We had a quiet Christmas at home, and then flew out to the coast to surprise Mom on her birthday. She is in her 80s, and her health has begun to slide in the past few months, so we wanted to do this before all we could do was regret not doing it.
Even though I booked the tickets a couple of months ago, I could only find a handful of flights to and from Victoria. The two best (and only moderately obscene in price) were a flight that left Winnipeg at what-the-fuck o'clock in the morning, and a return flight at noon the following Tuesday. Westjet either had flights at really inconvenient times, or flights that departed at a reasonable time, but took 8 hours because they had stops in Regina/Calgary/Vancouver or Saskatoon/Edmonton/Vancouver. Also, the flights were painfully expensive on both airlines.
Normally I prefer to fly on Westjet because they have given me fewer problems over the years, but I went with AC because of the timing. When I looked at how much we were spending, I realized I could upgrade us to business for about the cost of what our checked luggage would be (which is free for business class), so I decided to treat us for the flight. I have not flown business class since the mid-90s, so I wasn't sure what to expect. We discovered that they still give you meals in business, and the quality has improved a great deal since the 90s. The food was not just passable, but really good.
Unfortunately, the meals were the highlight of the trip.
The first hiccough occurred when we were getting ready to go through security in Winnipeg. We had our boarding passes on our phones, but when we got to the kiosk, we discovered that atara could check us both in with her phone, so I just jammed temporarily mine into the front pocket of my hoodie (or bunny hug as they call them in Saskatchewan. I don't know why I bothered to add this bit of trivia except that I love that name for it.). Just before we put our luggage on the conveyor, we removed our winter outerwear and stuffed it into our checked bags so that we would not have to deal with it on the plane. In retrospect that turned out to be unnecessary because the flight crews had a coat check on the plane. It was only when we were standing in line at security that I realized I'd left my phone in my hoodie when I stuffed it into my suitcase. Fortunately I had my Surface and iPod in my carry-on, so I was not terribly concerned about it.
When we boarded the plane in Winnipeg, the flow of passengers boarding the plane trickled to a halt shortly after we were seated. There was no word from the flight crew for the next 30 minutes while we sat there at the gate and fiddled with what electronics we had remembered not to stuff into our checked luggage. We learned that there was a mechanical problem with the plane when atara overheard the flight attendants talking on the phone with the gate agents. All told, by the time they got the issue resolved, finished boarding the plane, and got through the line for de-icing, we were about an hour and fifteen minutes late getting into the air.
We were scheduled for a 90-minute layover in Vancouver, so we knew it would be tight at the other end. The plane made up time on the flight, and since we were at the front we were some of the first ones off. We jogged to the departure gate of our next flight, and got there with fifteen minutes to spare. We noted that our flight was a half-hour delayed anyway, so it seemed to be working out in our favour. While we were waiting, it managed to accrue another half hour of delay, and they started announcing that the next flight had been cancelled. By the state of the departure lounge, it was clear that they were having a bit of a challenge getting flights out to Victoria.
When we went to board our plane to Victoria, Air Canada dropped another fun bombshell on us.
"There's someone else in these seats."
Apparently when they noticed that our flight out of Winnipeg was delayed, they pulled all of the Winnipeg passengers heading to Victoria (at least a dozen of us) off of the 9:00 flight and put us on the 10:00 flight.
The flight that they had been announcing the cancellation of from the moment we'd arrived at the lounge. Apparently, they had sent me a text message about it while we were in the air, but my phone was in my checked luggage, so it did not do us a lot of good. It looked like most of the other Victoria passengers from our flight were also caught by surprise. We checked with their service desk, and it seems that while we had been waiting to board, they had filled up the next couple of flights with all the other folks who had been on the cancelled 10:00 flight. By this point it was getting on toward 10:30, and he wasn't sure what he could do to accommodate us. He gave us a couple of $10 meal vouchers and told us to come back at around 11:30 and he'd see what he could do. We'd been fed on the plane, and neither of us were especially hungry, so we walked most of the way to the other end of the airport, and then returned and hung out in the departure lounge until 11:30.
"Good news! I've managed to get you two seats on the 12:30 flight. You won't be sitting together though."
We assured him that we were not too concerned about being separated for a 20-minute flight, and we took our new boarding passes. The flight was late arriving, but we sat at the end of the lounge by the departure gate and watched them unload the luggage from the inbound flight, then pull up and begin loading. We relaxed a bit when we saw our bags loaded into the back of the Dash 8.
