Travel Nightmares Part 2 – Hate

My luggage

In continuation of my Travel Nightmares Part 1 – Love, not everything went so well on my journey from Canada to Panama in December 2016.

While being pampered in Air Canada Premium Rouge class with extra snacks and upgraded food, I advised staff that I was supposed to connect to a flight to Panama but that it had likely already departed. They told me there were a few others on the flight with the same connection and that there was no current update, but we could talk to Air Canada staff after we cleared immigration, about any arrangements that needed to be made.

This is where my luck ran out and everything went downhill fast (or maybe slow would be a better description).

I was the third person off the plane and second person in line to go through immigration when we arrived in Kingston, Jamaica. The officer checked over my passport, asked me a few questions and asked for my boarding passes. When she discovered that my connecting flight had already departed, that’s where the real ‘fun’ began. She asked me where I would be staying. I explained to her that I needed to find an Air Canada rep in order to find that information out. I also told her that I was told there would be someone to speak to after I picked up my luggage (which was after immigration). She would have nothing to do with it. She told me she couldn’t let me pass until I could tell her where I was staying. I tried to explain my case again but no luck. I told her there were others in the same situation and that I thought they had already passed through, but she stood her ground. She kept my passport even though I pleaded to have it back and sent me to the back of the hall to an information desk where ‘apparently’ I could talk to ‘someone’.

The information desk was unattended, but I hollered ‘hello’ and heard an ‘I’ll be there.’ So, I waited. A nice lady come to the front, but unfortunately I wasn’t my normal chipper self, having just had my passport held and denied entry into the country that I wasn’t even supposed to be staying in. She called an Air Canada rep over the intercom no less than five times. Eventually a lady sauntered over (I’m still not sure if she worked for Air Canada or not). I explained the situation, including that I didn’t have any information on my connecting flight as we were just arriving and Air Canada had not given us any information. Further to that, I couldn’t get past immigration to find out if my flight had already departed or find a rep to discuss my situation. The lady was quiet. Not mean or unhelpful, just not very communicative. She made a couple of calls and told me that Air Canada had arranged for all of us to stay at Pegasus hotel for the night, but that we would have to call Aeroplan (because each of us were flying on points redemptions) to rebook our flights. Apparently we could do that after customs and immigration. She told me to bring my passport and come with her, to which I had to re-explain that the immigration officer held my passport and wouldn’t give it back.

Off the two of us went to the desk to get my passport back and sort this out. Except, the immigration officer didn’t just need where I would be staying, she also wanted to know which flight I would be departing on. Now, I understand that to be let into a country they want to know when you are leaving. This is a fairly standard rule. But, my frustrations were ever compounding because Air Canada had not rebooked my flights or provided any information. At that particular moment in time I was stuck in a country being denied entry, but also not able to make any further arrangements. And, I’m not in possession of my own passport. Of course they wanted me to call Air Canada Reservations right then to get flights sorted. Um no. I was not paying roaming charges from Jamaica to call Air Canada and wait on hold to sort this out. There had to be another solution. After all it wasn’t my fault that the weather was bad, the connections were missed and Air Canada left us to fend for ourselves.

The lady who was trying to help me disappeared without a word (would she return? I didn’t know). I connected with two of the other passengers who were just about to try their luck going through immigration. And then the lady came back, asking us all to come to one specific immigration desk. Except, the immigration officer still wouldn’t give me my passport. I waited for her to finish with the next client and saunter her way over to the other desk. One of the other girls who had been on my flight had actually been sent to a holding room without any information or her passport and she was just rejoining us.

In the end, we all made it through immigration somehow and were told to go to counter 41 after we had our luggage. There we would find a phone and could call the Air Canada rep to come out and talk to us about our hotel, transfer and hopefully our new flights.

You may remember in Part 1 I talked about how much luggage there was for all of the Jamaicans heading home from Canada after Christmas. Passengers had too much carry on luggage that was then put into checked luggage, plus, I’m sure more than half the plane had two bags (or boxes) per person. It was a steady flow of luggage coming along the belt, but it went on for an hour or more before they loaded the last piece. The other passengers that had missed their connection had gathered their luggage about 45 minutes into the process and left to see what they could find out about their flights and transfers. I told them I’d catch up as I suspected my luggage didn’t make the connection in Toronto and I would have to file a lost baggage claim.

My luggage
Last seen when I took this photo in Halifax Dec 29th at 3:45am

I waited for the belt to stop and the remaining bags were removed from the belt. Mine was nowhere to be seen, so off to the baggage counter I went. Go figure, it was unstaffed. I asked another staff member if there was an Air Canada rep around and she said ‘Ya, someone was here,’ and then turned her back to continue her conversation with a colleague. A minute later I approached her again and asked, as politely as I could after all of this, ‘Could you please help me find the Air Canada baggage rep?’ She sighed, started asking a few people and slogged off looking to see if she could track someone down.

When I turned around, there were now four or five others lined up at the Air Canada desk. A few minutes later, I jostled my way back to the counter when the rep finally arrived. I gathered the required paperwork to fill out and quickly returned it to the desk, anxious to get out of there and on to the next obstacle.

Although I was the first person to hand over my paperwork, somehow I was the second last person in the line to have my paperwork completed. Seems as though mine was more difficult, or maybe I had someone new working on my file. After a good 20 – 30 minutes at the counter, I was sent to stand in a line up to go through customs with a piece of paper saying my luggage had been lost. Thankfully they had created a separate line up for us because 100+ Jamaicans were still waiting in the customs line up to have their luggage approved for entry. I’ve seriously never seen so much luggage!

I had no issues at the customs desk, returned the piece of paper to the baggage claim area and made my way out the doors, officially into the heat of Jamaica.  Now the hunt was on for counter 41 where I hoped my fellow displaced passengers would be waiting for me, although I was a little skeptical as I had been well over an hour longer than them in the baggage area. After checking with the info desk, I was directed a few hundred meters away to the departures area where I would find counter 41 and my ‘pals’ waiting for me. Apparently they had come looking for me a couple of times but weren’t allowed back into the baggage area, so they just had to wait for me to appear. They had used the phone and spoken to an Air Canada rep who had told them that we would be staying at a different hotel, the Knutsford Court Hotel and we would all be transferred there as soon as I arrived. They had tried to make arrangements for their flights, but there wasn’t a phone available for use for that purpose, so it would have to wait until we got to the hotel.

Of course, the Air Canada rep had gotten tired of waiting for me (for over an hour) and had gone on break or to do something else and told the others to call through on the phone when I arrived. Because I already told you that the story keeps getting worse, it’ll be no surprise that dialling through on the phone line got nothing but a busy signal for the next 15 – 20 minutes while we continued to wait and had no contact with the rep and no way to call our transfer driver to take us to the hotel.

