Thunder, lightning and the best laid plans

You probably expected this post to be sent from Banjul, the Gambia.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  Instead, I am writing this from the airport in Montreal, where I am huddled in a quiet corner, utterly exhausted.

I left Ottawa yesterday afternoon, as planned, to connect to my flight to Brussels via Montreal.  But it wasn’t meant to be.


We got on the plane and were told shortly after settling in that we would be departing late, as a lightning storm had led to the closure of Montreal’s Trudeau Airport.  When I asked about my connection to Brussels, the flight attendant advised there should be no issue, as no one was flying out of Montreal during the storm.  Reassured, I settled in and waited.

Once we got permission to depart, the short flight to Montreal was uneventful.  Upon arrival, I got ready to sprint to my gate.  But an announcement told us we had to remain

Air Canada at its best…

seated unless we were travelling on to Paris.  Those passengers were asked to deplane in a hurry to catch their flight.  After the Paris-bound travellers had left, I got back into the starting blocks for my sprint to the gate.  As I made my way down the aisle, another announcement came over the speakers.  “Passengers travelling to Munich, Frankfurt, Brussels, your flights have departed.  Please see the agent at the gate.”  Too bad, I thought, but no problem.  We’ll sort something out.

Airline counter lineup.

I quickly made my way to the ticket counter (well, as quickly as I could given I had received incorrect information and went to two wrong places before arriving where I was really meant to go).  Here, the Air Canada employee informed me that he would be booking me on the same flight tomorrow.  I explained that I had another connection to make in Brussels tomorrow and asked for options to fly out that evening.  I was told that all flights to Europe had departed.  I later learned that this was not really the case – only Air Canada partner flights had departed, but Air France had an 11:00 p.m flight to Paris.  Air Canada, who is not a partner with Air France, just chose not to inform me about that option.

A helpful Air Canada employee.

I asked about my remaining itinerary, but was told that since it had been booked separately, it didn’t concern Air Canada.  My luggage had been checked through to Banjul, but apparently that didn’t mean anything.  Air Canada claimed that their responsibility ended in Brussels and they would get me there a day later.  My explanation of what I planned to do in Banjul and why was of absolutely no concern or interest to the agent, nor to his supervisor, who also showed no compassion for my plight.  When I asked what alternatives I had to get from Brussels to Banjul, I was again told that their contract with me ended in Brussels.  My argument that said contract was also supposed to get me there on June 21, not 22, was coldly dismissed.

Since I had left my cell phone at home, I asked if the agent could check his computer as a courtesy to see if Brussels Airlines had availability on its flight to Banjul the day after my original booking.  This is where the news went from bad to worse.  There was no flight the following day.  What else could go wrong?  Oh yeah, the flights on the three subsequent days were completely booked.

I was already quite tired before my departure, as I had been busy getting ready for the trip and finishing a few things at work.  But now I suddenly felt exhausted.  What’s more, I thought of the commitment I had made to people, of all the people who had supported me, of the months of preparation.  My ticket was non-refundable and spending a few thousand dollars to buy a new one seemed like the only possibility to get to Banjul from Brussels.  I was so disappointed, I started to cry.

The shuttle driver taking me to the airport hotel was a kind man who saw how upset I was and told me about the Air France option.  I needed a phone to talk to someone at Brussels Airlines to see what could be done.  Change my flight there or try to get on the Air France flight to Paris.  I checked into my room and the phone marathon started.  Brussels Airlines had no options for me, but suggested I call Expedia, the company through which I had booked.  At least this woman sounded like a human being, in stark contrast to the two Air Canada employees with whom I had dealt at the counter.

It was now nearly 9:30 p.m.  I explained my dilemma to Dante, the agent at Expedia.  He committed to helping me as best he could and explained he would first call Air Canada to see what could be done.  But calling Air Canada is not as easy as it sounds.  We were on hold for 25 minutes, listening to canned music and occasionally hearing a recorded voice thanking us for our patience.  Once an agent was reached, the Paris option was denied and no other options were offered.  We now started searching for other ways to get from Brussels to Banjul.  After investigating many routes and finding only options that cost more than two times the original ticket cost, I was beginning to lose hope.  But finally, Dante found a flight with Royal Air Maroc.  For an additional cost of approximately $800 over and above the ticket I had already purchased, it will take me via a routing that is anything but direct.  The routing also includes a few destinations I haven’t even heard of, but it will get me there – 1.5 days later than planned.  Ok, no problem – who needs rest and a chance to acclimatize and adjust to the time change before running across an entire country anyway? I’ll also have to leave a day sooner, which throws my well laid out plans to meet up with Marc in Europe after the run over board, but I’ll adjust.

