Travel Diary: Air Canada

Hello Adventurers:

Just wrapping up my Montreal trip with the long day we had on Wed, Jan 3rd trying to get home. This is the second trip I have used Air Canada (as well as my second trip to Canada). I have got to say, I am not a big fan of Air Canada. Both trips my first flight was delayed an hour so we missed our connecting flight. Into Canada was not as much of an issue as we were passing through Canadian customs in Canada. Wednesday our flight out of Montreal was delayed due to snow (totally understandable). We arrived in Toronto with 35 minutes to get through customs. But Air Canada in their infinite wisdom already rerouted our bags to go back to Montreal and we could not pass through US Customs without our bags. We missed our flight. Not another available direct flight from Toronto to San Francisco for two days. Air Canada automatically booked us to return to Montreal (where it was snowing I remind you). I asked to go West so the ticketing agent found me an indirect flight going through Vancouver. My bags were in Toronto tagged to go back to Montreal. I suspected that this would be a problem in Vancouver, but I gambled anyway because at least I would only be 2 hours from home and out of the bad weather if we went to Vancouver. We had the exciting experience of having to be escorted out of US customs back to Canadian customs (because technically we were on “US” soil. We had to go back through Canadian customs and security for the 4th time that day. Border patrol was pretty cool. No real hassles by either country. I suspect this happens fairly often.

Now I want to mention that one of the “advantages” of using Air Canada is they handle your baggage through customs. No picking it up and carrying through customs as has happened all the other times I have travelled in and out of the US. In theory, it sounds great! In practice, it sucks. You are at the mercy of the airline. When you only have 30 minutes of making your flight due to delay, it is nerve racking and frustrating.

I was travelling with my grandson Shaun who is 10 years old. He is well travelled at 10. So when we began to board our flight to Vancouver 6 hours later we were not sitting together but only a row between us and he could talk to me through the seats. Obviously we got stuck with all the middle seats as all smart travellers take the window or aisle (at least I do). On our way down the jetway, an airline agent ran down the jetway yelling for Mr. Shaun. So we stopped to see what he wanted. He asked us why we were on this plane. I showed him our tickets and he was like “oh”. I knew right then, we were definitely going to have problems. We proceed to our seats. I was stuck in the middle seat right behind first class. I had no tray, no tv, no place to put my bag (above or below). I’m not a skinny 23 year old. I am a fat 50 year old and the armrests were the unmovable type that squish your hips. It was the most miserable 5 1/2 hour flight I have ever been on. BUT I was getting closer to home. The older lady sitting next to my grandson kept being mistaken for his grandmother and the flight crew would ask her to talk to him. Bless her. She was great and very understanding. Actually most of the people were very nice. Canadians are very polite and helpful if they can be.

We left with minimal delay and arrived in Vancouver on time. We headed to customs where we spent the next 90 minutes while Air Canada attempted to find our bags. Early on they determined that they had taken Shaun’s bags off the plane in Toronto (hence the why are you on the plane question). In order to go through US customs when the airline is handling your bags, a picutre has to be taken of your bag or you have to have paperwork provided by the airlines explaining why you don’t have your bags. Air Canada came down after 45 minutes to bring paperwork saying they lost Shaun’s bag. It took them another 45 minutes to determine that their personnel in Toronoto never put my bags on the plane either. They had to hold the flight to SFO (why they didn’t do that in Toronto is beyond me) in order for Air Canada to bring me paperwork for my bags as well so that I could pass through customs. Where they make you wait until your bags clear customs in Vancouver, there is a total of 4 seats and standing room for about 10 people. On this adventurous day, there was at least 20 of us all with Air Canada or WestJet. No United, American Airlines, Delta customers. When my paperwork finally arrived and we were allowed into US customs, once again the border patrol personnel and security were great and tried to be accomodating and helpful. The US Border patrol officer said to not pass through customs in a Canadian city if I could help it as it is always like this.

Lessons learned:

  1. Do use Air Canada even for direct flights
  2. When flying into Canada attempt to fly direct whenever possible.
  3. If unable to fly direct, make connecting flights in US.
  4. Even though United is not my favorite airline, I have NEVER had an issue when using them to fly international.

I hope our travel diary for Montreal was helpful to fellow adventurers. The next upcoming trip will be in February for a hockey tournament in Phoenix area. Until then, if we do anything locally (day trips) we will post our experiences.