The intent was to fly to Seoul, Korea; spend two nights dealing with jet lag; and then take the fast train to Busan for two days; returning to Seoul for a week of eating, shopping, exploring, and otherwise finding the soul of the country.
Best Laid Plans
Although my colleague and I spent a year carefully designing the itinerary, Air Canada had other plans and stepped in to turn our strategy into chaos.
Arriving early at LGA for the Air Canada flight to Toronto, connecting on to Seoul, Korea, we waited at the departure gate for the AC staff to arrive. Other passengers started to fill the area – and suddenly I experienced a growing anxiety. When would check-in start?
Breaking away from watching passengers arrive and fill the available seats, I glanced at the departure gate information board and my cell phone. The board signaled that the flight to Toronto was delayed (no alert from AC on my cell). Checking connecting time in Toronto for Seoul – it was not yet appropriate to panic; however, a small seed of fear had been planted – the Korea itinerary was in jeopardy.
Time passed, along with continuing notices of flight delays to Toronto at the departure gate (still no alert from AC on my cell). As passengers realized that there was no way they were going to make their connecting flights in Toronto, lines in front of the Air Canada Help Desk lengthened. Unfortunately, the number of personnel available to help passengers find alternative routes to their final destinations did not increase; in fact, there were moments when there was no AC staffer to help dozens of stranded passengers. The wait for assistance grew along with a mounting apprehension and realization that the best laid plans were being shattered.
To add insult to injury, AC representatives did not provide explanations to waiting passengers as to the cause(s) for the delay and offered no clue as to when the flight would actually depart. Suggestions that connecting flights in Toronto would be held for passengers were unofficially floated with the expectation that the anxiety level would dissipate and there would not be a riot (no public announcements and no information online).
More people arrived, more notices of delayed flights, fewer and fewer seats became available and new arrivals leaned against the walls, sat on the floor and crowded around the AC departure gate – hoping for news that their flights would depart sooner rather than later.
After hours of delay (without explanation), word leaked out that the flight to Toronto was boarding. Passengers could finally get out of LGA – but what about the connecting flights? AC staff “leaked” “unofficial” assurance to everyone that everything was under control and expedited ground services would be available in Toronto that would get us to departure gates in time to catch connecting flights.
So, finally the Toronto flight departs with a few empty seats – definitely a surprise as scores of people were waiting to get out of LGA. This was a clear demonstration of the inefficiency of the AC employees and inadequate communication system in place –there was no mechanism in place to match seat availability with customer demand.
Let Us Out First (LUOF)
As the plane headed to Toronto – the cabin crew was repeatedly asked for the plan in place to expedite passengers from this flight to their connecting flights. The crew assured passengers that they would be allowed to be the first to disembark and that transportation to the departure gate(s) would speed us through the airport, immigration and security – enabling us to catch our flights.
Call it fake news or a lie, when the flight landed and passengers walked into the airport, there was no transportation available, and no AC employees to ask questions as to the location(s) of departure gate(s) or offers of assistance in getting through immigration and security checks. We were, however, encouraged to RUN! Dash through the very long airport corridors – RUN RUN RUN! “Please let us hop on a motorized cart so that we can make up for lost time.” “NO! You are not going in the direction of the carts and they are prohibited from making a U-turn. Just keep running…we are too busy talking to each other to assist you!”
Running and running, pushing luggage and carrying bags, we scurried as quickly as possible down the very long corridors until we reached immigration and security checks. “Please – let us through! We are trying desperately to get a connecting flight.” Were we expedited through? Of course not!
All through our mad dash through the airport we were encouraged to RUN. “You still have time to make your flight. Hurry! Hurry!”
Finally, we got to the departure gate for the AC flight to Seoul – only to be told that the gates were closed and there was no way we would be able to board. Begging for leniency was a waste of time. The crew was aware of our delayed flight from LGA and all passengers were put on the flight the following day! There never was a chance for us to board the flight. The decision had been made before we left New York. Why we were lied to and encouraged to RUN RUN RUN – when there never was a bit of hope of boarding – continues to be a puzzle.
“What should we do? Can we get to Seoul through another gateway? Where can we find assistance?”
Directed to the AC Help Desk
Exhausted, frustrated and angry that we were never provided with the truth, we headed to the Help Desk where we received both good and bad news (depends on your point of view). AC provided us with vouchers for snacks at the airport ($10 does not buy enough food to be considered a meal), one-night accommodations at a “0” star hotel, r/t transit from the airport to the hotel and return, and $20 for an evening meal (too little to be considered dinner) but not enough to include a beverage and an opportunity to experience a cup of bad coffee and a buffet breakfast.
Premium Economy. What You Get
The next day we headed back to the Toronto airport to catch the flight to Seoul. The premium economy seat is definitely a step up from coach class (the seats and the toilets are larger), but the food (and I use the word very loosely), leaves a lot to be desired. I try to put myself in the role of dietician and nutritionist for an airline catering company and have been totally unable to figure out how they can ruin eggs, fish and beef. Why does the bread have to be stale? What exactly is in the margarine cup? Since the ingredients are not listed, there must be a secret array of chemicals unique to AC that makes the oily spread a unique yellow-orange color. Why are chemicals offered to passengers requesting a Lactose-free meal? Definitely a mystery.
What you do not get willingly – is an extra blanket. As the temperature in the cabin dropped, and the lights dimmed (for sleep time), my colleague requested an additional blanket. Rather than the expected response, “Certainly,” she was reprimanded, “You already have a blanket.” Reluctantly another blanket was provided, but the staffer was clearly not happy with the arrangement.
I tried to use the toilet for Premium Economy Class passengers and an AC employee physically blocked me from access – directing me to the facilities for coach class. (I also got a lecture telling me to use the appropriate toilet and not to use facilities not associated with my class of service). I did try to use the Coach Class toilet – but it was so neglected (wet floors, overpowering smells) that I could not use it.
I was also chastised because I asked that the food tray be removed, prior to the “schedule.” The food presented was so unappetizing that I did not want to stare at it for 30 minutes (and I needed to walk the muscle spasms out of my legs).
Finally arriving at the Seoul, Korea, airport, we find our way to an airport bus and head to our hotel. Fortunately, I emailed the hotel about the AC change in our itinerary, and we were not identified as “no shows.” However, because of AC – we missed the opportunity to spend two nights in Busan and had to revise our travel plans. I never did recover from the stress and jet lag. What continues to haunt me is the lies and callousness of the AC personnel. We did encounter two AC employees who were emphatic and generously provided assistance and support during our ordeal; however, these employees were the exception and not the rule.
There are many airlines that fly to international destinations. Before selecting Air Canada, be sure to check out the competition. The service may not be any better, but at least you will not have to change planes in Canada where USA in-transit visitors are not held in high regard.
© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.