Travel Nightmares: Canada To China
By Dan Rehel
This past May, I had the opportunity to travel from Windsor, Ontario, Canada to Macau S.A.R., China. Before I left I was really looking forward to this trip, not so much a 15 hour flight, but the experience definitely. The main purpose was to observe the backstage goings-on of a large scale resident production. The House of Dancing Water would be my theatrical home for 2+ weeks, with an additional week for a little jaunt to Beijing and Hong Kong…I mean why not, I’m already over there! I had never been outside of North America, so aside from conversations with friends who had been to that part of the world, I had no idea what to expect.
April 30th was the day, last minute packing and making sure I had everything I needed for the 3-week journey.
I arrived at the small Windsor International Airport around 7 pm for an 8 pm flight to Toronto. Originally, my itinerary was supposed to be (yes, that’s right…supposed to be) Windsor to Toronto, Toronto to Taipei, Taipei to Macau. Upon arrival to the airport check-in I am told that the incoming plane has been delayed and that when it arrives it will be delayed further as there is construction at the airport in Toronto. The Toronto airport has 5 runways, but due to construction only 1 was active, therefore “flow control” was in effect. Knowing that I was supposed to have had a 4-hour layover in Toronto, I wasn’t too worried about even a couple of hours’ delay.
My airplane arrived about an hour after it was supposed to. I watch through the airport window as the passengers deplane, then…the airplane door closes.
I think to myself, “oh no…that can’t be good”. As the time rolls by, and the gate attendant makes several announcements about people who will miss their connections, I keep looking at my watch to make sure I’ll have time to make mine. Finally, at 12:10 am, we board the airplane. By the way, being delayed in a small airport that does not serve food, really sucks! We arrive in Toronto at 1:10 am, my connection leaves at 1:40 am, and I’m thinking I could just make it. As we pull up toward the vast Toronto Airport, we stop, but not at the gate. The pilot comes on to let us know that there is minimal ground crew at this time so we need to wait for them to receive the airplane. 15 minutes roll by before we pull up to the gate.
1:25 am and I am RUNNING to the gate for my connection.
I finally figure out where I’m going, down several hallways, up an escalator, across a bridge to a set of locked doors with a security guard at them who kindly informed me that these particular doors (the ones I desperately needed to get through) lock at 1:00 am. I asked if he could let me through as my connection was leaving at 1:40 am. Of course, he could not and found it (I think) quite pleasurable to inform me that to access my particular gate, I would now have to leave the secured area, go down some hallway, then check back through international security screening. So I continue running, out of security, down the hall, arrive at international security and no one else is in line (thank goodness!). The guard there whips me through so I can (try to) make my connection. I run and run and run (currently trying to fight the urge to reference Forest Gump here) I turn the corner and see that the airplane I am supposed to be on is still at the gate. “YES!!” I think to myself.
As I almost collapse at the gate, the gate agent looks at me, practically lying on the floor with my hand extended holding my boarding pass, “Sorry, the airplane door has already been closed and we cannot open it again.”
Exhausted, I actually do drop my bags and lay on the floor to catch my breath. I ask the agent what I do now (thinking to myself, “when does the next 15 hours flight leave?!”). They inform me that I had to go to the airline’s service counter to reschedule.
So I continue running, out of security, down the hall, arrive at international security and no one else is in line (Thank goodness!).
The guard there whips me through so I can (try) make my connection. I run and run and run (currently trying to fight the urge to reference Forest Gump here) I turn the corner and see that the airplane I am supposed to be on is still at the gate. “YES!!” I think to myself. As I almost collapse at the gate, the gate agent looks at me, practically lying on the floor with my hand extended holding my boarding pass, “Sorry, the airplane door has already been closed and we cannot open it again.” Exhausted, I actually do drop my bags and lie on the floor to catch my breath. I ask the agent what I do now (thinking to myself, “when does the next 15 hours flight leave?!”). They inform me that I have to go to the airline’s service counter to reschedule.
1:50 am…Behind 2 people that also need to reschedule whatever flight they missed, and a family already at the desk…so I wait.
2:20 am…Still waiting in line as I watch one of the two desk agents pack up her stuff.
3:00 am…Still waiting…and when I say waiting, I mean I am the only person in line, with the family still at the desk who was there when I arrived.