One of the other passengers went to talk to staff from another airline and ask for help. I asked one of the airport staff to help us and eventually the Air Canada rep appeared again. She called our transfer driver, introduced us to him and as we were about to load our luggage into the vehicle, she realized he wasn’t the right driver, so she re-introduced us to someone else. Gah! Seriously?

The five of us piled into two different vehicles and off we went in what we hoped were the correct vehicles, going to the correct hotel. We had touched down at around 4pm local time and it was now after 7:30pm as we were arriving at the hotel.

Check in at the hotel went smoothly, thank goodness as just about all of us were ready to burst from frustration. The hotel even offered to let us use the business centre phones to call Air Canada to sort out our flights for the next day. Unfortunately Air Canada and Aeroplan 1-800 numbers don’t work from International phone lines and they don’t provide a regular number. One couple had a travel roaming package for their cell phone, but that also wouldn’t help because the 1-800 number still didn’t work from Jamaica. Frustrations mounted even higher. We had really been left in the lurch.

I was slightly less panicked than the rest of the people as I knew I would be able to use Skype to call the 1-800 number. (One of the many useful pieces of information I’ve learned while being a digital nomad.) I told the others, but of course not all of them had Skype, or laptops. I offered for everyone to come to my room and we could try to do all of the changes at once, if the internet connection would hold.

One of the girls dropped by just as I was dialling Aeroplan as we had been advised they were the ones that would have to take care of it for us. We waited on hold for 1 hour, 16 minutes and 12 seconds (Skype shows me these stats). At about 45 minutes, one of the other girls came to visit and said that she had messaged her parents in Toronto. They weren’t able to get through to Aeroplan because of the long wait time, but they had gotten through to Air Canada and her flight was all taken care of for the next day’s departure. She was in the clear. As we continued to wait on hold with Aeroplan, I had the idea to call the travel agent line from Air Canada. Originally I hadn’t thought of it because we were told to call Aeroplan specifically. (Good thing I just did 10+ hours of Air Canada certification training to help my agency keep access to this special service line because it sure came in handy!)

Air Canada Certificate

About 30 minutes later, the staff at our travel agent line had my flight and one of the other girl’s flights all taken care of. There were a couple of glitches, such as the internet cutting out and dropping the call … but in the end, a second call, even with a different agent on the line and everything was sorted.

What a relief, right?

We headed down to have dinner at the hotel restaurant at close to 9pm and the last couple of people still hadn’t found a way to contact Air Canada as the 1-800 numbers weren’t working from Jamaica. I went and ordered my food and then came back to check on them to see if they had found another number. They hadn’t. I called the 1-800 number for them via Skype on my phone and advised there would be quite a wait time. I left them with my cell phone hoping the internet connection would hold and went back to have my dinner.

Unbelievably, an hour later when I was done dinner, the poor lady was still on hold. Actually, she had spoken to someone, gotten nowhere and was back on hold. It was a never-ending story for these folks.

I jumped on Skype on my computer while she continued to hold on my phone. I called the travel agent line again and had it sorted for her in another 20 minutes. Meanwhile she had still gotten nowhere with the phone call she had been on for a total of 1 hour, 42 minutes and 7 seconds.

What a disaster.

Finally, around 11pm, all five of us were sorted with new flights for the next day. Our transfer had been arranged and with any luck, we would arrive in Panama City 24 hours later than planned.

Just when you think the story has a happy ending …

With a good night’s sleep under our belts, we headed to the airport on time and there were no line ups to check in at the Copa desk (one of Air Canada’s Star Alliance partners). The first couple checked in with no problem. Done. Ready to go. The other two girls were at separate desks. One agent was asking for the girl’s proof of departure from Panama. At the other counter, the agent was telling the other girl that she could only check one bag and that her second bag would cost $125 USD to check through to Panama. This was after the bags had arrived in Jamaica without any fee. The real kicker on this though was that her second suitcase was full of items that she was planning to donate when she arrived in Panama.

At this point, my lost luggage was actually a blessing in disguise. Imagine! Since I had no luggage to check with me, I was able to check her second bag as my own for no cost. Problem solved … until they had difficulties finding my newly booked flight! Seriously, the complications just don’t stop!

I’ve got to say though, that between all of us being rested and in better state of mind and the Copa Airlines staff who were super helpful, these issues were handled much better than those of the very long day before.

While I’m now checking-in luggage for my new friend and the Copa Airlines staff are trying to get my ticket to appear on their system, the girl at the other counter is stuck with the same problem … her ticket won’t appear on their system. Thankfully the Copa staff were proactive and started talking to the manager, conversing with Air Canada and making sure it got fixed rather than leaving us to sort it out on our own. What should have taken five minutes for us all to check in, took 30+. A big thank you Copa Airlines for doing what it took to find the problems, correct them and get us all on that flight.

Fast forward …

We boarded the flight to Panama on time, it was smooth sailing and we finally arrived in Panama City. I was hoping that my luggage would have been sent on the same flight routing as the day before and that just maybe, it might be on the baggage belt with everyone else’s. No such luck. I waited until the end of the luggage unloading and then went to baggage services just in case they had marked it and pulled it before it went around the belt as it would have been traveling unaccompanied. Again, no luck, but they gave me phone numbers to call and check on the status.

This incredibly long story started on Thursday, Dec 29th, 2016 when I left my sister’s house at 3:15am. Tonight as I’m writing the final few sentences, the fiasco is still living on with me as my luggage is currently MIA. It’s now Monday, January 2nd at 11pm.

I’ve been able to confirm that it was *supposed* to be sent to Kingston, Jamaica on Dec 30th. Not much of a confirmation as no one can tell me if it actually arrived there or not. I’ve been authorized by Air Canada to spend $100 USD on essentials which they will reimburse me for. And, I’ve been advised to call back in 24 hours. Apparently, although they take all of your contact information (at home, in destination, hotel address and phone number, email addresses) they tell me that I will not be contacted with an update on when to expect it to arrive. It’s still my job to continue following up. In fact, the agent’s exact quote was worth noting ‘You’ll definitely be contacted sometime maybe, but you should call back to follow up.’ #CustomerServiceFail

Air Canada and Aeroplan, if you are reading this … all five of the customers (including myself) who have gone through this ordeal deserve an apology, some kind of compensation for the hours of hold time, stress of being at an unplanned destination overnight, being denied entry into the country with little to no assistance and left to rebook flights on our own. So much of this could have been avoided if our flights were proactively rebooked for the next day and the information had been communicated to the staff in Kingston, Jamaica. Since hotels arrangements were made for each of us and that was communicated … I’m left wondering why the flights weren’t?

