We want to trust and believe in the competence of our travel service providers when we leave home. We embark on journeys for many reasons, not the the least of which is to expand our world view and to learn something. No one expects traveling to go so wrong because of our travel service providers. Traveling goes wrong.
The one thing I’ve learned from this latest trip is not to trust WestJet schedules at face value when booking. I no longer trust WestJet to get it right the first time.
This trip was our first trip since the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdowns.
The day of departure began ‘well’ enough, which may or may not have had something to do with all the planning, the making of lists and other advance preparations.
My anxiety inevitably ramps up on the day of departure.
We had planned for a ride to the airport, not waiting for the last moment to figure out how to get to the airport. We weighed the bags. We had printed all the boarding passes rather than relying on electronic versions. We ensured our vaccine passports were legible. We carefully stowed our nationality passports. We reconfirmed our accommodation in the shadow of Gatwick.
The pall of airport security hassles and general airline silliness still floated on the horizon but we approached it with confidence.
Our eldest daughter took time out of her day to drive us to the airport. We had to be at the airport three hours before the first leg of our journey began to deal with the nuances of a reportedly beleaguered security system, and the projected delays. This is normally when I expect traveling to go wrong.
We had checked in online, printed our boarding passes, and added electronic versions to our apple wallets on our iPhones, but there were still the baggage tags to add, and acceptance of bags by the check-in agent. The young woman who helped us was lovely and personable. While Gail talked to her about possible seat upgrades, I started to worry about timing.
Timing? Weeks after Gail had originally booked the tickets the airline did two things that were making me uncomfortable; 1. They changed the time between connecting flights on the outbound leg of our travels to slightly less than an hour, and 2. they had changed the return flight to come out of Heathrow, rather than the original Gatwick. This was the first real hint that traveling goes wrong.
To clarify; our itinerary had us flying out of Edmonton to Calgary, switching to a connecting flight to Gatwick. Our return flight was from Heathrow to Calgary and after a quick change to a connecting flight, on home to Edmonton.
As Gail wrapped up the conversation with the check-in agent I asked the question about whether the time allowed in Calgary woud have us running from plane to plane and I looked for assurances that the luggage would make the connection. She assured us that the schedulers who put together our itinerary would not have offered it, nor would they have allowed the changes to stand if there was a chance that it could all go wrong.
Famous last words!! I no longer trust WestJet to get it right the first time.
We zipped through the security scans in Edmonton, even though I was traveling with my DJI microlight drone. I have a history of getting stopped at security, but for this trip the only delay was because of the metal content of my Apple Watch. I had dutifully unpacked all the electronic components I carry, including the drone, the batteries, and my computer. It took longer to repack everything into my carry-on than the actual scan took.
And then we waited. The flight was nearly two hours later, but we had taken the advice about security delays. There was no delay. The wait gave us time to have a late lunch at the Belgian Beer Cafe. Then we were loaded onto a DeHaviland Dash 8 propeller-driven commuter plane for the short flight to Calgary.
Once we landed in Calgary, we sat on the tarmac for over 20 minutes while the ground crew was rounded up.
That little bit of a delay had us running, literally running for the plane that would take us to Gatwick. According to my AppleWatch, we had to run 1.25 kilometres from one side of the airport to the other to make our flight. The flight to Gatwick had started boarding while we were still sitting on the tarmac in our Dash8 commuter.
A bit more disconcerting was the fact that there were 30 other people on the flight from Edmonton trying to make the same flight to Gatwick.
I found it unbelievable that the airline made no effort to ease our transition, or even to provide a staff member to provide directions to the correct gate for our next departure.
Think about it. That’s 30 upset customers! What has happened to customer service?
As we sweated our way to the departure gate I rationalized that there was no way the airline would let the plane depart before we got there, and before our luggage got transferred.
I was wrong, so very wrong!
WestJet Airlines didn’t care! They seemed more interested in getting to Gatwick on time!
Does Westjet care?
Don’t trust the WestJet schedulers! As it was, the flight was 45 minutes early, and we circled Gatwick endlessly, finally landing and then again sitting on the tarmac for what seemed like an eternity while the ground crew got ready for us.
I’m sure you guessed it by now. Our luggage didn’t make the flight, nor did the bags of the thirty other people who were with us on the Edmonton>Calgary flight.
Given our arrival time, they could have waited for our luggage!
Good crew on the flight
To be fair, the flight itself was just fine. The plane, a Boeing 787, was comfortable and clean. The crew and their service were excellent. They delivered my gluten free meal requests with panache.
Our seatmates were sociable and quite nice, making the 8 hours in the air bearable. The downside of the flight was the restriction that masks were to be worn at all times that you weren’t eating. Eight hours wearing an N95 mask, which is what Gail and I prefer, is a very tiring exercise. You’re fighting to breathe all the time. Gail took the risk of changing to a lighter mask for part of the flight.
and then it all goes wrong
Standing in the Gatwick baggage-retrieval area watching the bags slide down to the carousel I realized that our bags weren’t there, and probably wouldn’t be. I decided to trot off to the baggage counter to have a chat with the woman attendant and start whatever paperwork was required.
It turns out that as I approached the counter she was just hanging up the phone. She had received notification that the bags for thirty customers on the flight we just arrived on were in Halifax, Nova Scotia!
We fought with our phones on landing in the UK after we had been assured it would be a seamless transition. We finally gave up trying to make a local call to arrange a shuttle pickup, grabbed a cab at Gatwick’s taxi stand and spent the night at The Lawn Guest House in Horley. Peaceful, and drama free.
Not having our two big bags with us did make the train journey to the north easier and more relaxed.
The Westjet client services rep managing the search for our bags had assured us that the bags would catch up with us within a couple of days. She was almost right. It took four days for the two bags to make their way from Halifax to Southport Merseyside where we were destined. They were delivered by a nice guy with DHL couriers, based out of their Preston distribution centre. He gave us a brief overview of the circuitous route the bags had traveled after Westjet screwed up the original transfer and put them on a flight to Halifax.
I no longer trust WestJet to get it right the first time.
International travel with our cellphones is another topic I will explore.