Happy Sunday, friends!
It is a happy one for me. The word of the week is “DETOUR”, so I’m taking a little one from my regular blog subjects to tell you about my recent travels. Hang on – it was a slightly bumpy ride…
Last weekend I was on my way to British Columbia for a photography workshop – one of those wonderful opportunities to learn from pro wildlife photographers in a gorgeous setting, while sleeping very little and eating like a queen. I was all set, in a hotel at my departure airport the night before leaving and I just, y’know, casually clicked my way into the website to check in for my flight the next morning. Whereupon I discovered it had been (cue ‘dum-dum-duuummmmm’ music) CANCELLED.
No warning, no notice, just – cancelled. So I called my booking agent. And discovered that the airline had helpfully rebooked me on a flight leaving 6 hours later than planned and arriving only 10 hours later than planned – at midnight, in a far away place where I would need to drive a rental car to find a secluded lodge in the dark. And they were going to spring this on me when I arrived at the airport in the wee hours of the morning for the cancelled 6:30 am flight, thereby allowing me the pleasure of losing four hours sleep while being sent to wander the purgatory of the concourses for five and a half hours. (If you would like to know which carrier was so callous, it starts with the stuff we breathe and ends with our dear friends to the north.)
I said “no, thank you”.
Well. That’s not really what I said, but I’m sure you can fill in with some local color.
Having acknowledged my displeasure, the booking agent finally found me an alternate flight plan – one that was mysteriously not covered by my trip insurance and cost about an additional $50 for every hour I saved getting there, but at least I got there, in daylight, and did not miss the evening activities for my workshop. As an unexpected bonus I was introduced to the lovely service given by WestJet and their crack teams of smiling, good-humored, efficient employees. And their gorgeous flying machines – I don’t know when I’ve ever seen such pretty jets. Even the sweet little double prop Bombardier going from Calgary to points west was bright, clean, and had plenty of luggage and leg room. After my evening freak out, I was more than happy to be treated to a little luxury. Kudos, WestJet – you rock.
The workshop itself was fabulous – birds, sweet northern air, being out on pontoon boats enough of every day to have that oddly pleasant sea sway in my head. And there were baby loons. Baby loons! (I will offer images soon – you’ll find out in a minute why I don’t have them yet.)
In fact, the baby loons were enough of a temptation that I got myself into a bit of a time crunch trying to photograph them one last time before I headed for my flights home. Cue the crazy flinging of gear into the proper cases, as I had about ten minutes after getting back to my room to clear out before I raced to the car and back to the airport. I arrived, panting and wild-eyed at the baggage counter, hoping I was in time. I was. And the lovely WestJet crew gave me their reassurances and a big smile and all was good. Even the … um … hour our plane sat on the runway because there was a red alert for lightning at our connecting destination and nothing was coming or going from there. OK then. They passed out snacks and the pilot came down the aisle chatting with everyone. The atmosphere was light, even if the weather was heavy. And that pilot – even though he looked young enough for the ink on his driver’s license to be wet – he was a master, because we flew through wind and rain with no more than a few bumps. (Really – WestJet rocks.)
It was AFTER the plane landed that everything went cattywampus. Seriously wampus. Since every plane in and out of the place had been delayed, there was a sea of humanity in the terminal and, being of the vertically-challenged variety, as well as being weighted down with my camera gear (this is a rule of photography travel – the glass never leaves your hand), it took me a while to figure out where to go because I literally could not see the signs. It turns out they were on the floor. And there were people standing on them. So, having left my x-ray goggles at home, I was clueless.
I headed to customs, was then told to go get my bags, with a vague wave as to the direction. I wandered about until I found someone to ask, and he pointed out the signs on the floor, half hidden by tennis shoes and roller bags. I followed the signs, and got my bags. The purpose of this seems to be to give them a little exercise before their next ride on a belt, because I rolled them around several corners and down hallways and was told to give them to the customs baggage person. I handed them over and wished them Godspeed. He thumped them onto a belt and they rode majestically out of sight.
And that’s when things got interesting. I went through customs and was about to go through security when it became apparent that I didn’t have my next boarding pass (the computer had malfunctioned when I checked in). So they sent me back through to get that and I entered the vast world of “Can’t Get There From Here”.
