How I Got Stranded in Frankfurt

I will generally defend Air Canada. I know this makes me an awful Western Canadian, where hating Air Canada’s a virtual civic duty, but it’s a perfectly adequate airline, it’s part of an extensive network of global carriers, and it doesn’t use “our flight attendants tell jokes!” as a marketing tool.

But I can’t defend what happened to me in Frankfurt last week.

A lot of you saw the Faces of Steve Facebook posts from Frankfurt, Dubai, and an airplane in between the two. Here’s how they came about. My initial flight from Toronto to Frankfurt turned around inside an hour due to a mechanical failure. I will never complain about a flight being aborted for safety reasons: sure, it sucks, but I’d much rather it suck and be safely on the ground than, say, on board a plane whose flaps couldn’t fully extend (which, as it turns out, was the issue). Stuff happens, y’know? Every single flight is a miracle; it’s a wonder more flights aren’t affected by in-air mechanical difficulties. The real problems began in Frankfurt. I’d been seated in 34C – the 34 was deliberate – and was therefore one of the last people off the plane. Those of us with connecting flights were then shepherded to the Air Canada desk, where we were forced to wait up to three hours for information. We had no access to food or drink, or even to water: we were still technically “plane-side.” In Toronto, where some of the airport’s restaurants were still open when our initial flight returned, Air Canada plied us with free food and drink at the departure gate. In Frankfurt I ate a handful of almonds I’d packed in my carry-on.

And so we waited. It took me three hours to get my new itinerary, which had me flying to Dubai by way of Rome (and on an Emirates A380, which was a major win). The agent then scribbled the name of a hotel, the InterCity, on the back of my boarding pass. It took fifteen minutes for my luggage to re-appear; it took almost an hour for the hotel’s shuttle bus to show up and then another fifteen minutes to actually arrive at the InterCity Hotel. At this point I was delirious, but I was also nearing the end of the line.

And then…and then I got to the reception desk and was informed there weren’t any rooms left.

Wait a second: what?

I asked the desk clerk to repeat herself. Turns out Air Canada hadn’t set aside enough rooms for us, and so those of us who were late getting to the hotel were literally turned away. When we asked what we should do, the hotel suggested going back to the airport. The shuttle would leave again in 45 minutes. And would cost €7.

And so I took a deep breath and began making contingency plans. The Sheraton at Frankfurt airport was available – for a cool €391. But the Holiday Inn Frankfurt Airport – North was both available and affordable. The cab ride over cost almost €25; my meal, a surprisingly edible bar pizza, cost another €12 (it later doubled as a surprisingly edible breakfast). I’ll be sending the receipts, along with the cost of the accommodation and the shuttle back to Frankfurt airport the following morning, to Air Canada.

Again, I get it: stuff happens. But last week’s misadventure weren’t a consequence of the technical difficulties that led to the initial delay. Rather, they were the result of gross incompetence by, and apparent indifference from, Air Canada’s Frankfurt staff, who seemed to view us as an inconvenience and who made such basic screw-ups that some of us were literally turned away by the airline’s hotel. Sam lodged a complaint on my behalf, quite literally, while I was in line at Frankfurt. I’ll be following suit if (when?) I’m denied Altitude points because Air Canada rebooked me on non-Star Alliance carriers. No matter what, though, it’s a lot harder for me to defend Air Canada than it was this time last week.

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Gate 69

I’ve flown a lot this year–over 51,000 miles, according to my most recent calculations. Yesterday’s flights from Eugene to San Francisco and from San Francisco to Calgary put me into Air Canada’s top tier program for 2016. By the end of the year I’ll likely get into the program’s third tier, where international lounge access kicks in–not bad, considering I swore I’d stop using Star Alliance carriers for international travel after an Air Canada agent gave my travel agent wrong information that resulted in me not getting status for 2015. Heck, if I hadn’t flown British Airways to the Middle East this winter I’d have an outside shot at Super Elite status.

Anyway. Most of my flying stories are variations of “it was long” or “I’m really glad I’m not flying again for a couple weeks” (like right now: I’m in Calgary till the 24th!). Some are minor horror stories. This one’s actually kinda fun. I had what’s known as a “hot” connection yesterday in San Francisco. Actually, this one was so scorching it could’ve been a Steve Simmons column: I had exactly fifteen minutes to make my connection to Calgary. I checked the departures board and saw that I was leaving from Gate 69. I then realized I was at Gate 61; turning around, I realized Gate 69 was the exact same game from which I’d just finished deplaning.

Same gate.

Same plane.

Same crew.

Same seat. 23B. I’m not a superstitious flier, but I usually try and book myself into the right-side aisle seat in either row 14 (for Theoren Fleury) or 23 (Michael Jordan). It hasn’t failed me yet. And so fifteen minutes after leaving flight 6400 I walked onto flight 6348 and assumed the exact same seat I’d just vacated. Three hours later I was in my apartment. Moreover, the baggage handlers took my luggage off the plane, looked at the tag, and put it right back on. It was waiting for me after I cleared customs.

Tomorrow’s flying story, which is actually less about flying and more about a gawdawful rewards program, isn’t a good one. This one is, and it made me smile.