I woke up at the pleasant hour of 4:45am on August 14th. I guess my body felt four hours of sleep was sufficient! Maybe it was preparing for the crossing of the date line a little early.
Around 6am I headed to my sister’s house as she was going to drive me to the airport. Along the way I see a road sign that says something about construction on Blue water Road. I don’t think too much of it as Blue water road is off Hammonds Plains Road and I’m not heading that way.
I drive about five kms and see that Kearney Lake road is completely closed to traffic … Right at Blue Water Road. Who knew?!
So, I turned around, headed back out to the highway and down Hammonds Plains Road, finally arriving at my sister’s at close to 6:30 (it should only have taken 10-15 minutes!)
Jump forward to the airport … I grab all of my stuff, double check for my phone and my passport and then head inside, while sissy is on her way back home.
I go to the kiosk to print my baggage tags, but it can’t find my confirmation number. I tried three times, searching by confirmation number, flight number and date of travel. No luck. Finally I asked one of the Air Canada staff and informed me that the flight was cancelled and to see the ladies at the counter.
The lady at the counter told me the flight was cancelled due to weather. High winds and fog had prevented the plane from landing the evening before so it was not coming, therefore the flight was cancelled. I asked her to help me get rerouted, but I already knew the answer.
Her: I’m really sorry, but this ticket is issued with United Airlines, so they have to do all those changes for you. You’ll have to call them.
… Did you just feel my heart break?
I headed to the benches, unloaded my backpacks and hit redial on the United number that was in my phone from the night prior.
Oh, hello Mr. Automated Man! I see your hearing didn’t improve overnight …
Him: What is your departure city?
Him: I’m sorry, could you say that again?
Him: I’m sorry, but I’m having trouble understanding you. Could you try one more time?
Me: HAL…. I … FAAAAAXXXXX
Him: I’m sorry. Let’s try this another way. Please say your last name.
Him: Are you Donald?
… You see where this is going right?
Eventually Automated Man got tired of me and put me through to a person. No wait time! Great!
I explained to the lady the situation and she began looking for new flights for me. I won’t go through all of the long boring details, but after some sighing and grumbling, she informed me that she couldn’t get me out of Halifax today at all. All flights were booked. I asked about an upgrade to business or first class to get me on one of the flights. Of course, they can’t do that because it’s not the same class of service (cheap flight) that I originally booked. I went through a bunch of options with her and tried to get her to look at flights to other places, but she was stuck on flights to Toronto and the fact that they were all sold out. She informed me I simply could not get out of Halifax today.
She went on to tell me that the next flights she could find were on Friday morning, putting me in Bangkok on the 17th. I explained that I would miss connecting flights and part of my tour. Was United going to do anything about any of that?
Her: I can’t answer that for you. I’m in reservations, you would have to talk to the customer care department for that.
Eventually I got tired of asking her to search other routes because she just kept telling me everything was full. I understood that everyone on the Halifax morning flights had been rebooked and that most flights were full, but I was increasingly annoyed that she wouldn’t consider putting me in a higher class of service to keep me on track rather than making me wait two days to leave and miss my connections / beginning of my tour.
Finally, I gave up.
I asked her to book the flights for Friday that she had suggested and then to transfer me to the customer care department.
Her: You can reach the customer care department online at … (and she spewed out an address)
Me: Oh. Actually, can’t you transfer me there once you’ve booked my flights?
Her: No. I’m sorry. They don’t have a phone number to transfer you to. You’ll have to contact them online.
Me: Did I just hear you correctly? Your customer care department does not have a phone number?
Her: Yes, that’s correct ma’am.
Me: And, if I don’t have access to a computer at this time?
Her: Well, Ma’am, you’ll have to wait until you do. That is the only way to contact them.
Me: Really? It is called the Customer Care department and they have no phones?
Her: Well, yes, they do have phones, but not a number for the public.
Me: Ok. ok. Please book the tickets for Friday morning and I will contact your Customer Care Department online.
Eventually after holding, the tickets got fixed up. The confirmation stayed the same and once again, I was done an hour long conversation with United Airlines.
By this time, I figured I could call my manager at the Adventure Travel Company and maybe not wake him up. He’d help me!
After all, if I was in front of a computer with access to the flights, I would have been able to look for my own routing and I’m sure that I would find that I could actually get out of Halifax today. But, it wasn’t worth arguing over as I wasn’t getting anywhere.