I got back out to the check-in desks and it looked like one of those horror movies where all the people have suddenly disappeared. Not a single airline agent in the place. The only person there was the stern looking guy from customs, who was not sympathetic. It took me several tries to find a functioning kiosk, but the self-service option would not work. I couldn’t access the airline app on my phone because it kept asking for a password all of a sudden and, in the panic of the moment, I couldn’t remember it. Plus my phone was dying and I had to find a plug to keep any connection with the outside.
I found a plug and with rising angst tried calling the airline – I couldn’t reach a human. So, with dread in my heart, I called the booking agent again. And had to do that twice. When I finally got a human on the line, and finally got across what I needed, the only flight that would have gotten me to the right connecting airport was rolling back from the gate. So they started the rebooking nightmare all over again. At least they found me flights. It didn’t cost me anything this time. But I ended up with a 1 am flight, the first of three that would finally get me home 8 hours later than planned, hours too late to pick up my pets at their kennel.
(Again, not really what I said, but use your imagination…)
I had no idea if the kennel had room for the kids to stay an extra day, or at this point, if I really would get home that next day. Butterflies is hardly the word. Anxiety of this kind comes with pterodactyls. After composing myself, I called a dear friend who was able to make sure the fur family would be OK. By the time the drama was all over, it was after 8 pm and my last meal had been breakfast. So I found my way to the concourse where I could get food and wait for my next flight.
It was there that it eventually dawned on me that my bags had been tagged for a flight I would not be on, that customs was a tad grumpy, and I had no idea where they would go. I approached a gate agent and once again, the WestJet Wonders went to work. (Shout out to Nicole and her co-workers in Calgary – you are greatly appreciated by the short frazzled Yank with the wild eyes and rumpled clothes. Bless you.) They worked some kind of airport magic on various phone calls and assured me they would get my bags pulled and that I would not need to do the customs re-check again at my next stop. Somewhat reassured, I chair-hopped and web surfed until my Oh-dark-nothing flight.
The flight was fine – it was WestJet, there was wine. (Have I mentioned that I love WestJet?) We arrived just after sunrise to an airport that was apparently laid out by an exercise guru. To get through their version of customs and get to my next gate I had to haul myself and my carry-ons through vast mazes of corridors, some of which were glass and there were restaurants serving coffee on the other side. Where people like me could not go. Waaaa! I gave the electronic customs robot the right information, it knew I had two checked bags, which was reassuring. It told me I was free to show my boarding pass to the actual human person and I was good to go. Again.
I found my next gate and a cup of coffee and sagged into a chair. I still had two flights to go and I was exhausted. Most of the rest of the trip is a blur. I sat in slightly uncomfortable seats, chatted a time or two with pleasant strangers, and ate snacks out of tiny bags. I wandered vast hallways and took two shuttle buses to get to my last flight. I was beginning to believe all airports were laid out by maze fanatics with mean streaks. My fitness tracker recorded it – I wandered nearly four miles in the course of getting from departure to finally landing at the fifth and final airport of the trip.
Landing that last time, I was grateful to be close to home (I still had a three-hour drive), I took a breath and trudged the three-quarters of a mile to the baggage carousel. Only to find that my bags had more wanderlust than I. They did not arrive. And the kind person in baggage claims could not find any record of them in their system. He took all my information, checked several options, and assured me they would be found and delivered to my home, even though they would have to be flown there. I thanked him (Kudos, kind baggage claim agent!), and sent up a prayer to Saint Samson(ite), patron saint of wandering luggage.
With naught to do but wait, I got over to the car and drove home. There is not much that feels better than a shower when you’ve been in the same clothes for longer than you want to think about.
The happy ending on this tale, is that the next morning while I was out picking up the pups from their extended stay at summer camp, the airline was leaving a message on my answering machine. My bags arrived safely, having gone two extra stops, and they’ll be delivered in the next day or two. Bless you, airline baggage folks – your abilities are wondrous.
Those baby loon images? The hard drives are in my luggage, along with my boots and all my gear, other than the cameras. To say nothing of my favorite pair of sandals. I am very, very grateful to be getting them back.
That’s all for now, friends. The kindness and patience of strangers have taken me far this week – about 3200 miles to be exact. I appreciate them. And all of you. Happy trails!
Stay tuned for more on the Here’s a Quarter blog next week! As always, your thoughts and comments are always welcome – they are moderated (I know – adulting again), so they may take a little while to appear, but I read them all and appreciate that you were here. Thank you!