The unexpectedly long journey back to the U.S. – Air Canada is the worst

This post serves the dual purpose of reminding me of my journey to the States and shaming Air Canada for their stunning display of incompetence and poor customer service.

My original plan had been to return to the U.S., and leave a few days later for more skiing in Colorado and New Mexico. After the skiing shit-show in Chamonix and the continued pain in my right (good) leg, I knew I would not be able to manage any more skiing. I talked about this with Yves, who suddenly floated the idea of me joining him and his friend climbing in Les Calanques, near Marseilles. Yves’ idea was for me to go back to Paris with him, stay there are a couple of days, before taking the train to Marseilles. Awesome as the idea of going from ice and snow, to warm weather limestone climbing in the south of France was, I just could not swing the logistics. All my rock-climbing gear and necessary travel supplies were in Cambridge; I was humping  around two huge bags filled with skiing and ice-climbing gear; I was not sure whether the leg would hold up; and I also did not want to intrude on the party of two (I know I much prefer climbing as a pair). Thus, we proceeded with my original itinerary: drive from Chamonix to Lausanne, Switzerland, spend the evening there, and then drive to Geneva nearby to catch my departing flight. Simple, eh?

Driving to Lausanne was simple enough, although we drove the slower roads to avoid the exorbitant Swiss highway tolls. It was quite interesting to made aware of the different shape of the Swiss Alps. The French Alps are much more jagged and pointy, whereas the Swiss peaks are less so and more symmetric. This is a sign of more recent tectonic activity on the French side.

The view alongside Lac Lèman (Lake Geneva) was a bit hazy, but it was cool to see the French side from the Swiss side. The towns along the lake grow increasingly upscale as your approach Lausanne. I was surprised by the number of vineyards we passed by, as Switzerland is not exactly known for its wine. Not surprisingly, most of this wine is for domestic consumption. We stayed in a hotel right in the city centre, not far from the lake. As we wandered around to find a place to eat we stumbled across a surprisingly good Greek restaurant near the hotel. I am uncertain about the demographics of Lausanne, but I am sure it is quite international like its neighbour, Geneva. I am not sure what other parts of Switzerland are like, but I was pleasantly surprised by the ethnic diversity of some of the towns around the lake. I am sure this is because of my pre-conceived notions of the Swiss being rather xenophobic with strict immigration laws. I also live in a place which I do not consider diverse at all, so this probably heightens my awareness of ethnic diversity (or lack thereof).

After a hearty Swiss breakfast (those guys know how to do it right), we set aside plenty of time for my flight. Upon arrival at the airport, my attempts to check-in for my Swiss Air flight failed. Since I had used United award miles for the ticket, I was instructed that only they could correct the issue. In the space of 3 hours on the phone, almost entirely on hold, and missing my flight in the process, it became clear what the problem was. When my original Air Canada Boston to Montreal flight had been cancelled, Air Canada “re-protected” me (yes, this is an actual term I only just learned), and re-routed me through Toronto and London Heathrow to get me to Geneva. In the process, they revoked all the coupons/tokens associated with a ticket, instead of just the ones for the outgoing leg. As a result, my ticket could not be validated, which is why I could not check in. The United Airlines representative I spoke to was trying his best, but he, an employee of Air Canada’s partner airline, was put on hold for hours like every one else, while I was on hold with him. I think it is appalling that even partner airlines cannot communicate with each other. The Air Canada folks blamed United, but the ticket number is in fact an Air Canada one; the blame and responsibility lies entirely with Air Canada.

After an additional hour+ of waiting, I finally spoke with an Air Canada representative to find a solution and get me back to Boston. The best option they could offer was to put me on a flight the next day. But despite explaining the cause for all this, the representative did not acknowledge and accept Air Canada’s responsibility in all this, and said they could not compensate me upfront for all the additional expenses I (and Yves, who very kindly stayed with me) had to incur to spend an extra night in Geneva. WTF. So now a lot of wasted time is going to have to go to writing all this up and filing a complaint with Air Canada. Believe me, I’ve already filed my consumer complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation. To add injury to insult, one of my bags did not make the connecting flight (it was a 2 hour connection time, so plenty of time for bags to be transferred) and I only received it 3 days after my arrival in Boston. Thanks Aer Lingus.

By the way, it is also bullshit that Air Canada’s customer service issue form has a 30-minute time-limit imposed on it, while they can put you on hold for, literally, hours. 

This is the first time I have ever aired my grievances with a service/company publicly, but the way this was handled was so abominably poor, that I had to write this. I can say quite confidently I will endeavor never to take Air Canada again.

The extra day in Geneva did allow us to see parts of the Old Town and also drive past various United Nations buildings, including the Palais des Nations. Again, I really dig how international Geneva is. Not sure I’d be too psyched on living there and the weather though.

Now for some GOOD news! What do you do when peroneal tendonitis cancels your original ski plans, and your friend’s partner can no longer climb with him? You do your best to manage the pain, solve this humanitarian crisis on both sides, scramble to find tickets to Paris and do a last travel hurrah for the near future. I decided that I could not turn down the opportunity to join Yves in Les Calanques; so I am going to be crossing the Atlantic yet again, less than a week after returning, for some warm weather limestone climbing near Marseilles. I have never been to Marseilles and it looks like a pretty awesome city.

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