Thursday morning in Canada. Barbara is making some scrabbled eggs as Grandma and Grandpa McClelland spend some last minute quality time with the boys. As I am organizing our luggage for the day's trip back to China I overhear the following conversation:
"So, when do you get there?"
"Well, we have about 3 and a half hours of lay-overs in total, so we should be there Friday evening China time. A total of 18 hours from start to finish."
"Oh? That's pretty good."
"Yeah, it will be nice."
Well, we made it. We got in on Sunday morning. Instead of 18 hours the trip ended up taking over 36 hours.
There are so many things to consider when evaluating our latest trip back from Canada. So many little, seemingly minute details that would have, if things had worked out smoothly, already been long forgotten. But as the dominoes of the trip fell, I couldn't help but let my thoughts linger on a lot of these simple, little things. Here are a few:
- We booked through a travel agent. The agent gave us flights with Air China and Air Canada. We have had problems with multiple airline itineraries in the past (the infamous Delta/ANA fiasco of 2010) so when I first realized that we'd be dealing with different airlines, I caution flag rose up in my brain.
SIDE NOTE: Both Air Canada and Air China being part of the Star Alliance means nothing to me. There might be something about earning points, but as far as them "working together", this is not true. In the Delta/ANA incident, these 2 airlines were apart of some sort of alliance, but in the end the familiar claim rang true: "Sorry, we are not connected to Delta so we can't look up your infant's ticket in our computers. You'll have to work that out with them. For now, re-purchasing the ticket will be 500 dollars."
- As I said, our trip should have taken 18 hours. This was because of the short layovers we were to have in Vancouver and Beijing. I called the travel agent out on this. We were supposed to arrive in Beijing, get off the plane, go through customs, get our bags, go out and back up to check-in, go through security and make it in time before our gate would close, all within an hour. She said that it was legally enough time and that if we didn't make the flight then the insurance would cover it. I had no problem with the insurance covering it. I did have a problem with booking a flight that I knew almost for certain we would miss. I did not want to spend a night in Beijing.
Short layovers seem great, but they are not. In theory, they are awesome, but when the theory is tested it falls apart at the slightest delay.
Add up all of the signs and I was uneasy going into this trip.
Thursday morning went smoothly until we got to the airport. Flight delayed. The whole trip messed up. We would be 2 hours late getting into Vancouver, thus missing our Beijing flight, thus missing our Xining flight. Game over. We lose.
SIDE NOTE: The kiosks at the check in are cool if you are flying to Ottawa, but when your itinerary has 2 different airlines taking you to the middle of Nowhere, China you want to talk to a human being to make sure things are right. I tried using the Kiosk once, swiped the passports, and after typing in a bunch of info the screen told me to go see an agent.
There are 8 or 9 Kiosks at the Edmonton Airport for Air Canada. When we arrived they were all empty. The line up to talk to an actual person was 30 or 40 people deep. We waited with everyone else while we were slowly filters through the 3 check in agents that were working that busy morning. Every so often I would look over my shoulder at the empty kiosks and cuss under my breathe.
We made it to the front of the line to tell the lady that our trip was screwed and we needed to know what to do next. She dug into the computer, scratched her head, squinted here and there, walked away at one point, and finally returned to tell us to go to the Air Canada Ticket desk to figure things out.
We got to the desk, I handed the man our passports, and he said, "Ah, yes." turned to the worker next to him and asked, "what are we doing about the Gitzels?"
We had already been talked about as "The Gitzels". This made me feel good. Things were happening. They knew about us. We were being worked on.
In the end, he "re-booked" us for the next day. The whole trip was ruined because our layovers were so short and our first flight was delayed by 2 hours because of "crew rest". It seemed like a good idea to just try it all again the next day. He typed things up in the computer and printed us off a paper that had the same flights the next day. He being and Air Canada guy, I asked if the Air China people knew about these changes and he reassured me that they did. I took the paper, we called up Uncle Barry to pick us up, and we were all smiles knowing that the next day we would begin our swift trip back to Xining.
The next morning at check in the man had no idea who we were. After sorting a few things out, he whittled together some computer voodoo and got us tickets for the flight to Vancouver. We were happy until we saw him put "stand-by" tags on our bags. We were on standby. Just for the Vancouver flight, we figured.
At the gate, we waited. The lady, once again, pulled a rabbit out of a hat by offering a first class ticket on the next flight, a 200 dollar food voucher, and 500 dollar coupon for their next flight to a volunteer who would give up their seat for us. I wish I could have volunteered for that.
SIDE NOTE: Does this ever happen to anyone? You are slightly inconvenienced (the next flight for Vancouver was leaving at noon, two hours later) and the airline offers you a basket full of goodies for your troubles. My response to that is WHAT ABOUT ME?!!! I paid for my ticket, the airline said come back tomorrow, and now I'm back. That is the definition of inconvenience. But what do I get? Standby! Standby? With a 3 and 4 year old on our way to the plateau in Western China? Where's my 500 dollar voucher? Reimburse me! Give me something for my troubles!
As we will see, this story if far from over. It turns out that they did give me a voucher, but instead of 500 dollars it was a metaphorical kick to the crotch. "Thank you for flying Air Canada/Air China/ Star Alliance/ Whoever you think we are."
We arrived in Vancouver. After waiting around we finally got to talk to someone at our gate. They were Air Canada people working at the Air China gate. They clicked on the ol' computer to tell us that we were not in their record. They said that the ticket guy in Edmonton just "passed the buck" on to them. We went from being "The Gitzels" to "The Buck".
They were very helpful for as much help as they could offer. We were on standby yet again. They got us 4 seats, all in different places. I said that my 3 and 4 year old will love sitting alone for 11 and a half hours. I hope the people sitting next to them can feed them their meals and wipe their bums when they poop. They said that they would work on shifting things around so that we could all sit together. In the end, they got us 2 and 2.
