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!

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!

It could only happen to me

The Peru Adventure has kicked off with a bang, as usual. It just wouldn’t be right if I didn’t have problems right from the get go.

Let me start by saying all is well, and all 13 of us are safely united and at Hotel Antigua Miraflores which is lovely and rich in culture. I truly adore the hotel and will write a post about it soon.

We touched down this morning in Lima at 6:34am, one minute ahead of schedule. We headed in through the airport, through immigration and off to get our luggage. Slowly each person found their bag and headed off to customs. Then, there were only a handful of us around and no more luggage coming down the belt. Everyone from my group had their luggage in hand.

Yup, you guessed it, no luggage for Shari. I don’t even think I got pissed off about it. I just simply said ‘that figures’ and went to talk to the lost baggage people. Of course, we have no idea where it got lost. Did it never leave Halifax? Did it not make the switch from the plane in Toronto to the new plane heading to Lima? No one knows.

So, luckily, I have the clothes on my back (although not really appropriate for the 25 degree weather in Lima, my sweater, my rain jacket and all of my camera and electronic gear. I have a toothbrush and deodorant, and a pair of underwear. I’ll NEVER go on a plane again without a change of clothes in my carry-on.

Am I mad? No, not really. It’s not the first time my luggage has been lost. Although, its a really crappy way to start a 15 day photography tour. No idea why everyone else’s luggage from Halifax made it and mine didn’t, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Guess it’s just another test for me.

I do recall saying ‘Well, if they lost it, they pay for it.’ Thankfully I have travel insurance to cover this. I’m insured, so if I could get in touch with any of them, I’d make arrangements to get a claim started.

Problem number 2. Although I have all of my emergency travel insurance contact information, I’m not able to make a collect call from the hotel. Not sure if it isn’t possible or if the person at the front desk doesn’t know how, but right now … I can’t get in touch with Insurance. Both insurance companies I deal with have 1-800 numbers for within Canada or US, but if you are outside US, you have to call collect. Apparently that’s not so easy from here.

When (if) they find my luggage, they’ll send it to my hotel here in Lima, if it is found today or tomorrow. Otherwise, I continue on without it and they’ll send it to catch up with me wherever I may be. Unfortunately, there are limited options for it catching up with me. For example, if I don’t get it by Tuesday, I won’t get it until Friday because there are no airports in the middle of the lake. Go figure!

So, here’s hoping it arrives tomorrow morning. Not to mention the fact that my printed materials for my photo workshops tomorrow are packed in that luggage. I have my power point slide show though, so I’m not in a panic. I just don’t have my fun game for participants and their cheat sheets.

It’s 4:15pm here now. I did some internet research and discovered that I need to dial 809 in order to make a collect call. The operators only speak Spanish though, so I’m glad I spent seven weeks in Dominican Republic learning Spanish this past summer!

I have a claim started and as of 6:30 local time tonight (12 hours after my flight), I can buy up to $100 worth of emergency clothing and toiletries to get me through. So, tonight, I will be doing a little shopping! If my luggage gets returned, I just have a few extra ‘souvenirs’ from Peru. If it doesn’t get returned, I’ll have clean clothes.

Travel Tip 1: Always pack a change of clothes in your carry on!
Travel Tip 2: Never travel without insurance.

Now, I’m off to take some photos of this beautiful hotel that we are staying in so I can post about it. It’s simply lovely.