There and Back Again

Or, My Trip Home from Home; or My Trip to Everywhere and Nowhere

So I went to Kelowna yesterday.  I got within several hundred vertical feet of the city.  Twice.  But I never deplaned.

Make yourself comfortable and listen to my tale.  Join us, as Olivia and I  go on an harrowing adventure through the airports and skyways of western Canada. 

(This is a long post, and this first bit is just preliminary.  The more interesting stuff starts at the bold text reading “The flight from Calgary to Kelowna left on time”.  Feel free to skip there if you wish.)

In December, I had booked tickets for Olivia and I to fly out to Kelowna for a couple of days to visit my parents and my brother and sister-in-law and their kids.  I booked the trip from January 14 to January 20.  After booking the flights, Luke’s ear and tonsil/adenoid surgery was rescheduled for January 19 and some important meetings at the church were arranged for the same day.  So I shaved a day off of the trip, planning to return on Jan. 18, so I could be around for the surgery and the meeting.

So, after lunch on Wednesday, I packed up the car and Olivia and I drove down to Saskatoon.  I parked in long-term parking at the airport, almost as far from the terminal as was possible.  In -37*C, I walked to the terminal, backpack on my back, Olivia in one arm, dragging a suitcase with the other.

Our flight was delayed about 20 minutes, so we sat down and had a snack while watching planes come and go.  Earlier that morning, Dixie’s mom had said that flights to Kelowna were being cancelled because of fog, but that was early in the morning.  Fog lifts, right?  

We went through security with plenty of time to spare (by now the flight was delayed another 5 minutes).  Olivia became friends with a boy her age almost as soon as we got to the waiting area.  The boy’s mother and grandmother gave them snacks and wiped their faces. The boy kissed Olivia on the lips.  They took pictures of them playing together.  (It was all good.)  Upon boarding, I thanked them for babysitting.

All the while, I was watching the flight schedules in Saskatoon and Calgary, where we would connect with our Kelowna flight.  I was also Twittering (thanks especially to Rilla for entertaining me) and chatting with Dixie (hooray for the iPod Touch and airport wifi!).

The flight to Calgary was uneventful.  There was a spare seat next to me on every flight, so after takeoff Olivia sat on her own.  She was fascinated with the seat belts.  We were supposed to have a one-hour stopover in Calgary, but with the delay in Saskatoon we went straight from the arrival gate to the departure gate for our connecting flight.

The flight from Calgary to Kelowna left on time, but the pilot (or first mate) informed us, while taxiing to the runway, that the weather in Kelowna was below visibility requirements but that we would fly anyway in hopes of the weather improving.  “Worst case scenario,” said the pilot, “we fly back to Calgary.”  The fact that we were actually departing seemed to me to be a good sign.

Flight again uneventful.  Olivia watched Treehouse tv.  I watched Ellen.  It appeared to be a clear evening as we approached the Okanagan Valley, but when I looked down I could see that the valley itself was filled with cloud/fog, but the plane started descending, so we assumed it was a go for landing.

We had to make an extra circle around the airport because a medivac plane had to land before us.  I assume it did.

Then it was our turn to land.  We descended slowly into thick cloud/fog and for the longest time could see nothing.  Eventually we got low enough to distinguish the headlights on cars driving on Kelowna streets.  So we got within several hundred vertical feet of the city.  But just when it seemed we were going to land, the pilot suddenly pulled the airplane up.  We sat in silence for a long time–maybe 20 minutes–before the pilot spoke again.  “We’re going to try one more time.  If it doesn’t work, we’ll be flying back to Calgary.”

It didn’t work.  Same approach as the first one, with the sudden pulling-up.  Except this time we didn’t sit in silence.  The passengers burst out in cries of frustration.  The girl sitting in front of me starting talking about seeing her kittens and whatnot.  Didn’t stop for a long time.  The guy next to her clearly hadn’t flown very often and didn’t care at all for what was going on.  People were talking to each other, making guesses about what the problem was.  We were heading back to Calgary.

Now what?  I had never been in a situation like this before: where would I go? what would I need to do?  And how would I do this with a 20-month-old who had slept for 45 minutes that day and had eaten nothing but crackers, marshmallows and pushpops since lunch (it was now about 6 or 7 at night)?  Would they reschedule the flight?  Put us on another flight?

And later these questions arose, too: why couldn’t they land, when we could see headlights quite clearly?  How did the medivac airplane manage to land?  Why didn’t they redirect the airplane to somewhere closer than Calgary, such as Kamloops, which is within driving distance for people heading to Kelowna and about 1/8th the distance that Calgary is?

We landed in Calgary and were told to collect our luggage and go to the charter counter to figure out our next steps.  At the charter counter was a HUGE line of people–hundreds and hundreds of those stranded in Calgary because of the flight cancellations throughout the day.  And we were at the very back of the line.  Almost immediately, however, they had me jump the queue because of Olivia.

The lady at the counter gave me my options.  I was going to book the 9:10 flight to Kelowna, but it was cancelled as I was talking to her.  I then told her I really needed to make some calls before I could decide what to do.  She said I could come right back to the front of the line when I’d done so.  A kind gentleman offered me his Blackberry to call home.  The options were to spend two nights in Calgary and fly to Kelowna on Friday morning (Westjet’s plan to get me there) or  to fly back to Saskatoon that night (my idea).  

After talking to Dixie, I decided to fly home.  It might have made more financial sense to take the free hotel and taxi vouchers (or stay with Dixie’s uncle and aunt) and complete the trip on Friday, but I had to make a quick decision.  My goal was a visit with my family, but my trip would be severely shortened if I completed it–I would arrive Friday at noon and leave Sunday late afternoon.  The trip was already almost too short to make sense.  So I decided to go home and booked the 10:10 (Calgary time — 11:10 local) flight back to Saskatoon.

