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
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.
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.
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!
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!)