And, because it’s January 2nd and I’d like to start the year on a positive note, I’m very thankful to be in Panama City (finally) and have met a couple of great new Canadian friends! Although sanity was lost during the process, new friendships have been gained.

Ever had a travel nightmare of your own? Did you file a complaint with the company / companies involved? Did they ever respond? Leave me some comments!

Travel Nightmares Part 1 – Love

Air Canada Premium Rouge Menu

Anyone who travels regularly has had the unpleasant experience of delayed flights, lost luggage and bad customer service combining into various kinds of travel nightmares. Sadly, this is just part of the travel world. No matter how much preparation you do, you can’t control the weather, mechanical breakdowns, human error or just plain rudeness. All you can do is try to approach it all with kindness.

Errrrrr … hmmm ….

Great advice right? I tried. Really I did.

I’ve been delayed for flights before. I can recall a time when I was leaving for Asia and my flight was delayed due to fog in Halifax. The flights from the night before hadn’t arrived, so we couldn’t fly out. Mass chaos ensued, but being a travel agent, I managed to get a flight later that day with a different routing. United Airways was telling everyone no flights out of Halifax to anywhere for five days as they were booked solid, but I found the options that they were not willing to look for.

I’ve had flights delayed and ended up staying over in Houston, TX on my way to Belize. I’ve had flights cancelled in The Philippines due to political conferences and had to rebook. I’ve been diverted to Quebec city on the way home from Mexico only seconds before landing in Halifax.

I’ve lost my luggage on the way to Peru, on the way home from Mexico, while traveling to Namibia and most recently, on my way to Panama.

You’d think I’d be an expert at things going wrong. But, let me tell you, no amount of travel experience prepares you for all of those things happening in one day and being met with unsympathetic and unhelpful people.

On Dec 29th, 2016 I woke up at 2:45am to gather my last few things before my 3:15am pick up from the lovely folks at One Stop Limo. Thank goodness they are reliable because it is about the only thing that went right all day long! I arrived, got my luggage tags, checked my luggage which was thankfully under the weight limit and cleared security in a jiffy. All the signs of the beginnings of a great trip!

Flight 603 to Toronto for 5:25am boarded pretty close to on time and pushed back only about 10 minutes late to head for de-icing. All normal for traveling in Canadian winter. The flight was smooth until we started our initial descent into Toronto. The captain had warned us that there was weather moving in and that we might hit a bit of turbulence on the way in to land. We did indeed begin to feel a bit of turbulence, but really quite mild all in all. We took a couple of big turns and just as I was beginning to think that we had done a full circle, sure enough the Captain came over the speaker again to advise that weather had moved into Toronto earlier than expected. Snowfall had accumulated and they were clearing the runways with a backlog of traffic waiting. He went on to explain that we had initially been asked to hold for 20 minutes (hence the couple of big turns we had done) and had just been advised it would be 40 minutes. I really appreciated that he was keeping us up to date on what was going on because otherwise my mind gets extra anxious and wonders if something is wrong with the plane. He said we would continue holding for the next 20 minutes and if we were not cleared to land at that time that we would divert to Montreal because we would not have enough fuel to continue holding.

Errrr … mmmm … Not quite so happy to hear of a lowish fuel situation, but at least we had a plan.

Sure enough, another 20 minutes passed and we had not been cleared to land, so after stalling for nearly an hour in the skies above Toronto, we made another turn and off to Montreal we went. 35 minutes later we touched down turbulence free and taxied in to a fueling stop. We had time to check email and connecting flights. At this point, my connecting flight to Kingston, Jamaica had been delayed until 11:30am … there was still a tiny chance that I might make it.

Snow in Montreal

Another 45 minutes or so passed while we refuelled and then the Captain advised that traffic had started moving at the Toronto Airport again. Up, up and away again for our hour long journey back to Toronto. We were supposed to touch down in Toronto at around 7am local time. Instead, we were arriving at around 11am local time.

The staff on board the plane that day were apologetic about the situation, kept us very well informed and advised that there would be staff and a manager on hand at the gate to help all of us with our connecting flights. This was far more than I expected. Despite all of the delays and difficulties, until this point I actually felt it had been handled as best as it could be.

I waited my turn to disembark from the back of the plane and checked that my connecting flight was still delayed to 11:30am. I jumped the long line up of people (sorry people!) to quickly ask the staff if I should run for my gate or wait in line to be rerouted. With a couple of phone calls and a special note for fast security clearance (just at the doors between terminals), she told me they were waiting for me and sent me running.

The Toronto airport is too damn big! Although I set off running, that didn’t last for long seeing as I hadn’t run for at least eight months, plus I had 20lbs of camera gear and another 10lbs of laptop, paperwork and treats etc with me (Thanks for the M&M’s for Christmas mom!). I did what most people do, run, walk and try to catch my breath, run, catch my breath and then make sure I run to the gate so it looks like I ran the whole way. Come on, you do it too!

I got to the gate, went to the front of the line, panting, and said that I was there for the flight. The guy tells me ‘We just started boarding.’ Ug! I ran for that? I thought they were holding the plane for me. Then he tells me that they removed me from the flight because I wasn’t supposed to make it. And, that the flight is full so he would try to find me a seat but couldn’t guarantee it. Gah! I ran for that?

So, I put some money in a machine for a drink of water and ended up with ice tea. Go figure! Not even the vending machines worked right.

I watched priority boarding trickle through and then the masses of Jamaicans with soooo many kids and sooo many carry ons, form a huge line up for boarding zones 3 and 4. Then, my name was called. They had indeed found room for me. Lucky me, it was with priority boarding and in premium rouge class. I went to the front of the priority boarding line and boarded the plane. I sat my ass down in seat 1C, the very front of the plane. My luck continued as there was also room in my overhead bin for my carry on items. About 10 minutes after I boarded, they were already telling people they could not take their roller bags in cabin as there wasn’t enough room in the bins. People were not happy being told that they would have to check their large carry on items. Of course, many hadn’t packed carefully enough for that, so they were unpacking their roller bags to find medications, insulin, duty free, breakables and valuables that they didn’t want checked. What a mess. In all fairness though, this was not Air Canada’s fault. Let me tell you, people returning home to Jamaica after Christmas had a lot of luggage!

Finally, once everyone was on board and doors were closed, I could breathe a sigh of relief that I was at least getting out of the craziness of Toronto and the Canadian weather!

With a piping hot face cloth served up by the flight attendant, I washed the stickiness from my face from my Olympic sprint through the Toronto airport. I’m sure I should’ve received a medal! We were given tablets for our viewing pleasure, a menu to choose our meal option and our choice of orange juice or water … All before take off!

