If you were there; if you were her

I’d difficulty deciding on the topic of my blog this month. My heart goes out to Manchester in the UK, especially to families, relatives and friends of those who were at Ms. Ariana Grande’s concert last May 22. More than one hundred people were injured and 22 were killed in that vicious terrorist attack, including an eight-year-old girl and an off-duty female police officer.

Last Wednesday evening, I had a mixed feeling of warmth and sadness watching on BBC Tony Walsh reading his poem ‘This Is The Place’ as a tribute to Manchester city at vigil. His rendition was defiant and resilient for peace. For me, it means not hating and living in fear; but be hopeful yet stand up for your rights.

So, here I am doing my usual routine on the first day of every month.

Most-stressful departure ever

You’ve certainly heard about flight delays and lack of information at airports that angered passengers. You probably know at least one person who has lost a luggage or whose baggage ended up on the other side of the world. How about long check-in lines that make you nervous about missing your flight? The story below is an addition to the list of disappointing travels.

Maria has been an international traveller for over 30 years and has visited about 40 countries with more than 20 stopovers/transits. Stories and anecdotes about unfortunate travelling were foreign to her until last month. Her Expedia-purchased tickets (Brussels-New York) had a very short transit in Montreal. To her surprise, she and her family couldn’t board Air Canada because they didn’t have a visa for Canada and their US Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) was not enough to get them into this plane for New York.

They didn’t think of getting a Canadian ETA as they were only transit passengers for less than 2 hours; there was no exiting from and entering into the Canadian soil outside the airport; and they were in the same airport flying with the same airline company. It was amazing that Expedia reminded them to get an American ETA when it was obvious they had to as they were going to New York, and which they already had before purchasing the tickets.

After about 10 minutes of talking with the female staff who hadn’t yet told them how they could obtain the Canadian ETA, Maria queried, “So, tell us how we can get this ETA?” She responded, “online.” There was no sign of empathy or willingness to help, so Maria asked, “How long will it take?” “Between 2 and 72 hours,” she said.

Before this, while queueing, another airline/airport staff spent at least 20 minutes looking at their passports and jovially asking them personal and social questions. Consequently, there was less than an hour and a half left before the scheduled take off. Nevertheless, Maria ran around like a lost hen looking for a computer where she could apply for the Canadian ETA. To add to the stress and chaos, the application form had several pages of questions on personal background, travel information and passport details. The next 30 minutes were un-describable: perspiration, unusually fast heartbeat, shaking hands, etc..

With the approved Canadian ETA fresh from the printer, they rushed to the check-in counter. Guess what? It had already closed. More perspiration, stress, etc. There was no Air Canada stand; more panic.. After a quick look around and a few steps here and there, Maria approached a Swiss Airlines’ female ground staff, who quickly rang the boarding area. She then turned to them and said, “Run; you might be able to make it but you couldn’t bring your luggage with you.” Armed only with a piece of paper that had the name and phone number of this considerate staff, Maria jumped queues explaining her situation to everyone (passengers and staff alike) along the way. As the door of the plane closed behind her, she wiped her forehead and face then walked slowly towards the vacant seat.

Unfortunately, one member of her family had to stay behind to look after their 3 suitcases. The only flight for New York that day was through Washington D.C. This family member joined Maria in Manhattan 7 hours later (the Canadian ETA, afterall, was a waste of money and time as far as he was concerned).

Maria has since written to Air Canada and its response is summarized in this paragraph “We sympathize with your situation but respectfully, it is the customer’s responsibility to obtain the proper travel documents. If you could not fly because you required the eTA and did not apply for one, all fare rules associated to your ticket apply. Further information regarding the eTA is available on the Government of Canada website http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/eta.asp.” If you were in their shoes, would you have checked on travel requirements for Canada? (You were only transit passengers for less than 2 hours; there was no exiting from and entering into Canadian soil except at the airport; you were in the same airport flying with the same airline company; and Expedia didn’t mention this to you).

She also brought this joyless experience to the attention of Expedia who, until now, hasn’t responded to her email.

What’s the rationale behind the Canadian eTA for transit passengers of less than 2 hours? If it’s to collect an airport tax, why not do this at the check-in desk or in one of the pre-boarding counters?