O Bag, Where Art Thou?

Right. So. It’s 23;57 PDT. According to my body, it’s something like 07:57 BST. I have been up, more or less continously, since 04:30 BST yesterday and, after 22+ hours of non-stop traveling, have been home now for about four hours. You would think that, after five weeks away, I’d be happy to be home — and I am. I don’t think I was ever so happy to be in Toronto as I was when the main mounts kissed the runway at CYYZ this afternoon. Not that I didn’t enjoy being away, mind, but it was just so nice to be back. Granted, I’ve had a bit of reverse-culture shock, again, as I try to process why everyone sounds so funny and why the selection of chips, chocolate, and magazines sucks.

I was also happy because I was coming off a series of entirely pleasant experiences with Air Canada. This is my first contact with the newly-reorganized and newly-focused Air Canada, so I was a little curious to see how they were doing in the customer service department. And everyone was great — they were nice, they were helpful, they didn’t hassle me.. what more do you want?

Well, maybe one thing.

Like, perhaps, my fucking bags.

I honestly don’t know what it is. Air Canada and its partners and various operating subsidiaries, be they Zip, Tango, or Jazz, cannot for the life of them ever seem to get my bags from Calgary to Victoria. Ever. I cannot recall a single instance in the past decade that I’ve flown back from Calgary on ACA and had my bags arrive with me, unless I was flying direct, and even that was dicey. What’s truly infuriating about this particular episode is a whole combination of factors: the fact that I was flying on a business class ticket from London (aside: international Executive First totally rocks, you must do it sometime), that my bags were tagged priority (which apparently meant something in Toronto before Customs but on the other side of the country, not so much), that although late into Calgary because of weather the departure out of Calgary was late for the same reason, and, as if that weren’t enough, we were doubly late departing Calgary because they had to finish loading bags on the aircraft.

Seriously. ACA121 landed at CYYC at 17:00, about 30 minutes late. ACA8555 wasn’t scheduled to depart until 17:50. It was enough time to get a few things accomplished in the terminal, and then mosey on over to the gate where we waited for 20 minutes for the weather hold to be released. By the time we were on board, it was 18:10 or so. The throwers loaded baggage for another 15 minutes as an announced delay. Nobody came running over to the aircraft with a last minute bag; they just had a big trolley full of suitcases and were leisurely flinging them into the back of the CRJ. Mine were apparently not among them. They closed the cargo doors and we pushed back, 40 minutes late, at 18:30.

Let’s review here. A ground crew has an hour and a half to move two bags a grand total of about 100 meters (the distance between A15 and A17 at CYYC) but somehow cannot accomplish this task. What I want to know is this:

  • What the hell were they doing?
  • What’s so goddamn complicated?
  • What’s it going to take for me to leave Calgary with bags?

Now, in fairness, ramp operations stop when thunderstorms roll through the area so that helped slow things down a lot. But that said, it’s not like they’d stopped ramp operations when ACA121 landed (indeed, they were busy pulling bags off of it right quick), and it’s not like baggage sorting operations inside the terminal get suspended because of the thunderstorms, though for a variety of reasons relating the blackness of my mood right now I totally wouldn’t be shocked it they were. So what I can figure is that someone pulled my bags off ACA121 and then either (a) sent them somewhere they shouldn’t have gone (i.e., onto the belt into the terminal) or (b) set them down somewhere and just didn’t care enough to pick them up again.

Cynically I can understand why this might happen. It’s not like anyone connects out of Victoria, except maybe to Seattle, so it’s not like there’s any great need to get a person’s bag there immediately; you can, after all, always send it later. To somewhere like Vancouver, it’s a different story — someone might be going somewhere else. Victoria, though, is at the end of the line; anyone going there is either going home or will be in the area for a while, so there isn’t as much pressure to fix problems as there might otherwise be. But that’s hardly a positive way to run an airline, and, moreover, it’s bloody fucking rude. ACA was guilty of doing this a lot with the commuter flights from Vancouver, cancelling them on an almost arbitrary basis if they didn’t think they had enough passengers to meet the break-even point on the run; since there were 8+/day, and the wait was never more than an hour or two, and you wouldn’t fuck up anyone’s onward travel plans in any meaningful way that you’d be forced to reimburse or remedy, why not reschedule flights to suit your needs? (I have no idea whether they still do this, but I wouldn’t be surprised.) It happened to me a couple of times and then I quit flying ACA and its subsidiaries and went to WJA (which, in all fairness, has its own problems and annoyances; it’s also worth noting that even with the flight cancellations ACA still couldn’t get my bags onto the right plane at the right time).

Part of me wants to e-mail ACA and demand answers, but I know in my heart it won’t get me anywhere useful. They screwed up with my baggage on the outbound leg, too, by tossing it on a different plane (CYYC-EGLL rather than CYYC-CYYZ-EGLL) and thus ensuring that my bag made it to Britain before I did. The fact that that error was theoretically in my favor does not make it any more excusable — that’s not the point. “Bag on same plane as passenger” is not a complex thing to deal with, nor is it a concept that requires a great deal of effort on the part of an airline. Indeed, I might consider this to be one of the core functions of an airline, but I’m weird that way.