I went for the omelette with goat cheese and sausage. Let me tell you, the upgraded meal was a pleasant surprise! I’ve been known to skip plane meals all together because they often turn my stomach. This, however was served up in hot plates with lovely cutlery, a cloth napkin and tasted like real food instead of mystery mash.

After lunch, with another round of beverages, we were served warm, salted nuts and a choice of chips or a chocolate bar. I didn’t even crack my own treats while I was on the plane.

It’s hard to decide if the price of flying Premium Rouge is worth the extra cost or not, but for me it was a free upgrade and I truly thought the service was great. Good job on Part 1 Air Canada.

Oh wait. Then my luck ran out. Full Stop.

To be continued in “Travel Nightmares Part 2 – Hate” – coming soon.

Feel free to share your sympathies and commiserate with me in the comments!

 

Halifax plane 'incident' thoughts and reflections.

FACT: Early on March 29th, 2015 there was an airplane ‘incident’ at the Halifax airport.
FACT: It was an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Halifax.
FACT: There was a snow storm at the time.
FACT: Everyone survived.

Almost everything else is currently unconfirmed.

There are a lot of questions out there. Speculation. Guessing. Varying Reports. Accusations and accolades.

Why is this important to me?

I am a survivor of a plane crash. Not an ‘incident’, not a hard landing, not a mis-hap. I survived a plane crash in December 1997 in Fredericton, NB.

Details on the crash from Wikipedia: Air Canada Flight 646 Crash in Fredericton, NB.

Excerpt from MacLean’s Canadian Encyclopedia.

Full story here.

It took emergency crews about 20 minutes to reach the crash site – about one kilometre from the terminal – a response time that Transport Canada says was reasonable given the snow, fog and darkness. But for the passengers – some of whom began to walk towards the terminal before the rescue team arrived while others huddled in the woods – it seemed like an eternity. Kitchen recalls that there was a smell of jet fuel, prompting fears the plane might explode. She could also hear cries from inside the plane, where at least six people remained pinned under seats and debris.

 

It took until 2:30 a.m. to free the last of the passengers. In all, 35 people were treated for injuries ranging from broken limbs to cuts and bruises. At week’s end, nine remained in hospital. Meanwhile, Air Canada offered all passengers $5,000 for their “trauma and stress” – a move some lawyers saw as an attempt to ward off lawsuits.

 

As traumatic as the experience had been, for most of the survivors last week was also a time to count blessings. Said Kitchen: “At this point, you have to move forward.”

Maclean’s

December 29, 1997

I have a different take on all Halifax’s March 29th incident than *most* of the general public and over 17 years of healing from the life changing experience to give me perspective from a lot of different angles.

What I can tell you is this …

It is a scary, unimaginable situation where you have no control over anything and no idea what is happening. And, it is happening fast … in the blink of an eye, in the flash of a light … Adrenaline kicks in and then shortly after, you go into shock. Some people get overwhelmed and cry, some people are eerily calm, protecting themselves by not talking and some go into ‘help others’ mode.

My immediate reaction when the plane stopped was to get out as fast as possible. I bolted for the nearest exit, waited while someone opened the door and I was the second or third person off the plane. I didn’t stop to look around, to think about anyone else, I just got out of dodge. Once outside of the plane with my heart pumping, my knees shaking and my teeth chattering, I wondered if the plane would explode. Would another plane coming in for landing do the same thing?

Surprising, even to myself, after we crashed in Fredericton. I went into ‘help others’  mode. Trees had torn through the side of the plane, pinning people in their seats. I exited the aircraft, slid down the wing and stood outside in the freezing winter weather for awhile … in shock.

Then, not really thinking clearly, I decided to return back into the aircraft to see if there was anything I could do to help. I was oddly calm, but functioning almost in an out of body experience kind of way. When I saw the few people who were injured and pinned in the plane, moaning and crying in pain, I left my scarf / hat / mittens to help keep someone warm and then exited as there was a nurse there and she told me I really couldn’t help.

I remember my crash it like it was yesterday. I remember it even more vividly because of the crash at the Halifax airport March 29th that had many similarities to the crash that I had been in. A week later when I’m actually posting this blog … all of it is still heavy in my head and heart. And, less than two weeks from now I’ll be back on a plane headed to Argentina. Anxiety will start a couple of days before and this is 17 years after my crash.

As I look back to 17 years ago, I know now that returning to the aircraft was a ridiculous idea but when you are in shock your reasoning functions don’t really work so well.

As I heard passengers fresh off the tarmac from the Halifax incident speaking to the media about their experience I cringe, as I know that they too, are likely in shock and not thinking clearly. They don’t even realize it at the time as their bodies are still functioning on adrenaline. Time frames of events are thrown off, five minutes feels like an hour and then media begins launching question after question at you looking for answers that you simply can’t provide.

I get it, I know that media needs to cover these events. I know that everyone (including myself) wants to know what happened. But, the truth is that very few facts are known and there is so much speculation at this point. And, just in case you don’t realize this, just because someone was on the plane, it does not mean they know the facts!

Did it crash? Was it a hard-landing? Was it pilot error? Air-control error? Did the pilots save everyone with their skills or endanger them with a poor decision to land? Why did it take so long for people to be rescued?

This list of questions goes on.

For example, I saw today that someone was calling the pilots heroes for landing the plane and everyone getting off safely with only minor injuries.

I am thankful from the bottom of my heart that everyone is safe. I feel the overwhelming emotions even now that I felt nearly 20 years ago. I have shared this horrific experience with them, on a different date.

With my crash, it was actually deemed to be pilot error that caused the crash (involuntarily), but it took the Transportation Safety Board nearly a year to do a full report on this.

For those saying the pilots are heroes … maybe they are, maybe they aren’t.
And, for those criticizing the decision to land … well, it is an easy criticism to make as an on-looker, but no one knows all the details. Sure it was a snow storm and bad conditions, but were they acceptable conditions to land? Had other planes landed? Was someone on board ill and they needed to land? Were they running out of fuel? Maybe not, maybe it was just a bad decision … but we simply don’t know, so … why don’t we just hang tight, let the investigators do their job rather than guessing? Why is it that so many people who are on the outside have to stick their noses into everything, start pointing fingers and name-calling?

Initially with my crash, media stated that we ‘slid off the runway’. Nice, gentle wording suggesting that we had touched down and maybe hit some ice, which led us off the runway.

What actually happened is we lost power BEFORE touching down, a wing clipped the ground and we went careening through a field with small hills off to the side of the runway, leaving behind a trail of fuselage and becoming airborne once or twice from the speed of the plane and the size of the hills.

