Thousands of Canadians over the past few days have been stranded on one side of the Atlantic or the other as European airports closed and remained so for days.
I was one of those passengers looking forward to a Mediterranean cruise out of Venice scheduled to leave port on Tuesday April 19.
As a travel agent I have seen and helped dozens of people stranded by weather delays, most often caused by blizzards or wind storms.
Today I now have a much greater appreciation for what our clients have felt as they looked for means, any means, to get them to their destinations as close as possible to the initial scheduled times.
It was to be an exceptional vacation; the first time my sister and brother in law and my wife and I would have an extended holiday together. We planned our excursions, excited about the options in which we all shared an interest.
Before we boarded our cruise ship we would have had a day in Venice to experience, the canals, the art, and lifestyle of this water bound city.
Before the trip our wives shopped together to find the outfits that would be stunning during the formal nights.
It was going to be an exceptional journey, and the enthusiasm mounted with each conversation.
As I am shaving early Thursday, before we head the airport to catch our Winnipeg-Toronto flight which will connected us to our overseas connections, I hear the first report about the eruption in Iceland. The story does report that there is volcanic ash is spewing into the air, but Iceland, I conclude, is a long way from Frankfurt.
Two hours later we land in Toronto and make our way to the departure lounge. As we walk I note from the departure monitors that some flights bound for Europe are going to be delayed, but not ours.
It’s really Heathrow flights that are most affected and we are certain that we will still be able to take off, even if the flight should end up being delayed somewhat.
Television broadcasts are starting to awake us to a different reality.
Exactly 3 hours before our scheduled departure time the word is official. The flight is cancelled, we will be put up in a hotel for one night, and we should call the 800 reservations number of Air Canada to rebook.
We are not that worried because of the day buffer we had built into our plans, appreciating now how lucky we were to have done that. Venice can wait until the end of the journey.
The phone lines to Air Canada are backed up with callers on hold. Each wait on-line is longer than the one before, until my last call takes over an hour to be answered. The call centre staffs were exceptional, using their best training to communicate empathy and understanding.
“We will try to reroute you through Rome or Zurich, because those airports are still open”. Almost as the AC agent speaks both of those airports are shut down.
Two days later we know that, not only will be not make the cruise, but we will not even be able to join it enroute.
Even though we were preparing ourselves for this eventuality, the disappointment is crushing.
Air Canada puts us on the next available flight back to Winnipeg. I have been on hold for approximately 8 hours over the past three days. I am now ready to go back home.
We walk into the empty house feeling happy we will not be cooped up for yet another night in a hotel room not of our choosing. Air Canada put us up for one night and we didn’t move because of the mistaken belief our layover would be a short one.
At home we get together with our would be travelling companions, my sister and brother in law, for a commiseration dinner.
We drink a lot and cry in our wine, so to speak.
And as the evening progresses more and more of the conversation leads to rescheduling our original or a similar itinerary as soon as possible.