I normally write posts on how to become better as a speaker, but as a global keynote speaker, a big part of my job is to travel, you might want to say that I am a professional traveller who speaks once in a while. So today I will write a post about global travel, and what you can learn from my experience.
Today I started an-around-the-world ticket that will take me from Singapore-Hong Kong-Toronoto-New York-Chicago-Omaha-Chicago-Barcelona-Munich-Istanbul-Singapore in 5,5 days.
It started well with a nice Singapore Airlines flight to Hong Kong but quickly got worse..
When I arrived in Hong Kong at 11 am I find out that my 3 pm flight to Toronto was delayed to 5 PM. (ie 2 hours)
Since I had just a 2 hour and 20 min lay-over in Toronto, and since I would have to walk through customs and immigration at the US checkpoint in Toronto (USA checks you in Canada not when you land in the USA) I understood that I would probably miss my connection.
I called the Star Alliance HQ and ask them to put me on another flight
They said that they could not re-book me on the day of my flight.
Lesson number 1: A fully re-bookable around-the-world ticket can only be re-booked one day in advance. Lesson learned.
She said I had to sort it out with Air Canada. So much for an Star Alliance…
I go to the check-in of Air Canada and tell them that I need to be in New York on Sunday night (I am speaking at lunch time Monday on Manhattan and have two meetings booked in the morning before that.)
The guy says there is no way I will make my flight so I have to stay over-night in Toronto and take a morning flight to New York.
(Arriving on the morning of a lunch-time speech after a 30+ hour intercontinental flight is NOT optimal.)
I tell him I am sure they can fix it and ask to talk to the manager.
Lesson 2: If someone says no to you, and you know, that person is probably wrong, insist to talk to a manager.
3) The manager comes and clicks on the system for 5 minutes until he replies: “Sir, would it be acceptable for you to land in Newark Airport instead of Laguardia?”
Turns out the first guy had only looked at later flight options to “Laguardia Airport” instead of looking for flight options to all New York Airports…
Lessons 3 : Never assume that check-in personal are thinking flexibly and creatively when trying to solve your problem – they are just trying to get you out of the way to work on the next guy. But the managers will generally try to solve your problems.
I ask him to re-book me to the Toronto-Newark (NY) flight.
It leaves 8.55 PM (so I still do not have a lot of time since I just gained another 25 minutes…) That flight is the last flight out of Toronto to New York on Sunday.
4) I land in Toronto at 8.08 PM (1 hour and 58 minutes late.)
Walk through security and get “flagged” by Air Canada and have to do a extensive security check.
Arrive at the “customs” area at 8.20 PM (that’s 35 minutes before the DEPARTURE of my new flight…)
US customs have this feature where only have to look at a photo of my bag to “claim” it, instead of picking it up and checking it in. (Great service)
It’s supposed to take “15 minutes” to get our bags off the plane, photographed and tagged to our name so we can “claim” it.
There are 4 service personal from Air Canada at the “Luggage service” desk ready to assist us so we make our connections (or so I thought there were.)
Between 8.20 and 8.45 one by one the service staff start to walk away!
When the LAST person leaves the service desk I stop her and ask: “Wait, someone needs to be here and help us?!”
She replies: “I do not know where everyone left?”
Me: “I do not care, but YOU have to stay!”
She: “I will get the manager.”
Me: “No, you need to stay here and help us. There is still a chance we can make our flight!”
She walks away.
Lesson 4: Never fly with Air Canada!
5) I an few others booked on that NY flight (and another sad man trying to get to Philadelphia) are now alone in the customs waiting area. A customs guy comes and says “We are closing this area now, you will spend the night in Toronto. I will have to escort you out.”
Normally I would advice: “Never argue with customs officers” (it never works and they just tend to get pissed off and make your life hell because they can…)
But this time I decide to break my rule.
Me: “We were told to wait her by the Air Canada staff as she was going to get the manager.”
While we argue back and forth the Air Canada woman comes back (without a manager)
by stalling the customs guy I had gotten one last chance.
Lesson 5: Sometimes you should argue with customs guys, but generally you should not…
The Air Canada lady says: “They are closing here, your bags will not be processed and you will have to stay here over night, please go with me.”
The rest of the people booked for NY decide to go with the woman.
Lesson 6: If an airline staff tells a group of people to follow her to get “rebooked” you must EITHER be the FIRST one to go with her (and stay close to her and make friends with her) so that she takes care of you first when you get to the service desk (where there will be chaos…) – OR – you decide to NOT follow with the crowd and see if you can solve it by being contrarian.
I decide to stay.
It’s now just me and the sad man flying to Philadelphia (his flight is the only remaining flight out of Toronto to USA this night (at 9.20 PM).