3:15 am…I watch the family settle with their new bookings. The agent grabs a few items and escorts the family out. Looking around, I’m still the only one in line and now there is no one even working the desk.
3:40 am…Someone finally comes to the desk, I walk up and explain what happened with my flights. I give her my boarding passes. “Ok, please have a seat while I try to get someone on the phone.”
4:25 am…Finally rebooked with my new schedule: Toronto to Vancouver, Vancouver to Shanghai, Shanghai to Macau, with my first flight leaving at 8:30 am. She provides me with a hotel voucher (note that I only have 4 hours until my next flight) and a pass for a car to drive me to and from the hotel. “Well, I guess I could go and shower,” I say to myself. So I have her call the car and I head for the exit…almost. After all my running, I am now in an international terminal, and I am told I have to go through customs to exit. Here’s how that conversation went:
Customs agent, “Did you fill out a declaration form?”
“They are at the back, fill one out and come back”
I go to the back and fill out a form.
“Hi. Me again. Here’s my form”
“Where are you coming from?” he asks.
“Windsor,” I tell him.
“Then why are you here?” (in customs)
“I don’t know, they told me to”
He passes me through, I exit into another customs area. I walk up to the customs agent:
“Form please,” he says.
I hand it over.
“Windsor? Why are you here?”
“I don’t know, they told me to”
“Where were you going?”
“What time was your flight?”
“What took you so long?”
“Good question, I’ve been trying to rebook my flights since I got here.”
“Did you go shopping at the duty-free?”
“Because I’ve been trying to rebook my flights since I got here…over 3 hours ago!”
“I don’t know why they sent you here”
“Right, me neither”
“See ya,” he says.
I finally get into the car en route to the hotel. Upon arrival, the check-in counter tells me, “Oh sorry sir, please sit and wait for ten minutes, our system is down.”
5:15 am…Finally, in the room, I’m just going to rest my eyes for a few minutes, so I set my alarm.
6:00 am…The alarm goes off. I drag myself to the shower, get cleaned up and change the essentials that I brought with me in my carry-on, then back to the airport.
7:00 am…The security line at the airport is the longest line I have ever seen…Like if you have ever been to Disney on New Years…longer than that!
7:50 am…Still in line at security for an 8:30 am flight. I really don’t want to miss this flight because my connection in Vancouver is only an hour and 15 minutes.
8:10 am…A security agent lets a bunch of us skip to the front of the line since our departure time was approaching.
I make it onto the airplane just in time, find my seat, buckle up, and take a deep breath content in the fact that I was back on track.
8:31 am…The pilot, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are supposed to be pushing back right now but there is a reported security breach in terminal 1 and we can’t move until they resolve…looking like, at least 20 minutes. Also, weather visibility is poor and there is only one active runway today so we may have to wait about 40 minutes of extra time on the taxiway.”
9:40 am…Finally, we take off, only an hour and twenty minutes late…with that hour and fifteen-minute layover…this should be interesting!
It’s about a 5-hour flight from Toronto to Vancouver. Roughly halfway through I inform a flight attendant that I am supposed to be connecting to another flight bound for Shanghai that is scheduled to leave 10 minutes before we land.
She tells me she is going to speak with the flight director and see what they can do. About 30 minutes later, she returns and lets me know that there are about 25 other people on this flight that also need to catch the same connection, so they are working on a solution. As we begin our descent into Vancouver, a flight attendant comes on to the PA system, “For those passengers with a connection on to Shanghai, they are holding the airplane at the gate for our arrival.” Great news! “Please ensure you move quickly from this aircraft to the connecting aircraft.”
As I make my way off the plane, I again find myself running from one flight towards the international terminal ALLLLLLLLL the way on the other side of the airport. But I make it!
I board the airplane and find myself sitting in an exit row with tons of legroom! At 6 feet tall, the exit row is a blessing…downside?…right next to the crapper, but I’ll take that thanks to the legroom on a 12-hour flight. “Finally!” I think to myself, “My luck on this trip is changing!” Thank goodness for the free booze on international flights! Halleluiah.
We arrive in Shanghai and make our way towards immigration.