Then the grounds crew began milling about, and a couple of technicians began fiddling with the plane. The process went on for some time until one of them came up to the departure lounge and spoke with the gate agent. She told us that they had found a problem with the plane and were sending off for a replacement part. She promised us that the delay would probably be about half an hour at most. About fifteen minutes later the technicians returned, and we saw them fiddling around in the cockpit of the plane. After a few minutes of this, they came out and spoke with the ground crew.
The ground crew considered what they'd said, and then began unloading the luggage again.
We were not the only ones who had noticed what was transpiring because a few others in the lounge spotted it, checked their phones, and then made a beeline to the gate agent because AC's website had just marked the flight as cancelled. The gate agent went into damage-control mode.
"As some of you have noticed, the web site is showing this flight as cancelled. Please don't leave the gate area yet as we are trying to arrange a replacement plane for this flight." A good number of people left the gate area and headed over to the service desk to lodge their complaints, but we stuck around until she came back on about five minutes later and said, "Never mind, it's cancelled. Please talk to the service desk to make alternate arrangements."
When we got to the service desk, there were nine people in front of us (I counted). Almost as soon as we got there, I overheard one of the agents say, "We can take seven more and that's it." Great.
When we finally got to the front, the service agent spent a very long time hammering keys before she said, "OK! I've got you on standby for the 14:30 and 15:30 flights. We might be able to get one of you on one of those flights. I've got you seats on the 17:30 flight for sure." We tried to be polite with her because the problems were not her fault, but we were a bit pointed with her when we asked about the odds of the 17:30 flight being cancelled, given we'd had three flights pulled out from under us already.
I also pointed out that even if we did not get bumped from, or have the 17:30 flight cancelled, we could hop in a cab to the ferry and be at our hotel before that flight even arrived. We'd been planning to do some shopping in Victoria - which is why we'd left Winnipeg so early - but it was already shot by by now. She offered us a taxi chit that would get us to the ferry (we'd be on our own after that), and gave us the number to call after our trip to get reimbursed for the Victoria flight. Then she instructed us to collect our bags at carousel number four.
We got to the carousel and split up. Her instructions had been a bit vague. atara took them to mean that we should wait for our bags to arrive on the carousel, but I had a hunch she'd meant for us to speak with the baggage agents there. She went to the carousel, and I got in line to speak with a baggage agent. It is just as well I did, because there really had not been a plan on her part beyond telling us to head up there. When I spoke with the agent, he said that it would probably take a couple of hours to get our bags up there (they had hundreds of them set aside because of all the cancellations), and that we would likely miss a sailing or two if we waited around for them. He took down the details of where we were saying, and promised that they would be forwarded to us there later in the day.
We made the ferry where my brother (who had also come out from Calgary to surprise Mom) met us on the Victoria side and drove us to the airport to pick up our rental car. The agents there had been very understanding, and held the car an additional 8 hours for us past when we had booked ourselves to pick it up. It was a bit awkward for us because even though Victoria is a much warmer clime than Winnipeg, it is winter there. We had a light jacket between the two of us (I'd kept that out of my checked luggage because I suspected we would probably be boarding on the tarmac in Vancouver). I let atara have my jacket because I deal with the cold a little better than she does, but that left me with just a long-sleeved shirt that I had donned for the flight because it has pockets.
Our bags did not arrive later in the day.
We surprised Mom with dinner, and then got back to our hotel to a disturbing lack of luggage. The hotel gave us some emergency toothbrushes, toothpaste, a hairbrush for atara, and the worlds worst disposable razor and shaving cream for me. No, really, this razor was awful. Cruel. It made no pretence of cutting through stubble, rather, it's blades had a special gripping action that pulled the hairs out by their roots. That was far and away the worst shaving experience of my life. Also, the bristles of the emergency toothbrushes were coming off in our mouths as we brushed. Definitely not keepers.
When we retired to our room, we logged into Air Canada's baggage tracing system to learn the fate of our luggage. Their site showed that it was last seen arriving in Dallas Fort Worth, with an estimated delivery date sometime in the year 2200. atara was beside herself because, among other things, my phone was in our luggage.
Then she had an epiphany.
"Wait, your phone is in your luggage! Let's check your movement history in Google and see where your phone thinks it is."
We checked, and it showed arriving on a Victoria-bound at about 19:00 and being toted to the far end of the airport.
They finally got around to delivering our luggage early the next afternoon. We got tired of waiting and drove up to the airport to pick it up in person. They could not find it there, and they assumed it had gone out for delivery, even though it had not been logged on the delivery sheet. We had passed their courier on the highway going the other direction. As we were leaving the airport again, the hotel called to let us know that our bags had just arrived.
The flight home was uneventful. The dinner in business class was as delicious as the breakfast had been going the other way.