But as the agent started to cancel the ticket, he noticed that I had done an on-line check in from Ottawa.  That meant that he couldn’t cancel the ticket.  It was now about midnight and I couldn’t believe we were back to square one.  The agent heard the desperation in my voice when I said “Oh, no!” and promptly committed to helping me.  He asked if he could put me on hold to try and find a way to fix this.  He promised to come back on the line soon and to have this all sorted out.  I hung my hope on these words!  And he came through!

Travelers comfortably resting in an airport.

At around 1:00 a.m., the new flights were booked and charged to my credit card.  After the emotional roller coaster of the past few hours, I fell into bed exhausted.  I have now spent hours hanging out at Montreal airport.  Since the airport’s Wi-Fi system is a bit wonky, having to write this blog twice has helped kill some time (yes, I lost the first draft just after completing it).  Three more hours until my new flight to Brussels is supposed to depart. Here’s hoping take two will be smoother than my first attempt to get to Banjul!

When I arrive at 2:30 a.m. I will get a couple of hours of sleep before we have to make the journey by car to Koina. This drive should take us all day. Then it’ll be time to run. Don’t expect anything quick, as I will be stiff and tired and will have to shake the rust and jet lag off first. But I will run 30 kilometers on Monday, and then again on Tuesday, Wednesday….

Thanks to all of you who sent well wishes before my departure. While Air Canada is clearly no supporter of Love4Gambia, I know I have people all over the globe cheering me on and rooting for me. Thanks to all of you for your support!

Lots of love from Montreal (and hopefully soon from Banjul!)


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15 Responses to Thunder, lightning and the best laid plans

  1. Richelle Miller says:

    Oh Andrea, the airline shafu is really heart breaking. I certainly know how you feel about being exhausted in the airport mess. I am hoping the rest of your flights will be smooth so you can go ahead and start your dream, “Love4 Gambia” will prevail!

  2. Patrick J says:

    Good luck Andrea, we’re all cheering for you. You’re first leg of the marathon was Air Canada, after that bureaucracy, the running will be a walk in the park (no pun intended).

  3. Amit says:

    Keep going Andrea. We love you. Amit and Neepa

  4. Darin Bentley says:

    Hey Andrea that sounds like an absolute nightmare. I’m glad it worked out in the end. It’s too bad you were basically forced to buy another ticket but it will all be worth it when you see the faces of those you’re helping. We’re cheering you on!!


  5. Cathy says:

    OH Andrea…..this is a horror….I will do my bit from this end and try and rally anyone and everyone I can to get that $800 covered by a generous donor. Don’t worry about a thing once you arrive in Banjul International Airport, Kebba and Pa will treat you like the hero you are. SO so much positive love and energy your way!!!! -Cathy

    PS: Maybe you should do a youtube song like the United Guitars guy…United breaks guitars but Air Canada can’t break your spirit! ha ha!!!

  6. Julie Kristof says:

    Oh man, I wish we had known you were here in Montreal! You could have at least stayed at our place and made phone calls from here! I’m glad to hear that you’re on your way again. Your spirit, courage and optimism are inspiring!!

  7. Allyson Chisnall says:

    @Cathy, if we want to help with the extra ticket cost how can we do so? Let me know. Thanks

  8. Pa Modou says:

    That was some bad experience after all the plans, there is a local saying that says “Bad or unfortunate thngs happen to give way to good things” so am sure that will be the only bad experience, we will be at the airport to meet u and welcome u to the smiling coast of Africa

  9. Barb Mitchell says:

    Andrea, what a disappointing start – our national Airline should be ashamed of themselves and as an advisory board member I will be certainly letting them know about this. As one loyal supporter said above – the first leg of your marathon was Air Canada – shouldn’t be that way but things can only get better now that you are on your way! We all look forward to more updates but your attitude is amazing so get some rest and good fortune will follow…

  10. andreamoritz says:

    A big thanks to all of you for the messages of support during the Air Canada ordeal. I am now in Casablanca and can smell the”finish line” in Banjul. And I am afraid after the long trip everyone in Banjul can also smell me all the way from Morocco ;-). Stay tuned for an update about my arrival tomorow once my batteries and those of my iPad are recharged!

  11. Erin Poirier says:

    What a time. We left for Basse the morning after arriving and started running the next day. The amazing spirit of the road will carry you well. Enjoy my boys Pa, Kebba and Spider and take good care of them for me. Xoxo

  12. Megan Aston says:

    Hang in there Andrea! A similar thing happened a few years ago to a bunch of youth traveling with NSGA to Banjul. A brief one hour window of bad weather cancelled their plane (Air Canada) and delayed their trip by a day. Very disappointing at the time, but when they finally arrived… it was all worth it! You are almost there!! Hope you are able to rest a bit on the plane. Look forward to your next blog. We will be running with you in spirit. Megan

  13. Heather, Zoe, Dante, Hans says:

    Wow, what a start, we can’t wait for the update. Glad to hear that you finally got in the air.

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