I don’t know this so much because I remember it; I only remember fearing for my life. I remember the initial violent jolt when I (and everyone knew) that something was wrong. Was that the wing breaking off? Was it us hitting the ground? It happened in a split second and we had no warning, so there was no way that I could have been paying attention to exactly what caused it. I didn’t know that the wing hit the ground and broke off until I saw it in the media, but even then it wasn’t determined in what ordered the parts had been ripped from the plane.

I remember holding on for my life and wondering if it was ever going to end and would I live through it? I remember the up and down motion and the violent beating we took while being thrown around like rag dolls, all while buckled in place.

I can only tell you my own personal experience which is different for each individual. Everyone has a different perspective literally and figuratively. A different perspective based on their personality, but also different based on where they were seated on the plane and what they could see.

Keep in mind, that the crash I was in was different than the one in Halifax, but there are an incredible number of similarities. My plane had fewer people, but more severe injuries. Both planes clipped a wing at some point. Both were landing in questionable weather

I would just like to say that it is a horrible, unimaginable experience. Although I understand it is the media’s job to report on this big news event, when you read all of the information out there remember that passengers were in shock, scared and overwhelmed. They may or may not remember events correctly and they could only see out tiny windows … In my experience in 1997 it was a crash, not a hard landing … there was much more damage and people were seriously injured, however no one was killed. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one is also eventually deemed a ‘crash’, however it is not for me to decide and it may not be determined for a year!

I am pleading with people to lay off the negativity, name calling and telling everyone what a horrible job they did.

Why weren’t people brought in from the cold sooner?

Well … I hate to tell you, but the incident wasn’t planned. Unless pilots advised in advance that they were in trouble (which would only have been moments before), then all staff assumed they were on track to land as per normal. You can’t plan to rescue people that you don’t know need rescuing! You can have rules in place for if it happens but it still takes time to put it all into action.

So think about it; plane crashes, staff have to determine where exactly the plane is, put the call out to first responders and get them to that location … I’m positive this happens very quickly. However, with the Halifax incident, it was IN A SNOW STORM and WITHOUT POWER at the airport. There’s not an easy path plowed and God doesn’t part the snow so that the driver can see the whole way there. First responders don’t teleport (just in case you didn’t know).

When my plane crashed we ended about 300 meters (1000 feet) off the runway, stopped by trees that ripped through the first five rows of seats. Some passengers got lost in the woods and were missing for awhile. Many of us walked through knee to hip-deep snow to the edge of the runway where we could see the lights. In our case, we had simply disappeared off the runway and no one (at the airport) really knew why. They may have activated first responders quickly, but it wasn’t immediately known where to send them. So yes, I too, was out in the cold, dressed poorly for winter, standing in the snow, in shock waiting for someone to rescue me, when they didn’t even know for sure that we needed rescuing. I still feel like I was there for hours, but reports say that responders were on scene in 20 minutes. Shock does weird things to you.

Lucky for those of us who were able to trudge through the snow to the runway, when we made it there, we piled into cargo vans (or at least a group of us did) where we were shuttled back to the airport terminal and placed in some sort of cargo room and told not to leave. For those who were still on the plane, it was hours before they could clear a path through the deep snow to the plane to get heavy equipment there to extract people who were pinned into the plane.

I know it is easy to judge and to say that the first responders should have attended to passengers first, but if that plane (Halifax) had exploded they all would have been dead. Don’t you think it’s important that the situation is totally under control primarily?

Sure, I wanted better response times during my crash too, but sometimes circumstances get in the way. Sometimes human error gets in the way. But, don’t forget for a second that everyone responding was doing so with concern for the safety of all involved. They are not doing so with mal-intentions and are doing their best to do what they can.

Thank you to first responders and staff who pitched in to do what they could for my plane crash in Fredericton in 1997 and for those on March 29th, 2015 in Halifax. I’m sure improvements could be made, but difficult situations are never ‘perfect examples’. Doing a test run of an emergency never plays out exactly like an unexpected emergency. All you can do is your best. So thank you to those who responded with their best. Please stop picking on them for doing their jobs as best they could while you watch from the sidelines.

Having been through a very similar situation it is incredibly hard to watch this in the news all over again, but it is impossible to avoid. It happened. It cannot and should not be erased. Although I would never wish a plane crash on anyone, it is a huge factor in so many ways of the person I have become and, to tell you the truth … I kind of like me. I am not glad that I was in a plane crash, but I am glad that I’ve become who I am.

Air Canada Rouge Review

Air Canada Rouge – Toronto to Venice – Review

Being Air Canada’s lower cost counterpart, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect for my first Rouge Flight. I was surprisingly welcomed by friendly and gracious staff with stylish uniforms and fedoras. Friendly, helpful, polite … can’t ask for much more from an airline. Compared to the regular Air Canada flight that I had just gotten off, where staff seemed to just be getting by, it was truly a pleasant surprise.

Not having much time before take off, I asked one of the attendants to assist with getting their inflight entertainment set up on my electronics. I was pleased to find out, all I had to do was download the app on my computer and my iphone before leaving and once we were up in air I’d be able to access a full variety of entertainment options – movies, tv, news, music, kids programming. Although I managed to sleep through about five hours of the flight, I still found time to give the Air Canada Rouge player a go. I successfully watched two episodes of Big Bang Theory (my go to on planes) at good resolution on my MacBook Air with no interruptions. It was simple to use. Just remember that you need your own headphones and a device. The service is free to use and the app free to download. Just go into your app store on your iphone and download the free Air Canada app. I’m sure it has many more great features, but I only checked out the bare minimum and valued my sleep instead.

Also remember that you have to have the app downloaded prior to take off as it is only wifi for their specific rouge app, not for surfing safari or checking email. I was a little disappointed by this as I was hoping to keep in touch via social media and had gotten excited at the wifi idea. Ah well … it’s coming, just not quite yet.

Seating was comfortable and being in the plus section (not business), you could certainly feel the difference of the little extra leg room. Sadly I was late boarding (at final call because my previous flight was delayed) so carryon storage space was limited. I found room for my large camera bag, but wasn’t able to fit my laptop case in anywhere nearby. Sitting at the front of the section with a wall in front of me gave me a bit of extra leg room, but with the loss of room to store anything under the seat. Luckily a kind man beside me allowed me to invade his under seat space with my laptop bag for the duration of the flight. Thank you kind stranger! It’s never fun to have your carryon luggage spread all over the cabin when you go to get off the plane. Especially if you have to walk toward the back to get one of your items through the sea of impatient people crowding the aisles waiting for their turn to get off the plane even though the plane has barely come to a hault.

We were served a hot meal for supper about an hour after take off. Choices were pasta – beef stroganoff, or chicken and veggies. Although not the best plane meal I’ve ever had, the chicken was definitely sufficient, piping hot and decent flavor. The best part? The brownie for dessert … yumm!

