Another on-time arrival with Air Canada

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The good news: we landed 15 minutes early today on the flight from Moncton to Toronto on Air Canada Jazz. The bad news: we hit hard, bounced high, then hit even harder, collapsing the rear landing gear. Oxygen masks dangling and a slight smell of burning rubber in the cabin, the plane literally dragged its tail off the runway to the taxiway and stopped. Fire trucks arrived to foam us down, and emergency vehicles of all sorts converged — with unusually light flight schedules due to the holiday tomorrow, this was the most excitement that they were going to see today.

After 15 minutes, it was clear that fire was not imminent, and the flight attendant popped the front stairs (this was a Bombardier CRJ, low to the ground with the stairs built into the front door) and ordered us all off. Her only instruction: leave everything behind. Sitting in the front bulkhead seat, my friend Pat and I had our purses and everything else in the overhead bin, so while the rest of the passengers ignored her instructions and went ahead and grabbed their bags from beneath the seat in front of them, we left with nothing in our hands, although I luckily had my Blackberry in my pocket.

The plane was a sad sight, with the wing flaps and tail scraping the pavement (that explains the sound that we heard while limping off the runway) although the nose gear was still intact. We stood around watching the emergency vehicles for a while, then a bus arrived and we hopped on to get out of the chill wind. The flight attendant told us that we would be allowed back on to get our carry-on bags as soon as they determined that there was no danger, or that they would go on and get them for us, but she was clearly clued out about post-crash procedure since we were bussed off to the unused infield terminal without them. Although I didn’t really care about my jacket, book and DSLR camera, my purse was still on board with my wallet and passport; in other words, my whole life, and the only thing that was going to get me on a plane on Wednesday to Las Vegas to speak at a conference later this week.

Much waiting ensued, during which they offered medical treatment (none of the 37 passengers or 3 crew had any injuries), gave us a bottle of water and a $15 food voucher, and collected names and addresses. Several police showed up to assist with this — I’m sure that people move from scared to angry pretty quickly in these situations — so by now we had more ground staff than passengers milling around, although many of them didn’t seem to be doing all that much. Finally, we were bussed over to Terminal 1 where we could redeem our vouchers (as if $15 gets you very far with airport food, and we had no other cash because of the missing purses) and check with a desk that they had set up to handle the situation.

Thankfully, Damir was there to meet us, and had hung around for what was now a couple of hours; we were able to exit security and meet up with him. An hour later, we were at the desk checking out the situation, and were told that Transport Canada would be another hour with our luggage; apparently, they had to weigh it all, presumably to see if it had any bearing on the incident. Yeah, right: they have no idea how much we all weighed, which was certainly many times more than our carry-on luggage, and many people had taken their carry-on items with them, including laptop computers. I started fussing about what kind of security would be around the carry-on bags when they arrived, since anyone could just walk off with my purse, and was told that each bag would be checked for ID and only handed over to the rightful owner.

Another hour passed, and we finally were led down to the arrivals area to get our luggage. All carry-on items were in large plastic bags that were just being pulled out and dumped on a cart by baggage handlers; no security, no control, not even any separation from other arriving flights since it was right beside an active luggage carousel. Luckily, I showed up just as they were pulling out my purse and camera; I grabbed those then rooted around for my book and jacket before locating my checked luggage.

At the end of it all, we finally left the airport almost 4 hours after our “landing”, with a $21 parking fee and a sunny holiday afternoon that I’ll never get back.

What did I learn from this?

First of all (and I know that I’m going to get a huge amount of flak for this) unless there is imminent danger of fire, ignore the flight attendants’ instructions and grab at least the bag containing your wallet, passport and other essentials before departing. Like a complete fucking idiot, I followed the instructions, and was stranded with nothing. If I hadn’t stuffed my Blackberry in my pocket before landing and if Damir hadn’t been there to meet us, I would have been totally screwed.

Second, when you’re sitting in a bulkhead seat — the ones that we all covet for the extra leg room and absence of passengers in front of us that recline their seat backs into our faces — it’s tough to grab that essential bag since it’s in the overhead bin; that’s certainly going to have me rethink the bulkhead decision, or move to wearing something with pockets so that I can stash my wallet and passport. Maybe a photographer’s vest with multiple pockets. Or a bat-belt.

Third, when something like this happens and you ask a question that the airline staff doesn’t know the answer to, they will almost certainly lie to you rather than tell you that they don’t know. Or maybe they’re just incredibly misinformed, or undertrained. Or maybe there’s some other reason why both the flight attendant and the ground crew told me outright untruths about how my carry-on bags were going to be handled.

What could Air Canada learn from this?

First, if there’s no imminent danger, tell us to grab our purses or wallets, and leave everything else behind. Most people are going to ignore the instruction to leave everything behind anyway, so why penalize those who actually follow the instructions?

Second, provide better information, or say that you don’t know if you don’t know. At one point, we were told that we would be stuck in the infield terminal a “little while”, which Pat challenged by asking how long a little while was; they then admitted that it would be an hour, which was all that we wanted to know.

Third, cough up cash instead of vouchers, and more of it. We paid $21 in parking instead of $0 (usually Damir arrives and waits for me outside without parking), and I have to decide if it’s worthwhile to nag Air Canada to send me $21 in compensation. If they just handed over, say, $50 in cash to each person, we’d all be a lot happier.

Lastly, provide better security for carry-on bags when you finally get them back to people. These are things that passengers did not intend to leave their control, so they likely contain valuables and identification that can’t easily be replaced. Dumping them all out in the common baggage claim area was a total fuck-up.

8 Comments

  1. Canadian Press did a story on it, printed in the GTA edition of today’s Globe and Mail (page A8).

    According to the GTAA, you were “processed” by the Peel Regional Police, and according to the airline, you underwent medical examination. Hah.

  2. sandy says:

    We were indeed processed by Peel Regional Police: they took our names and addresses. We were offered medical examination or assistance, although few (if any) took advantage of that.

  3. Holy smokes, I didn’t even hear about this until I read your blog this morning. What a crazy ordeal Sandy! Glad to hear you and all other 37 passengers + 3 crew were not harmed!

    Chalk up a point for finding out the hard way (for all us readers) that ID and Valuables should be carried on you and not stored anywhere else. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Crazyness!

  4. sandy says:

    Always an exciting time travelling with me. 🙂

    The ID and valuables lesson is really a good one, I agree.

  5. Bob Baker says:

    Hey everyone,join my petition against Air Canada…1125 so far !!!
    http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/AirCanada
    Bob in CBS NL

  6. sandy says:

    Bob, I’m not sure that any other airline would have handled it any better, so I’m not willing to sign a petition against Air Canada (even if I thought that online petitions carried any weight whatsoever). In fact, I was on a flight to New York this morning, thinking that all the people who whine about having to take their shoes off to pass through security or pay for food on flights should just suck it up. If food on a flight is really that important to you, fly business class — the food’s pretty good up there.

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