I raised my frustrations with them, saying how this Air Canada ticket guy really screwed us over. They responded with the ol' "Were not connected to the Air China computers, so his change in the itinerary never would have went through. Plus, this flight has been sold out for months so it's miraculous that we could get on at all." This coming from the Air Canada people working at the Air China gate in Vancouver.
Miraculous? maybe. Want to know another kind of miracle? How about the one were a family of 4 pays for 4 tickets to fly to China and gets screwed over the entire way. What are the odds of that happening? With the Crotch Kick goodie bag to boot!
We get on the flight. The first 5 or 6 hours are manageable. It's the last 5 or 6 hours that really get you. Horrible flight. You feel awful at the end of it. Add to that the fact that we didn't have tickets to Xining yet. The people in Vancouver said that the earliest they could get us Xining tickets for was the 7th. The 7th of August. We would once again be on standby when we got to Beijing, maybe for days. That uneasiness settled down in my stomach. No sleep. knowing that Miles and Jonas would be hard to deal with after an 11 hour flight. It was a tough time.
We get to Beijing at 530pm. We're wiped. Customs goes fine, but one of our bags didn't show up. So, I spend abut 45 minutes at the lost baggage office. We work it our for the bag to get sent to Xining when it shows up.
We worked our way back to Air China's ticket counter and I explain the situation for the 4th time that day. The guy says there are no flights. I ask about getting a flight to Lanzhou, a city close to Xining, and he finds one for 1400 kuai each. I tell him that I'm not paying anything.
"You want to change your ticket for free?"
"Yes. I already paid for it, so you lose zero dollars."
He scratches his head and gets to work on it. I stand in line for about an hour. Finally, he says that he's got us 4 tickets to Xining for later that night. I tell him that I'll buy him a coffee. A few minutes later and he says that those tickets are no longer available. I take back my coffee offer.
Finally, another guy comes over to work on it and he gets us tickets for the next morning, complete with a free hotel stay. Not too bad. It's better than a crotch kick anyways.
The hotel was kind of nice. We got up early and waited for the bus. The bus came and it was full over people and luggage stuffed into the seats. As Barbara and the boys are sitting up front I am busy stuffing our bags into some seats into the back. Suddenly, I hear those golden words of wonder:
"Brett, Jonas just threw up all over me."
I get over there to see Jonas and Barbara covered in the watery puke that Jonas just hurled up. Thankfully, it was mostly water. We wiped it up as best we could and the bus started off. A few minutes later and more watery puke. We were running out of wipes.
Finally, we make it to terminal 2. I get Miles off and stand him next to our bags as I rush on to get the rest of our bags. Barbara carries Jonas off of the bus just in time to see Miles puke chunks all over the pavement. I get the bags and we're off.
Terminal 2 in Beijing is a nightmare. It's hot and crowded all of the time. We locate our flight and go to check in. I hand the lady my stamped paper, on which says MU 8567, Terminal 2, 4 people. She looked at it, typed a bit in her computer, stood up and said:
"Sorry sir, but this flight is not with China Eastern (MU) but with China Southern (HU) in terminal 1."
"No, you're wrong. It says "MU" not "HU" and "terminal 2" not "terminal 1". I just saw it on the screen over there. Look again."
She looks again and discovers that I am right. That the paper I gave her actually meant what it said on it. After another 20 minutes of typing and Jonas tossing up another bucket full into a plant pot nearby, we get our boarding passes. The miracle upon miracle. Success!
As we are waiting at the security check Miles tosses once more into a garbage can. We make it through with plenty of time to spare, so we stop for some noodles. Miles eats a bunch, and from that point on he was fine.
Jonas had to puke again so I took him out of the restaurant and stood him next to another plant that sat right next to the walkway. Jonas exploded with 3 good waterings. The plants were real, so I bet he was good for them. During his first deposit the water dripped off of the leaves and back onto his shorts and shoes. So each time he tossed I moved him to a new leave to puke on. People passed by on the walkway all the while.
I think that they were puking out of pure exhaustion.
For some reason, I have no problem with my kid puking all over the Bejing airport. Seems normal to me. I mean, the people are already staring at my kids, so he might as well put on a show for them.
I wonder how long it will take them to figure out that there is watery puke in 2 of their plants. Weeks? Months?
We got on board the flight and made it back to Xining on Sunday morning at 11am.
There is something to be said about how happy we were when it was all over. We were tired, sick, and very happy.
I'll never forget the face of the guy in Edmonton. The one who put us on standby all the way to Xining. I understand that he was busy that day. I know that he can make mistakes. I just don't understand how you can knowingly send a couple with 2 small children on such a dreadful trip. Does he realize how awful his quick fix worked? Could there have been a better way to handle the situation? Maybe offer to rebook when actual tickets become available? I understand that he's just a guy trying to do his job. And hopefully my anger and annoyance with him wears down by the time I return to Edmonton so that I don't have to kick him in the junk. Boy, would I love to let him have it right about now.
All things considered, the boys did amazing on the trip. At the end of the Vancouver flight the stewardess gave her usual announcements followed by, "We hope that you enjoyed your flight." Miles turned to Barbara and said, "I did enjoy my flight because they had good kid shows to watch."
And just now, I noticed that Jonas had fallen asleep on the couch. After a month of traveling around Canada and 3 days of traveling around the world, he's tuckered out. I took him to bed and he stirred as I took off his shirt for him. He sat up, eyes glazed over and said, "Where are we going?"
"Nowhere, buddy. We don't have to go anywhere for a while. You just get some sleep."
My math was way off. Thursday morning to Saturday night Canada time is a total of over 60 hours or travel, not 36. Forgot about that extra day.