Breakfast, about an hour and a half before landing was a piece of banana bread. Now, it was white banana bread … not at all the same as my momma makes! I’m used to banana bread that is marbled or spotted a bit. This bread was yellow and so banana-y flavoried that it may have been flavor-added rather than just au-natural. Regardless, it was moist and delicious.

Overall, happy with my first Air Canada Rouge experience. Although not the most luxurious that I’ve been on, it was still clearly well above a low cost carrier in space, options and meals.

Super happy that after having my Air France flights cancelled due to strike that I was able to switch on to Air Canada, collect my aeroplan points, try out Air Canada Rouge product and get to Venice with only one stop in Toronto.

Rouge is definitely a worthy option in the competitive world of airlines.

South East Asia – Chapter 5 – Long Haul

I left Halifax, on time at 11:45pm on Air Canada. I was seated in row 34 of about 40 in an aisle seat. I don’t know why but I was expecting the flight to be super long. It isn’t. It is only 4-5 hours depending on winds. I guess last time I flew to London was from New York when I went to Poland for the Coaltion for Kids project. That flight seemed much longer.

Touched down in London on August 15th at around 9am in Terminal three and was thrilled to know that I didn’t have to navigate various terminals as my Thai Airways flight was also set to leave from Terminal three. Thank goodness for small pleasures.

I sat around with hundreds of other people waiting for my gate to be populated on the big screen. That meant waiting from 9am when I arrived until 11:30am (15 minutes before boarding). I walked around a bit to try and give my poor ol’ bum a break from sitting, but I didn’t really go in any of the shops.

Air Canada had given us breakfast (egg omelette with mushrooms and bits of sausage & a fruit cup), so I wasn’t starving when I arrived, but by around 10:30 I decided I needed a bite to eat.

I went to a store called EAT and picked up a water, shop chips and a yogurt and granola parfait (yum!).

At pretty much exactly 11:30, our gate was announced and I headed down several long hallways to my gate. They checked us in and then we waited in an area that was completely closed in with windows. Not long though, we boarded about 10 minutes later.

As I was boarding, the first thing I noticed was a stair case INSIDE the airplane. Oh my! Seriously? Was I sitting on the top level? Um, no, of course not … but the thought crossed my mind.

I walked down past business class with their fancy stretch out cubbies to sleep in … past another full section of economy (or premium economy) all the way to row 64 (out of 70) where I grabbed my aisle seat and got settled.

Time to take my malarone pill for Malaria and an anxiety pill … mostly just to keep me asleep. At this point I really was quite relaxed.

I grabbed the bottle of water that I had just purchased and ….

IT EXPLODED! Sssssssss …. Spray … EEEK!

I closed it off quickly but not before it had managed to soak my pants and t-shirt and send a few droplets toward the passenger seated beside me and the kid on the other side of the aisle. The Thai hostess rushed to grab us each paper towel

How embarrassing!

Yup, England is one of the many places (unlike Canada) that regularly sells carbonated water. Yuck. I never even considered this when I picked the bottle up. Seriously! If you want water why do you want carbonation in it? It’s just not my thing. Anyway … now, it was my thing as I was wearing about a ¼ of the bottle.

I took my pills, apologized to the other water sprayed passengers and proceeded to try to sleep.

I really did sleep quite well on the plane, despite the three guys who were incredibly loud sitting behind me. Really, they were sitting with each other and still yelling. At least they were happy.

Take off was kind of cool. We seemed to taxi at high speed forever. I guess it’s necessary to lift one of these double decker planes off the ground. It was a bit bumpy on the way up, but nothing over the top and soon enough I was dosing off.

I awoke for our first snack about an hour into the trip. Sour cream pretzels and a drink. Liquor (within reason) is also free on these flights, but I didn’t partake. Last thing I need is to get hung over on all of these travels! And with my luck, one drink would have done it … or worse, I would have spilled it all over me!

Next up, supper. We had our choice of two lovely dishes. I chose the rice, vegetables and green curry chicken. Even the beans and carrots were especially good. YUM! (but yikes it was hot!) I was nearly crying by the time I got water to me and even then I had to ask for three glasses. I loved it though. Super yummy! So was the dessert cheesecake to go along with it.

Then they walked around and gave everyone a hot cloth to wash their face. Wow, did that feel nice. Too hot to hold initially but it cooled quickly and was certainly refreshing.

Then I tried to watch the movie Side Effects. I got about ½ way or maybe 3/4s through and then, well, I drifted off to sleep. I tried twice more to pick up and start where I left off and both times I fell back asleep. Not because the movie wasn’t good … I think the pills were just keeping me in dazed mode.

I was awake for about an hour a bit later in the flight and listened to some music and watched a couple of tv shows.

Back to sleep and then when I woke up there was a sandwich on the seat for me! I certainly wasn’t going to go hungry on the flight.

I tried the sandwich, but it wasn’t my favorite. I think it might have been tuna / salmon and maybe chicken? I’m not really sure. I took a couple of bites, but that was it. Besides, I wasn’t really that hungry.

Next up, about two hours before landing (flying over Burma at this point) it was breakfast time! Local time in Thailand was about 3:45am. I decided to get the quiche with mushrooms and bacon. Yum! Let me tell you, I certainly had no issues with this airplane food. It’s better than what I cook at home.

And then, all of a sudden, we are starting our descent! I couldn’t believe it. Despite the fact that I was uncomfortable, tired and my tailbone really really hurt, the flight really hadn’t been too bad. The service was excellent, the staff were super friendly and there was just a little bit of added space between your knees and the chair in front of you.

I’m so excited that they are a star alliance partner. I’ll choose to fly with them whenever I can. (Unlike United who I will avoid whenever I can!).

Our descent was uneventful (thankfully). I starred out the window and saw the lights of Bangkok as it was still completely dark. What a large and beautiful city in the dark. I asked my seat mate to take a photo with my phone. Not sure it’s very good, but it’s a memory just the same. Touch down was a piece of cake and then out through the airport was easy peasy.

Signs everywhere were in Thai and English, so no trouble to navigate the airport. This was one of my biggest concerns and it wasn’t necessary.

Next up, immigration … no problem.

Baggage pick up … no problem! By the time I was through immigration my bag was already rolling toward me on the conveyor belt, perfectly in tact in the large air Canada plastic bag.

Phew! One stress after another, just completely disappearing and I can feel myself getting closer to relaxing.

I went to a tour desk to see if I could get a city tour from 7 or 8am until 1pm, starting at the BKK airport, going through the city and then dropping me off at 1pm at the DMK airport. The nice man went through the entire city with all of the things I could stop and see, including China town where I could stop and eat if I wanted. Then he told me 4000 Thai Bhat. That’s approximately $200 US. That was an immediate no for me.

