You know those stories you hear about medical emergencies on airplanes, and a call goes out, “Is there a doctor on board?”
A week ago, while waiting for a flight from Vancouver to Kelowna, I expected a slightly different announcement to come over the PA -- “Is there a pilot on board?”
Our flight was to depart at 6:50 PM, but poor runway conditions in Kelowna, resulting from snow, delayed our flight. Because of the delay the flight crew had gone over their allowed duty time, and a new crew needed to be found. A short time later, a pilot showed at the desk and a few people broke out in tempered applause.
Finally, at 9:00 PM, two hours after our scheduled departure, boarding commenced. Once everyone was seated, the Captain came on the PA and announced that while he was ready to fly, he needed a first officer. I thought he was going to ask if there was a pilot on board. Instead, he told us they were looking for a pilot in the airport.
|Mike Luckovich cartoon|
A short time later, he told us they were now looking for a pilot who lives near the airport in Richmond. And added that the flight attendants had been working for almost 14 hours, and if we didn’t leave soon, they would need to find a new cabin crew as well.
Almost an hour-and-a-half after we boarded the aircraft, and close to four hours after our flight was supposed to depart, the Captain announced that our flight was cancelled and that we would be rebooked on a flight the following day.
Since I don't live near the airport and given the late hour, I wasn’t sure how practical it was to go home and then have to return in the morning during rush hour traffic, so I decided to find a hotel. The Air Canada agent told me that because I lived locally and that delay was caused by weather, they wouldn’t put me up in a hotel (though later when I thought about it, it may have begun as a weather delay, but had it not turned into an Air Canada dispatch and staffing issue).
Just as I was leaving the counter, another passenger told me that the Fairmont Vancouver Airport, my favourite hotel—for its comfort and location (inside the airport), had rates for $129. The Air Canada agent told me to tell them that I had a missed connection. Perfect, I thought. I’d get a good night’s sleep and already be at the airport in the morning.
I went to the hotel’s front desk and told the young woman that I had a cancelled flight and Air Canada told me the hotel had rates of $129.
She didn’t say as much, but the look she gave me was one of, “Oh, they did, did they?”
“Do you have any paperwork from the airline?” she asked, curtly.
“No, they didn’t give me anything.”
“Well, they’re supposed to.”
After this brief exchange, she got on the phone and tried calling an airline rep, but no one answered. She called again, and still there was no answer. Finally, she talked to her colleague next to her, and while I didn’t hear what she said, I imagined the conversation went like this.
“This guy has asked for a rate of $129, but he doesn’t have any paperwork from the airline, what do I do?”
And he probably said what anyone would at 11:00 PM, “Give him the room for $129 and don’t worry about the paperwork.”
She asked for my credit card, pecked away at her computer and as she was giving me the key to the room, she said, “They know they are supposed to give passengers some paperwork.”
Okay, I got it. You’re peeved at the airline, but don’t project that onto your customers. The feeling I got was that somehow I was cheating the hotel for asking for this rate.
I went to the nicely appointed room, and climbed into bed. At 2:00 am I was awoken by a large, flashing white light that was going off in my room. The light flashed every second, and was accompanied by a clicking sound, as if someone was tapping a metal bowl with chopsticks.
I looked up at the light and saw the word, FIRE. I didn’t hear any commotion out in the hallway, so I called down to the front desk.
“Hello, Mr. Donohue...you’re calling about the flashing light...there was a false alarm and the fire department is on their way, and once they clear a panel it will stop. Shouldn’t be more than a few minutes.”
The light was so piercingly bright that when I closed my eyes, the inside of my head lit up. I tried pulling the cover over my head, but I could still see the flash of light and hear the clicking sound.
After 30 minutes and with the light still filling my head, I called down to the front desk again.
“Hello Mr. Donohue, yes the light...we are still working on it, shouldn’t be much more.”
Thirty more minutes, and at 3:00 am (an hour after it started), I called the front desk again, still very patient, but sounding a tad annoyed.
“Hello, Mr. Donohue...yes the light, we are not sure what’s wrong, but we are working on it...shouldn’t be long now.”
As I lay there, I imagined that this was what it was like for a prisoner to be tortured psychologically. No wonder you hear of people confessing to things they didn’t do-- they just want the madness to stop.
At 4:00 am and with the torment now having gone on for two hours, I called once more to the front desk.
“Hello Mr. Donohue. Yes, the light. We aren’t sure what is going.”
“Is this happening in every room in the hotel?” I asked. A subtle way of suggesting that I might be moved to another room.
“No, it’s just on the 10th floor...I’ll find you another right room.”
I got up, put my clothes on and packed my suitcase. A few minutes later the night manager rapped on my door. “There’ll be no charge for the night, Mr. Donohue and you can have a complimentary breakfast, if you like.”
He told me to leave my bags in the room, and led me to another room a floor above. I found it amusing when he talked up the benefits of the new room.
“This is our deluxe room,” he went on.
At 4:15 am, I didn’t much care what room I had, as long as a bright light didn’t pulse into my head.
Three hours later, the alarm clock went off. Bleary eyed, I returned to my first room to shower and collect my bags. The light was still flashing in the room.
Because I had a plane to catch, I didn’t have time for breakfast, and when I was leaving, the night manager was very apologetic.
I checked in for my flight, and learned that my flight had been delayed.
Is there a pilot on board?