I’ve never seen so many people fighting to get close to the front of the line. As we snake our way through, I round a corner and see that a man (who I believe was on my flight) is on the ground, passed out, with someone providing chest compressions and another holding his airway open. The man is looking blue. Several English speaking people are tending to him and asking for airport staff to get a defibrillator. As you can imagine, the language barrier is posing quite a challenge here. Finally, a defibrillator arrives and one of the English speaking people start applying the pads in the proper locations. Now, for anyone who’s taken a first aid/CPR/AED course recently, you’ll remember that when you open the lid on the AED it provides verbal instructions. Well, this one did too, only, they were NOT in English. An airport worker has now stepped in to follow instructions from the AED. The two men, still providing chest compressions and holding the airway open, suddenly jump back as the airport worker presses the SHOCK button. At this point, what looks to be paramedics arrive to provide medical attention, at the same time, some partition walls are now put in place around the incident. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what the end result was for that poor man, but I hope he was, and is, ok.
I make my way through immigration without further incident. Now on to collect my bags, and re-check through security for my flight to Macau (now with a different airline…this is important for later). Standing near the bag carousel I pull off my first of two bags. I watch as the crowd dissipates, and dissipates until I am pretty well the only one standing there still waiting for a bag. A man tells me that there are no more bags coming. UGH!! Over to the lost baggage counter, I try to file a missing bags report. I explain to them the missed flight to Taipei, then got re-booked into Shanghai. They suggest that I don’t file a report until I get to Macau because it is possible that my bag is already there since the ID tag is not showing up on their system.
Finally, I arrive in Macau. My missing bag, however, has not. I file a report at the counter, make my way outside and catch the shuttle to the hotel. I arrive at the Holiday Inn Cotai Strip (I haven’t used any company names so far until now because the hotel staff was SUPER helpful!), check-in and up to my room. Having never been, I struggle to figure out how to turn the lights on, until I realize you need to put your room card into some slot on the wall…but I’m learning…this is good. The phone rings, “Hello, Mr. Rehel? This is the Macau Airport calling, we spoke to the airline you arrived on and they said you need to call Shanghai Airport since that is where your bag was missing first. Blank Airlines said they will not be pursuing the lost bag since it was lost before you boarded their airplane.”
I call the Shanghai Airport, there is either no answer or I keep getting disconnected.
I call my original air carrier’s baggage services, who I am on hold with for over an hour, with no answer from an agent…apparently my call is NOT important to them, despite what their message says!
I try the online chat option for the airline…no agent connects with me on that either.
The next day I call again, on hold for 30 minutes, the call gets disconnected.
Call back, on hold for 40 minutes, the call gets disconnected.
I call the original air carrier’s Shanghai Hotline and finally get through to someone there who tells me I need to call the baggage services number…then we get “disconnected”.
Over the next few days, I make several calls to baggage services, on hold for at least an hour each time, who tell me that I need to deal with the last airline I took.
Every time I have to re-explain the situation, “My bag was lost before I took the last air carrier, therefore the last air carrier is not helping me.” At one point I finally am able to get someone to verify where the last place my bag was scanned. Toronto.
Beyond fed up with the airlines, I roped in the concierge team to take over. Also, this is seriously cutting into my Macau time!!
The concierge team, I must say, did an amazing job at working to get me my bag back. The airline…not so much. I ended up having to buy a lot of new items, socks, toiletries, clothes, shoes, etc…and while that was a HUGE inconvenience and pain in the ass, it also allowed me to explore Macau and the various shops, markets and shopping it had to offer…I have never seen so many Adidas stores!
In the end, some wonderful time was spent with the amazing team at The House of Dancing Water. The cast and crew were very friendly and made me feel like part of their family. Macau was beautiful, the people were friendly, the casinos were ample (not that I gamble at all), and the food was good. If you haven’t been, or even heard of Macau, I highly suggest you look it up and pay it a visit, and be sure that includes a performance of The House of Dancing Water (shameless plug). Without giving it away, the opening of the show still blew me away even after 2 weeks.
I’ve always thought China would be a cool place to visit (The Great Wall IS truly incredible) but was never high on the list for me. Now, I would definitely recommend it to anyone and everyone, and I hope that I’ll be able to return soon myself.
I made some great connections and friendships while in Macau, and I look forward to seeing them all again soon.
Oh yeah…the missing bag! Well, I literally ended up getting it back THE DAY before I came home! Thanks a lot, Air Blank!!!
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