Oct 202008

I know, I have not been posting much lately. Once again, work has been extremely busy with some travel thrown in for good measure. Since my work involves a lot of writing, by the time I have time to write here, I’m just too wrung out to carry on. I do have some things percolating in my mind that I want to get set down, so I’ll to get more posted this evening, and I do owe you a few movie reviews.

I guess the biggest story is my first trip outside the U.S. You got it, I’m 49, and just now have crossed the border. I went to Toronto on business, and must say, I was impressed with the little I got to experience of the city. I stayed in a downtown hotel that was supposedly in an “entertainment district.” There wasn’t much around after about 8:00pm when I got out to find some dinner, but it was clean. I felt safe, and found a nice little gourmet pizza place.

I’d planned to arrive late afternoon to have some time to explore, but apparently there were two conventions going on, so it took nearly an hour to get a cab. However, I was even impressed with the cab. All the airport cabs seemed to be Lincolns. They were clean, and the cabbies were all wearing ties.

The office where my meeting was held the following day was in a busier district, and I wish I’d sprung for the Marriott right beside the office building. If I ever get to go back, I’ll know where to stay. There seems to be a much more relaxed vibe to the city than most U.S. cities of that size. It seemed to permeate everything. The cabby that drove me from the hotel to the meeting site, on learning I’d be going to the airport later, insisted on meeting me at the hotel to take me back. I got a late checkout so I could come back, take a shower and change to casual clothes. Believe it or not, the cabby was right at the hotel door waiting on me when I came down.

As is so often the case though, air travel chaos accompanied me as I headed home last Wednesday (and then into Thursday). I arrived at the Toronto Airport the required two and one-half hours prior to my scheduled 4pm departure. I was on a United ticket, but flying on an Air Canada plane. So, I went up to the Air Canada check-in where I was told that, due to some rain in Chicago, my flight was canceled. Now the lady at this counter directed me to a ticketing counter, but she was very sympathetic and apologetic.

Given that I was on a United Ticket, I went to the United counter where I was met with an entirely different attitude. The United employee was, not surprisingly, not nearly so sympathetic and polite as the Air Canada person. However, she put me on a United flight scheduled to leave at 3pm (an hour earlier). I pre-cleared customs in no time. Even the U.S. Customs agent was friendly and smiling. The difference between Canadian airport security and U.S. airport security theater could not be more stark. There were plenty of agents around, so there was basically no line. While the process of getting through was the same, it went fast, and the people there were friendly, smiling, and even exchanged a few pleasant words. I found the supervisor, distinguished because he was wearing a nicely tailored uniform suit. I told him it was my first time through security in Canada, and that I wished they could teach TSA how to treat passengers. He just smiled and said, “Ah yes, TSA, I’m familiar with them.” 

I get to the gate, and my 3pm flight now seems to show a 4:15 departure, but the display on the message board at the gate seemed a bit confusing. When I asked a gate agent to clarify for me, I was met with a bit of a snark. I was able to use the Maple Leaf Club through my Red Carpet Club membership, and the club and its offerings were far superior to those in a United club. Even the alcohol was free, and the food a slight bit more substantial. Once again, the staff was much more friendly.

About 3:45 I head back to the gate, only to find the departure is now set for 5:15. My flight was not direct, and I had to catch a plane in Chicago at 6:15 Central Time, so I now I was getting a bit nervous. They finally boarded about 5:30, and as we taxied out, the Captain came on to say that our departure window wasn’t until 6:20, but he figured sitting out on the ramp was better than sitting in the terminal…go figure.

We finally took off in Toronto around 6:45. All along, we were assured that the weather in Chicago had resulted in everything being delayed, so we shouldn’t worry about connections. Of course, we arrived in Chicago about 6:30 local time, and there was no Tampa flight showing on the departure screens. I stopped off at an empty United gate desk to ask the guy to confirm that, and I just started getting a raft of shit from him…without me saying a word other than asking about the flight. He even went on to blame this situation on the fact that Air Force One had flown into Michigan or something like that, and it had disrupted travel. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how the “terrible weather” (it had sprinkled rain) had resulted in my flight being so late arriving, but the Tampa flight got off right on time.

The next morning I was scheduled to be on a conference call with our sales director in Chicago, who was going to be in a meeting in Chicago, so I called him and told him, if he wanted to pick me up, I’d just get a later flight, and go to the meeting in person. He happily agreed.

I bypassed the United “Customer Service Counter” which had two agents and a line of about 75 people, and went into the Red Carpet Club. This situation was slightly better there, but there was still a long line. Now you’d think, given that I probably wasn’t the only person who missed the Tampa flight, they’d be pleased that someone would be interested in taking the later flight (instead of the 9:15 flight, which would have kept me from even being in the meeting via a conference call), but you would be wrong.

When it was my turn the lady immediately started talking about how I’d be on the 9:15 flight. I explained to her that wouldn’t work because of a scheduling conflict with a conference call, and said I’d take the afternoon flight. Well, you’d think I had asked her to shoot her own mother. She insisted I couldn’t do that, as she was required to put me on the next available flight. I explained how United had inconvenienced me, and that I didn’t think my request for accommodation was unreasonable. Apparently she did, and of course said it wasn’t United’s fault but the weather. I explained how I wasn’t buying the whole weather thing since the Tampa flight had left right on time. Weather would affect all the flights. I pointed out I knew she would try that excuse to avoid paying for my hotel that night. She started making calls, and I could tell from her end of the conversation that each person told her to book me on that later flight, but she tried three times to find someone to take her side. Eventually, I was booked on a 2:25pm flight the next day, and sent on my way with a hotel and meal voucher.

So, I arrive at the airport in time the next day for the 2:25. I walk up to the gate just before 2:00. The gate agent announces that the plane is inbound and will be at the gate at 2:00, so they are expecting an on-time departure at 2:25. Yeah right! I think anyone that travels knows the plane probably won’t even have everyone off loaded from the inbound flight by 2:25, but OK, it probably means we’ll get off within a reasonable amount of time.

The plane arrives, and the gate agent comes on to announce that there’s a mechanical issue and she’ll give more information in a few minutes. Not five minutes later (which means the airline had made this decision by the time she gave that first announcement) she was back on saying that plane was being taken out of service, but there was another plane they would use for our flight. The bad news (remember, it’s United)…the new plane won’t be arriving until 4:00, so our new departure time is 4:25…yet again, this fallacy that they can de-plane, service and board a plane in 25 minutes.

The plane arrives about 4:45, and we finally take off at about 5:35, so I get to Tampa around 9:30.

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