide to go to the airport to kill people.
24. Air Canada staff mystified where bags are. One staffer remembers handling the bags and giving them to the contract delivery people. They don't know where the bags are. About an hour of vexed faces and confusion on what could have happened to the bags. Delivery people are about as helpful as you might expect at this point.
25. Phone rings from passenger annoyed that two bags not belonging to him are in his hotel room. The person's name is Mohamed. I can commiserate. It is, however, our lost luggage. AC staff offer to send a courier to get it. I quickly tell them it's no problem for me to go and get it.
26. Long ordeal finally ends when I stagger into b&b room with bags. Cathy is very happy. Miraculously, nothing is broken or missing.
27. Romantic weekend at the b&b is, however, pretty much shot to hell.

And that's that. Not the worst travel experience in history, but certainly a whopper for the two of us. Although I find it amusing that I booked tickets to avoid Air Canada and all but two of the five planes we flew in this vacation still managed to be Air Canada.

Also learned the valuable lesson that when travelling internationally, even if the tickets are cheaper, avoid flying through the US. That passport control line will haunt my nightmares for months to come.

Tomorrow, something not Italy or travel related, I assure you....


Anonymous said...

some cheese with the whine?

WJM said...

Nice summary, Mohamed!

Jackie S. Quire said...

So. Apparently neither of us were meant to travel to Europe.

Thank god I didn't lose my passport though. You seem to have handled it with a lot more grace than I would have.

re: US connections... I can't even explain how much I am dreading the flying part of my upcoming trip to the UK. I fly through Minnesota both ways... and given my (and your) recent experiences in this kind of travel... I think I just might die.

Either that... or I'm only packing a carry-on.

towniebastard said...

To give credit where it is due, Cathy kept me sane, had the forethought to make sure a lot of our documents were photocopied and with her parents and kept things on track when they threatened to spiral off the rails.

Oh, and she was also the supplier of money. I can't begin to imagine how much worse it would have been if I had been travelling solo.

Minnesota shouldn't be as bad. Remember, we travelled through New York area airports, some of the busiest in the world. But if you're going to the UK for a week or less, you can cram a lot of stuff into two carry-ons and forego a lot of the immigration hassles.

Cathy's in the process of booking our trip to Australia next year right now. Let's just say we're not going through the US. Iqaluit-Ottawa-Vancouver-Sydney. Should cut back on some of the hassles. Theoretically. We are still flying Air Canada.