My manager told me he’d look in to it as soon as he got to work. Phew! I had complete faith he’d find me a great option. I would hang tight at the airport for a bit just in case there was another option leaving relatively soon.
In the meantime, I called my favourite (& only) sister to put her on standby that she may have to come back and retrieve me from the airport.
Then, more phone calls. It was time to get an insurance claim started. Based on being rebooked on a Friday flight, I was going to miss my already paid for connecting flight in Asia from Bangkok to Yangon. I was going to miss out on my airport transfer, a night’s hotel and most importantly, the beginning of my tour in Yangon. If I couldn’t get to Yangon by the afternoon of the 17th, then I would need to catch up in another part of Burma, missing a couple days of the tour and trying to navigate Burma on my own. Not looking forward to that part at all.
When the insurance lady answered it sounded like I had just woken her up!
I explained the situation and that I had been rebooked, but I would be incurring expenses to catch up to my tour which I would now be late getting to. She explained to me that I only had $1000 to use toward flights (no hotels, no tours, nothing else, just flights). This didn’t make sense to me as my policy was for $5000. She kept telling me I could rebook flights and use up to $1000. After asking her to repeat it a couple of times and different ways, she put me on hold. Then she came back and told me the same thing again. So, I guess it was up to me to ask it a different way so she would give me a different answer.
Me: Ok, so if all my policy covers is $1000 for flights, what is the other $4000 of the $5000 for?
She came back with the same spiel about being able to use $1000 for flights. UG!
Me: And, the $4000 of other coverage? What is it for?
Her: Not for your flights.
Me: Ok. So, if I’m reprotected on a flight on Friday. I do not need to book a new flight to Asia as the airline has that covered. Do I have coverage for changing my connecting flight in Europe.
Her: Yes. I told you. $1000.
Me: Ok. I understand that there is $1000 for flights. So, what about the tour and the transfers / hotels etc that I am not using. Is there any reimbursement for those?
Her: No. Not for this reason.
Me: What reason is that?
Her: Cancelled flights. If they were delayed, yes, but not if they were cancelled.
(This still doesn’t make sense to me)
Me: Ok, so because of the delays, if I use my $1000 to rebook flights into Yangon and then my tour has departed and I need to catch up to that tour by bus, is that covered?
I never did find out if that comes out of the $1000 or not …
Me: Ok. Could you please start a claim for me as I will be rebooking my Asia flights and may need some other things straightened out. So, I might as well start the process now.
After also digging to find out exactly what information I needed in order to submit my claim (official notices from both airlines that the flights had been cancelled and why … as well as receipt for my new flights), I asked for the claim number, for email confirmation and got off the phone.
I asked my sister to come back and get me as I wasn’t overly hopeful any more for getting out of Halifax today. And, I was cranky.
While I waited for my ride, I went to the Air Canada desk and got confirmation of the flight cancellation. I then went to the United desk and did the same.
The United staff member, Colleen, asked me to wait a moment, but didn’t say why.
Her: Why is it that you aren’t just going on the Halifax to London flight with Air Canada tonight and then in to Bangkok the next day?
Me (with huge bright eyes): Really? That’s an option? The United call centre told me I couldn’t leave Halifax today.
Her: Let me just double check to make sure we can do this.
In the mean time, my manager was texting me saying he had found that same option. So, I let him know that United was working on it.
A few minutes and a couple of phone calls later, she said that it was AOK, but she would have to print me an old school paper ticket, not an e-ticket. Several of them struggled light heartedly over trying to get the paper ticket to work (it’s been MANY years since they had to do those) and then finally handed me my new tickets with explicit instructions not to lose them as they were like cash. Ok. Got it.
I thanked her profusely. I wasn’t expecting her to even try to find anything for me and she found me a much better option, much earlier and no cost to me. How could I not be happy with that?
So, I left the airport at around 9:15am (after arriving at 6:45am) and went back to my sisters to get my car for the day. I now didn’t need to be at the airport until 8:30pm tonight. YAY!
Despite the chaos and poor customer service throughout the day with United Airlines, Colleen was super helpful without being asked. In the end, I got better connections, I’m not transiting through the US and I’ll be flying with Air Canada and Thai Airways (one of the best in the business!)
To top it all off, I’m traveling on a true Around the World ticket where I will be crossing both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans in my travels, one on my way there and one on the way home. I guess it is my new claim to fame.
The chaos did not end there though! I was still going to miss my connecting flight in Bangkok to Yangon and had to get that taken care of so I wouldn’t be trying to figure it out in Bangkok.