I found my way (after asking several staff) to the free shuttle to DMK and I’m about to board it now. Once I’m at DMK I’ll look into storing my luggage and taking a bus or train somewhere for a few hours. If not, I’ll sleep or use internet or find myself some yummy thai food for lunch!

South East Asia – Chapter 4 – Leaving Canada

Finally, with all of the phone calls and complications behind me, my sister drove me back to the airport last night at 8:30pm for my new 11:45pm flight from Halifax to London to Bangkok.

I checked in without issue, my bag (backpack) is checked all the way to Bangkok and wrapped in a nice thick plastic covering to keep all the cords tidy and not caught in conveyor belts. It was tagged well and fingers crossed it will meet me in Bangkok safe and sound. I’m feeling pretty good about it, better than I was about three 1 hour connections with United. I didn’t think there was any way that my luggage would make that journey with me.

The lovely lady at Air Canada check in also pointed out that I would be arriving in Heathrow Terminal 3 and that my connecting Thai Airways flight departs from Terminal 3. Well, didn’t that make my night! I’d be arriving at one of the world’s biggest, busiest and most confusing airports and I only have to navigate a small portion of it. YAY!

Security was a breeze. I didn’t even have to have a body scan!

Boarding was on time, the flight was packed full. I was surrounded by children, but none of them made a peep throughout the evening until we were waking up for breakfast and then coming in for landing.

I’ve now safely arrived at London Heathrow airport and easily navigated my way to my connection area. With this huge airport though, they only announce gates about 15 minutes prior to boarding, so you have to sit in a common area and wait for your flight to show a gate number.

So, here I am, sitting and waiting … about 10 flights ahead of mine to be announced and then I can start my 10 – 20 minute walk to whatever gate I need to get to.

I’m trying really hard not to spend any money so I’m avoiding the stores and restaurants. Although they’d be much more interesting and active than continuing to sit on my ass, I don’t need to pack anything else in my carry ons right now.

This whole thing is still feeling pretty unreal. I’m not excited yet, although I think it’ll come soon. I am a little excited to get on my Thai Airways flight. They are well known in the industry for their level of service and, I believe, more room in Economy class. Here’s hoping the flight is also not full and maybe I can find three seats to lie down on.

Interestingly enough, I’m in row 64. I’m pretty sure this is about to be the largest plane I’ve ever been on. And, I’m preparing for about 12-14 hours on board (if my calculations are correct). It will be my longest time on one plane for sure.

That reminds me … I really should go do some walking. My tailbone is already pretty sore and the Halifax to London flight was only five measly little hours. Oh dear.

Stay tuned. I’m sure Chapter 5 – Bangkok – Airport to Airport will be interesting. I’m planning to take some go pro video while I’m in the cab!

Lost Luggage

On April 5th at 6pm I checked my new North Face backpack in at the Halifax airport and went on my way to security and off to Peru! A couple of hours later, we touched down in Toronto and then shortly after, we were boarding again for Lima. With my luggage checked all the way through with Air Canada, I didn’t see it after it was dropped off in Halifax as I didn’t have to pick it up in Toronto.

When I arrived at the Lima airport after a long night of restless sleep, the group of 12 of us headed to pick up our baggage. One by one, each of my passengers hauled their luggage off the conveyor belt and loaded it on to a cart for easy transportation. Round and round the same bags went, not being picked up. A few of my participants had bags that were late getting on the conveyor belt, but they grabbed them and waited for me.

I got increasingly concerned as almost all of the passengers off the entire plane now had their bags and had left for immigration and customs.

Finally, with no more bags coming around the conveyor belt, I let my passengers know to go through customs without me and that I’d be through shortly.

Really? Everyone else got their luggage except for me?
Really? What are the chances that the group leader would be the one without luggage?

Yup … just my luck.

I headed to the baggage claim desk to fill out paperwork. I left my cell number, email and details of the hotel I would be at in Lima for the next couple of days. They said they would let me know when it was located … when that would be? Who knew.

So, off I headed through customs and out to the main area where our G Adventures guide was waiting with my group. He had expected to see me first, not last … and here I was with only one bag, containing my camera.

Thank goodness for having my camera and laptop as carry on as they were the most important part for the upcoming photo tour!

My luggage wasn’t on the plane and there was nothing I could do about it, so off we went to the hotel to settle in. Not exactly the way I was looking forward to starting the trip.

I knew that I wasn’t likely to hear from Air Canada that day as we were the only flight in from Toronto to Lima that day. And, did my luggage even make it to Toronto? Who knew!?

After dropping our stuff at the hotel we did a little city tour, had lunch and headed back to the hotel for nearly everyone who was headed on the optional City of Contrasts tour at 2pm.

I had planned on doing some preparations for the next day’s photo workshop, so I wasn’t headed out on the tour, but now, I had to stay back and make insurance arrangements.

I dug out my insurance information and discovered that the 1-800 numbers were all for within Canada or the US. The next numbers were to call collect to the US. So, I gave the front desk a call and asked them to help me make a collect call. Unfortunately they were not able to. They said it couldn’t be done. I was preparing to head out to a pay phone when I decided to do some internet research or see if I could contact my insurance company by internet.

After a little research on the good ol’ internet I discovered that if I called 108 I would get an international operator. Luckily the first time I called I got an operator who spoke English and she placed my collect call to the insurance company. When someone said hello, the call got disconnected. Go figure! I called back and my operator only spoke Spanish, so I struggled through asking her to place a collect call.

Finally, I was through to the insurance company (Bon Voyage). She explained that if my luggage was delayed by more than 12 hours I could spend $100 for emergency toiletries and clothing. So, as of 6pm that night I could officially go buy deodorant, a toothbrush, etc.

I called my other insurance company as well, but reached the emergency medical department who wasn’t able to help me out with anything related to cancellation and interruption. Then she told me that because it was the weekend I wouldn’t be able to reach anyone at all. That sucked. I never did reach them.

My biggest concern was that if my luggage didn’t arrive by the next day that I might not get it until I was in Lake Titicaca or later.

The next day, we headed out to do my photo workshop, without the cheat sheets and games that I had prepared. Unfortunately the paperwork was all in my luggage. Luckily it wasn’t a huge issue as my presentation was on my laptop, but it did put a little hitch in what I had planned for the day.

Late that afternoon, after all the teaching was done and people went their separate ways to practice and explore, my G Adventures leader took me shopping … That’s probably a blog post on it’s own.

When I returned to the hotel, I tried to contact Air Canada baggage at the number they gave me, but they weren’t open on the weekends. Now, not sure what good the number was going to do me when my luggage was lost on a Saturday and I was leaving Lima on a Monday. I called several Air Canada customer service numbers, the baggage claim, the Lima airport … all to get the same information, that it would be closed until Monday.

