I left Charlottetown at 4:45 p.m. en route to Halifax on an Air Canada Dash 8. A mechanical problem with the original plane caused them to substitute a new plane, with a new flight number, and this caused the departure to be a little late. When we arrived in Halifax the ground crew wasn’t ready. And so by the time we hit the gate it was about 5:45 p.m. Just before we deplaned I was told that I needed to see the Customer Service desk about my flight to Boston.
The Customer Service desk had a line-up of about a dozen people, so I continued on into the U.S. connections area. And ran smack dab into a giant closed gate in front of a deserted security checkpoint. I was trapped in some sort of vortex between the U.S. and Canada, and there didn’t seem to be any doors that would take me back from whence I’d come. I cried out. A helpful security guard arrived and told me that customs closes at 6:00 p.m. sharp, that I was out of luck, and I had to walk to the other end of the airport to rebook my flight.
So I headed to the ticket counter, stood in line for 20 minutes, and found out that, indeed, I was stranded in Halifax for the night, rebooked on the first flight out tomorrow morning. They booked me a room at the Airport Hotel, and then went to see if they could fine my bag.
An hour later, it finally emerged that (a) my bag had actually made it all the way to the plane (which is a violation of international law, isn’t it?) and (b) the flight to Boston ended up being cancelled anyway so (c) my bag was waiting down at the other end of the airport.
I hoofed it down to pick up my bag and then headed to the Airport Hotel (yes, it’s actually called the “Airport Hotel”) shuttle. Except that the shuttle was busy being loaded with about 17 dozen senior citizens with 5 giant bags each. So I caught a cab.
At the Airport Hotel they told me that they had no record of my reservation, that Air Canada had made a mistake, and that I’d have to go back to the airport. I tried phoning the Air Canada reservations number to see if they could help, but after an extended debate about whether I should have had my “booking reference number” at hand, I was told that this was “an airport issue” and that I’d have to go back to the airport.
So I went back to the airport. In a shuttle bus filled with happy Newfoundlanders who, earlier in the day, had headed to St. John’s, made it within 10 feet of the runway at the airport there, only to be turned back by weather to Halifax. They were going to the airport liqour store for “provisions.”
Back at the airport I was greeted by the ever-helpful Christine (perhaps the kindest and most helpful Air Canada employee I’ve ever met; she’s also from Newfoundland) and she dropped everything to find me a room somewhere. She finally found a room at the Westin here in downtown Halifax, this time with a real confirmation number, and sent me off with a handshake and thanks for being a gentleman and not losing my cool. This woman deserves an award.
Next onto the “Airporter” shuttle bus and into Halifax. It seems that the Westin is the absolute last stop on the run, so after visting every hotel in both Dartmouth and Halifax we arrived at the Westin about 9:30 p.m. Six hours after leaving home.
I’ve just had a fantastic club sandwich from the hotel’s room service, and I’m scheduled to head back to the airport at 6:30 a.m. for an 8:40 a.m. departure to Boston. I have no faith that will actually happen, but it’s worth a try.
I count myself lucky: the flight I missed because customs was closed was eventually canceled, and not everyone on that flight could get out in the morning because the morning flight filled up quickly. So there was a silver lining.
The irony of all this is that I specifically chose to fly through Halifax because, now that they have U.S. Customs pre-clearance, the trip wound be much faster and absent of the hassles of connecting in Montreal. Oh how wrong I was. Air Canada, the Halifax Airport and the U.S. Customs Service are going to have to work some flex into the system if this is going to work.
Lessons learned: people from Newfoundland are really nice; don’t get angry at Air Canada staff and they’ll warm to you; travel on the east coast in wintertime is always an adventure.
Interestingly enough, Johnny just emailed that Delta has announced direct Charlottetown to Boston flights starting in June. This will provide a complete Air Canada-free solution for getting to Boston, just what Rob was looking for this morning.