The Big Book of British Airports

It’s currently 23:00 on the nose, in whatever timezone EGLL is in and whatever its name is at the moment. I’ve been here for about two hours now, an hour of which was spent loitering in the baggage claims area waiting for my bag to show up (it didn’t). I couldn’t believe that, despite 3+ hour connection times in both Calgary and Toronto, Air Canada still managed some heretofore unknown level of incompetence by losing my bag. Except, not so much. As I was going through the process of filing the report (the “hey, jackasses” report, in the parlance of the trade), I noticed that my bag was lying off to the side, waiting for me. “Oh, it came in on an earlier flight,” the Guy Behind The Counter said. How I’m not sure. I thought one of the tenets of air travel security these days was that bags had to accompany passengers on their aircraft, though I suppose since I had no way of knowing whether the bag would or wouldn’t be on my particular plane the risk was lower than it would have otherwise been.

Heathrow is.. how to put this gently? Not nice. D. told me this earlier in the year and nothing she said could have prepared me for how truly ugly some parts of this airport are. I came into Terminal 3 and am now in Terminal 2 arrivals (thank you, late-night ACA arrival, and early-morning AZA departure, for making it impossible for me to sleep tonight!), and I passed through some seriously decrepit parts of the airport. It’s dingy. It’s dirty. People smoke. Everywhere. Even when they’re not supposed to. (About this, more later.) It’s maddening. But, I don’t have to spend a lot of time here, so that’s nice. Still, of the many airports I’ve been in, I definitely would but this one lower down on the list.

Except.. if you’re a plane nerd, this is heaven on earth. True, you won’t see a lot of variety in the types of aircraft, but the airlines! Oh my. Where else are you going to come face-to-face with a fabled Emirates 747-400 parked next to a Virgin Atlantic A340 (“4 engines 4 long haul”) next to a Royal Saudi 767 next to United next to.. maybe KJFK. I dunno. I’ve never been there. But the glimpses out the windows as I walked into the terminal were tantalizing!

I’m sending this on an Internet cafe-esque terminal in the T2 arrivals area. It’s being sent by e-mail because, for some inexplicable reason, it thinks that the LJ update form contains too many banned terms. I’ve never posted by e-mail before, so let’s hope this works.

And let’s hope I get some rest tonight, here on the ugly carpet of T2 Arrivals, because I’m going to be a damned zombie tomorrow if I don’t. Istanbul, here I come.

Morning glory

I woke up around 5:35 EDT somewhere over Lake Huron, after two hours of fitful sleep. It had been fitful, thanks to some loud girls two rows behind me, and because in spite of the added legroom and assroom, there’s something uncomfortable about the J seats on an Air Canada-configured A321 that makes sleeping difficult. The climate control system had run away on us overnight, leading to a moment where I woke up soaked with sweat, and another where I realized I was freezing cold. But it didn’t matter: 5:35, heading east-southeast over the Great Lakes, and the sun was coming up, peeking its way above the cloud deck hanging out around 20,000. It teased us for a while, the top of the disc popping up above the clouds as we traded altitude and angle and it rose in the sky. And then, as we left FL350, it finally rose, exploding in the cabin like a fireball, bathing everyone and everything in its brilliant red light.

Morning in the air — beautiful, even on two hours of (bad) sleep.

Climbout from Calgary was… interesting. I’d never before seen a thunderstorm from 9,000 feet, never mind been in one, and the lightning strobed all around us. Sitting on the ramp at CYYC, at the departure end of 34, I looked out the window at the city, lit in the glare of God’s own flashgun, a dozen within the space of about a minute. I wondered about the turbulance on climb, whether this would be the rollercoaster ride to end all rollercoaster rides, with thermal currents and microbursts and downdrafts and all the other meteorological phenomena hated by pilots… and it actually turned out to be pretty benign, much better than the WJA flight I took last month that was bumpy as all hell going into the same airport on final. A couple of ripples, a few nice thumps, but that was it. By the time we hit the flight levels, the storm was below and behind us.

The flight itself was OK. The service was suitably fawning and the food was surprisingly good, though I think whoever makes the menus at Air Canada should seriously reconsider putting noodles on a guy’s plate in mid-air. I’m not sure there’s an elegant way to eat fat noodles in an airplane, and it doesn’t help that my brain defaults to, “duh, slurp ’em,” which works in Shinjuku, but not in this part of the world. But whatever. I somehow managed to not make a mess, and figured out how my seat worked, and how to make the massage function work properly (result: about as well as any in-chair massage system you’ve ever used, meaning, of course, “not that well”). I think that’s about all that’s worth writing home about. The A321 is, of course, a hilariously uninspiring aircraft from a company with a hilariously uninspiring name that, in the process, manages to capture most of what’s wrong with commercial aviation today. Airbus?? Be serious. This is not a bus in the air, this is a damn airplane. Show a little respect for the thing. You don’t get to see sunrises over Lake Huron at 35,000 feet in a bus.