He argues that he should be let through and the Air Canada woman screams to the security guy “See if you can scan his boarding card and get him through.”
(It sounds like something she just says to get rid of the sad man, and then she is gone with her group of “duckling passengers”.
The sad man gets his boarding pass scanned – and it works!
(Turns out that his bag was just that second marked as “missing” which meant he could now fly without his bag…)
I smile at the security guard and say: “Would you mind scan my boarding pass too…?”
And it works!
My bag had also been marked as “missing” and re-booked for a flight to NY tomorrow morning. (that also means I (!) have been re-booked for Monday morning, but never mind that for now…)
Lesson 7: Never give up. Always say to yourself: “ I will be on that flight.”
My problem is that it is now 8.51 (ie four minutes before my flights DEPARTURTE) and I have not gone through customs or emigration yet.
Luckily it is – for once – a breeze to get through (probably because the guys working there are now on over-time since they should have gone home 15 minutes ago…)
My plan is not to make my flight, but get re-booked last minute on the 9.20 PM flight to Philly and then take a 2 hour Uber driver to New York when I land.
I prefer to be on the move trying to get closer to my destination than to be stuck. Especially stuck in the wrong country.
Lesson 8: Always be looking for alternative options. Always be moving towards your destination.
I also happened to note that the flight to Philly had the same gate (!) as my flight to NY so IF (!) for some strange reason, I would still make the NY flight it would be at the same gate…
I arrive at the Philly gate and see that the NY flight is still open! (It was never flagged as “delayed”, but still it is.)
It’s now 9.02 PM (7 minutes after scheduled departure.) – The sign blinks “Last Call”.
Me: “Hi, can you please get me on the flight.”
Air Canada woman: “Sorry you are scheduled for tomorrow with your bag.”
Me: “My bag is missing, that’s how they let me through the customs without my bag.”
She: “But we found it now.” (seems they had found my bag and now did not want to call it “lost” anymore.)
Me: “I really do not care. I am here and I want to make my flight, you can send my bag tomorrow.”
She: “But your bag is no longer missing…”
It is now 9.04 PM
I hear another woman say: “Change the sign to “Gate Closed.”
Lesson 9: Know when to stop being nice and start demanding what you want.
I look for the supervisor and walk over to her.
Me: “I paid $14 000 (!) for this ticket. It’s your fault that am late because your first flight was late and for this flight you miss-located my bag.”
She: “Let me see what I can do.”
Me: Big smile. “Thank you.”
Lesson 10: Never be too angry, just show your teeth and then go back to smiling. No-one likes a angry person.
It’s now 9.07 PM
The managers gets me a boarding card, leds me through a roped off area (gate is already closed and walkway to plane blocked off…)
I walk on board my flight, they close the door behind me and we push back.
It’s now 9.08, exactly 60 minutes after I stepped off the plane from Hong Kong.
Lesson 11: Always push forward with a positive mindset and tell yourself you are going to make it.
So, In one hour I managed to:
Walk from plane to customs area,
get through security
get trough extra security screening
wait for my luggage (that never arrived) in the waiting area for 20+ minutes
Argue with Air Canada staff who left
Get through Immigration
Get through customs
Walk to new gate
Argue with Air Canada staff (again)
Get on plane.
(I also managed to go to the toilet, check emails and get a drink 😉
I am writing this in the Uber going to the hotel. I will arrive at my hotel at 11.45 PM – (instead as the planned 10.45 PM) – and I will sleep in the hotel bed on Manhattan, next to my venue tomorrow, for a full 8 hours (instead of getting 5 hours or so at some airport hotel in Toronto.).
All is good.
ps. My bag did of course not make it. Will be very interesting to see if Air Canada will be able to get it to Omaha (where I will be by then ) by Tuesday. My experience with Air Canada tells me they will not.
Or as the United Airlines guy trying to help me find my missing bag (when Air Canada staff was not in their Missing Luggage office as they should be): “Air Canada is the least service minded and helpful airline in this airport.
I would go one step further and say: The least service minded airline in the sky. Their slogan should be “Hell in the sky.” I have flown with 50+ airlines (including North Korea Air!) and Air Canada is – by far! – the worst airline. (How can a country full of so many friendly people have such an unfriendly airline?)
So bonus lesson: Never, ever pack anything essential in your checked in luggage – “Just stay Calm and (pack in) Carry on’”. And Avoid Air Canada…
Anyway, I still made it. Good night.
(Picture of the empty Air Canada desk after everyone working there had left, taken at 8.50 PM – ie 5 minutes before my flights departure time, when I was still on the wrong side of customs and immigration… Most people would probably have given up by then… 😉