All this time Olivia had been an angel.  The worst she’d been was a little fidgety at the end of the flight back to Calgary.  Dixie had filled the carry-0n bag with books and toys and colouring supplies, but I didn’t pull one single thing out.  Dixie says it was all an adventure for Olivia, and I think she’s right.  She was fascinated with the seatbelts, the window blind, the TV screens embedded in the seatbacks, and pushpops.  Even at about 10:30 our time, when we were waiting to board the flight back to Saskatoon, she was happy to sit on the chair, eating her baby burger and playing with her juice.  I let her walk around a bit and she always came back when I called her.  She didn’t throw one tantrum, demanding to be carried or to walk or to go this way.  She was just a quiet companion.  She was wonderful.

The lady who booked my Saskatoon flight gave me $20.00 in food vouchers, valid anywhere in the airport (“Not for alcohol, young man!” she added).  I hurredly bought some A&W and a bunch of drinks, not bothering to use the full $20.00 and found our gate.  I phoned my mom from there.  By this time I was quite emotional and was choking back tears on the phone, but didn’t manage to hide it well.  I was terribly disappointed and frustrated and I knew they all were, too, and I wasn’t sure I had made the right decision to go back home.  Plus, my dad isn’t doing very well, health-wise, which was why I was making this visit in the first place.  “Be a big boy,” mom said in an encouraging way and affirmed my decision.

Then Olivia and I sat and ate and waited for our flight to arrive.  I chatted with Dixie some more, Twittered some.  A couple of guys came along asking about the 9:10 flight, apparently unaware of the cancellation (they had even checked their bags), and I explained the situation to them.  Then we boarded our flight.

There was an extra seat next to me again, so I let Olivia sit there while we taxied to our runway (technically, because she’s under 2 years old, she’s supposed to sit on my lap until the seatbelt sign is turned off).  I put her on my lap for takeoff.  I tried to get Olivia to sleep, but she wouldn’t.  And this flight wasn’t uneventful.

When the seatbelt sign came on again for our descent, one of the flight attendants came by and said to Olivia, “I’m going to have to put your seatbelt on, OK?” and reached for the buckle.  I took Olivia out of the seat and said, “No, she’ll sit on my lap”.  The flight attendant stared at me for a moment and walked away.

A couple of minutes later he came back, leaned down and over to me and said, “So she was over 2 when we took off and now she’s under 2?” He looked at me with suspicion in his eyes.

“What?” I asked. “I just wanted her to be comfortable and had her sitting here until we took off.  I don’t remember exactly when I put her on my lap.  But she’s under 2.”  Again he looked at me and then stood up.  Next think I knew, there was a hushed meeting of the flight attendants in the aisle.  In a moment one of the other flight attendants–someone much more polite and cheery than the first guy– sat down and asked, tapping her finger on the empty seat between us, “Did you buy this seat for your daughter?”

“No.  I asked the lady who booked this flight to put on a hold on this seat so that my daughter could sit there.”

“Oh.  So you didn’t buy this seat for her?”

“No.”

“Because we counted her as a passenger with her own seat and now we’re worried that we’ve left someone behind in Calgary.”

She explained what I told her to the head flight attendant.

The head flight attendant said, “We have no record of that…Well, it doesn’t matter now.”  By the irritated look on her face, this was apparently a grave situation, but no one said anything further about it.

I don’t think fast on my feet, but thinking about it afterwards, I’m not sure how they could have made the mistake of counting Olivia as a passenger with a purchased seat.  On the original flight from Saskatoon to Calgary, the flight attendants knew Olivia’s name and all the details about her travelling with me.  I could be wrong, but based on my previous flying-with-children experience, this was a mistake on their part.  Whatever the case may be, it wasn’t what I needed at the end of that long, frustrating day.

We got to Saskatoon after midnight and I drove home to Prince Albert.  Olivia was asleep before we were out of the city.  We got home at 2:20a.m.  What a day.

Now I have to see if I can get some or all of my money back.  I had asked the lady at the counter in Calgary how it works with refunds, but she wasn’t sure.  “You didn’t get me to my destination,” I said.

“But we’ll do what we need to do to get you there,” she replied.  This is true.  They were prepared to put us up in a hotel for two nights to get me there.  So I’m hoping that my decision to go home won’t cost me a refund.

And that is that.  We will try this again before Olivia turns 2 (she flies free until that time).

4 thoughts on “There and Back Again

  1. Phil L

    Wow, what an ordeal.

    I hope you get your refund. Even if they did offer to put you up and try again the next day, it just seems to me that giving a refund or a voucher for another trip would be the right thing to do.

  2. Marc

    They gave me a full refund for the return flight from Kelowna which I never took (their online booking system sent me a reminder about my flight on Saturday, so it was a good thing I called before then).

    They said that generally they do not give refunds on weather related problems, but she said she would split the difference on my ticket to Kelowna, so I got half of that ticket refunded.

    It looks like I made the right decision, too, because the Thursday and Friday morning flights from Calgary to Kelowna were cancelled as well, so I wasn’t likely to get there before Saturday or even Sunday (the day I was supposed to return)!

  3. Marc Post author

    Shame, that.

    The first flight from Calgary (or perhaps it was Toronto) landed in Kelowna Friday night, to much applause from passengers.

    Curiously, mom tells me that someone flying in from Edmonton was able to land in Kelowna on Friday morning.

Comments are closed.