So, I took to email and twitter. I emailed explaining that I was leaving the next day and wasn’t sure how they would be able to deliver my luggage to Lake Titicaca at a homestay, so hoping to have it before then. Then I started tweeting to see if someone could get me in touch with anyone in the baggage claims department on the weekend. I really didn’t want to take off on the rest of my tour with only one pair of pants and a couple of t-shirts. I was still missing a lot of toiletries and the $100 wouldn’t go far if I had to survive one week off of it.

Air Canada was quick to respond on twitter, but didn’t offer much help, other than that they would get my luggage to me as quickly as possible. Unfortunately that wasn’t helping me find out where it was, when it would arrive or how it would be delivered.

Shortly after my twitter conversation, I received an email from baggage claims stating that my luggage had been found and would arrive in Lima by Tuesday. Unfortunately I was leaving early Monday morning, so I responded and explained the situation.

That evening, I showered and changed into my new clothes and we headed out for our city tour at night, including supper.

When we returned to the hotel at about 10pm that evening the girls at the front desk were excited to tell me that my luggage had arrived while we were out.

Phew! I wouldn’t be leaving Lima without it. What a relief!

Even better, I went upstairs to my room to check it and sure enough it had arrived with no damage and everything still packed away nicely.

Despite the fact that I had to take it to the airport again first thing the next morning, I sure was glad to have it back and have clean clothes, of my own!

Free flying

One of the best ways to travel is for free, don’t you agree?

I’ve done it. Earlier this year I used Aeroplan points to fly from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Quito, Ecuador and home from Lima, Peru … for almost free (I had to pay the taxes). The flights would have cost in the vicinity of $1500 and I paid less than $200. Not a bad deal!

On top of that, I was super impressed with the ease of booking my flights online with my points and had no trouble at all locating flight segments that worked for me. I had heard that you might be out of luck if you didn’t book far enough in advance, but I booked only 1-2 months in advance and had no trouble at all.

You can do it too!

I’ll admit, gathering 40 000 – 50 000 points in order to get a free flight out of the country seems a little bit daunting. It may even take years to get there, but don’t give up! For me, I got mine in less than two years which turned into me visiting the Galapagos Islands and Peru!

I signed up for CIBC business bank accounts and a CIBC Aeroplan Visa about two years ago when they were running a joint promotion, offering 20 000 Aeroplan points for a certain combination of CIBC products. It wasn’t without a struggle … but I made it work. I was in the market for a new bank because I was horribly discouraged with the customer service of my previous bank, I needed a new credit card specific for business expenses and I needed to fly to South America (don’t we all need that?).

Of course I was promised the world (meaning my points) and then, after they had all of my information and had set up accounts, they told me that I didn’t qualify because they wouldn’t approve me for a $10 000 line of credit which was one of the qualifiers (yet they continue to up my credit card limit regularly!). Well that wasn’t good enough for me. They had promised the points and I made them follow through … at least with most of them. After appealing the decision and a couple of customer service phone calls, I ended up with 15 000 points. I should have gotten the full 20 000, but I was tired of begging. And, honestly, my new banker wasn’t much better than the bank that I had just left .. but he’s no longer there. Man, I have crappy luck with banks! I just want a banker who cares about me and my business!

My next step was to ensure that every time I could, I collected Aeroplan points. There are loads of offers out there for double points on car rentals, hotels, gas and much more. Many of them don’t apply to me, but I diligently watch for the ones that do. Below are the ones that I found easiest to use, but here is the list from Aeroplan themselves.

– I used my Aeroplan Visa for everything I could that was business related. This included some new equipment purchases (like a new camera) which brought in some big miles!
– I used my Aeroplan Visa in conjunction with my Aeroplan points card while filling up at Esso and got double the points. And, I became a loyal Esso customer. I fill up at the Esso close to my house all the time and keep my eyes open for an Esso wherever I am. If I’m not quite on empty, but I’m close to an Esso, that’s great. I fill up in case I don’t find another one later. I might be a little anal about it, but it gets me double points and I drive an SUV, so that’s about 50 points per fill up! I used to travel out of town 2-3 times a week which meant I was earning 100-150 points each week from this tactic!
– I signed up for a Costco membership when they were offering 1000 Aeroplan points.
– I bought books online from Indigo / Chapters using my Aeroplan points and my Aeroplan Visa in order to double up on the points.
– Add a couple of flights in there – which I try to book with Air Canada and Star Alliance when possible and bam! I’m almost ready to fly again for free now. I have 33 000 miles. Just looking to get to 40 or 50 000 before my next free flight (to South America). Or, maybe I’ll save to 75 000 for free return flights to Hawaii. That might be worth the wait!

One of the best ways to get points is by signing up for a credit product because they often offer large chunks of points all at once. You have to be careful for the annual fees though and decide if it is worth it. For me, the business visa was a good choice despite the annual fee. It was a business expense and I needed a second credit card. It’s not the best choice for everyone.

My experience has fully been with Aeroplan. I decided to stick to one points product and try to get as many as possible rather than splitting them between two different rewards programs. For example, choosing to go for Esso for gas every single time I fill up rather than 1/2 the time at the one that let’s you collect Air Miles and 1/2 the time at Esso. I wanted the most points, the fastest. After all, I had South America as a goal in mind.

Aeroplan is running a deal right now as well where you can transfer your points to a friend (or a friend to you!) for just 1.5 cents per mile. This seems like an ok deal to me if you only need a few hundred miles to get you to a ‘free’ trip. So, you might pay $300 for your flight in the end, but if it was worth $2000 and makes the difference in you going on your dream vacation or not, then it might just be worth it.

Now, Aeroplan is not the only points plan out there, there are lots of them! Aeroplan is just the one that I decided to join.

I also joined West Jet rewards for the times when they have better deals or happen to have a better connecting flight. I figure if I’m flying, I might as well be collecting points somewhere! I always check Air Canada options first, but if I can find a flight that is cheaper by several hundred dollars, I’m still going to save money where I can! It’ll take me a really long time to get enough West Jet points, but someday maybe I’ll have enough for a free short-haul! In the end though, West Jet doesn’t fly as many places as Air Canada and I want to see the world!

If you have travel on your mind and you want to enjoy a free flight once in awhile, why not sign up for one of the million plans out there and start collecting to see how fast they add up! My suggestion is pick one and stay loyal! Your points will add up the fastest this way.

Cheers to Free Flying!

PS – This post is in no way endorsed, or paid for by any of the companies listed above. Solely my views and suggestions. Feel free to add your own views and suggestions in the comments section!