Well, the Macedonian expedition is not off to a very good start. My flight from Moncton was delayed by a couple of hours; I still don’t know why. Fog? But it got in just when the flight to Istanbul was leaving. I could hear myself being paged. I told the Air Canada flunky at the gate I was here, asked where to go. She told me. I went. It was a flight to Halifax that had already gone. I went back. She gave me new directions. I ran. I ran for I don’t know how long; long enough to trigger off the asthsma that’s been in abeyance for years and end up wheezing and faint at the gate. Security of some sort had opened a door and waved me through. The Turkish ticket people had seen me coming, taken my boarding pass, told me to breathe (having a few problems with that at the time), and told me my baggage would not arrive with me. Then they were told tough luck, she’s not gettng on. About five minutes later, four other people showed up, from two other late Air Canada connecting flights.
And thus our epic journey began, not not to Istanbul, but in quest of someone, anyone, who could actually do something useful. Air Canada said “Oh well,” and gave everyone a hotel chit and a gosh, ten dollar meal chit, telling us the meal places were probably closed. They could not rebook our flights. No, we had to do that by going to a bank of white phones. Did I mention that we were sent to several different Air Canada desks before that bit of information was conveyed to us?
We were also supposed to go and get our baggage off the domesitc carosel. Tickets first, we all thought. It took several hours on the phone. I don’t think I’m exaggerating, because of the hour at which we finally reached the hotel. Something must have happened in that time. Many things, in fact, happened. The desks shut down. The cleaners began to throw chemicals on the floor, wearing breathing masks and whirling away with giant chemical-whirlers, occasionally coming over to tell us to all go away. This we politely refused to do, as some of us were getting through.
One lady had no common language with any of the rest of us, except that she understood a very little French. I discovered I could, in a pinch, speak a very little that did not have too much German mixed in, and that was what we got by on, until one of the others helped her reach a Russian speaking AC phone flunkie. After a couple of hours, and various calls on the gentlemen’s cell phones to the relatives of the lady we couldn’t really say anything complex too, we were all assured our tickets were fixed up for flights the next day.
(This means I am missing the launch of the Macedonian translation of Torrie and the Pirate-Queen with the schoolchildren of Skopje, as well as the reception with the Canadian Ambassador to Serbia and some philology professors.)
We then attempted to retrieve our luggage. Although a baggage chap did his best, we were kindly assured that the Air Canada person didn’t know what she was talking about and our baggage was not about to show up because everyone had gone home to bed, come back in the morning. Oh, and they couldn’t find the baggage of the lady who didn’t speak English or French, though the rest of us were assured our baggage existed, somewhere else.
So, we found the hotel shuttle. This was getting on for two a.m. local time. The hotel had no rooms. They found rooms, after a fashion. I had a suite with gold-plated (well, it was trying to look that way) taps, but no hot water except in the sink. The couple ended up letting themselves into a room that was already occupied. Another gentleman had a room that was out of service due to decaying food in the fridge, apparently, but it was that or the couch in the lobby. But at least we weren’t camped in Pearson. Plus, they gave me toothpaste. I can forgive a lot for that. It was hardly their fault Air Canada didn’t check on whether any rooms actually existed.
Come morning, all bags but one appeared. We decended in force upon the baggage people and after some phoning, our party of waifs’ last bag appeared. We descended upon Air Canada to claim our promised tickets. The couple got through no problem, but the other three of us all had difficulties, apparently engendered by the call centre people. The last two of us stuck with the lady who didn’t speak English and eventually an Air Canada person who was doing his honest best found someone on the phone who could explain the details of his efforts to her. Some of us had to go away and wait and come back later when other airlines people would be answering their phones. In my case, the problem was that the call centre person appeared to have cancelled the Skopje to Istanbul leg of my return flight. Since I can’t teleport and am not about to hike across the Balkans, whatever Patrick Leigh Fermor may once have done in differently interesting times, I felt this perhaps ought to be resolved.
Meanwhile, we last two got our non-Canadian friend’s ticket problems sorted, thanks to the one helpful Air Canada chap who worked into his lunch hour to do it and found us in yet another lineup to give it to her. We saw her to get her boarding pass and to security. I hope the rest of her trip is uneventful. Next time, I expect her family will be instructed to come visit her, none of this sending tickets!
And much after that, I persuaded someone at Air Canada that perhaps I needed to be able to fly out of Skopje and that as they had cancelled it, they could darn well uncancel it. They allege they have done so. The proof, unfortunately, awaits the transformation of a Lufthansa lineup into a Turkish lineup, which hasn’t happened yet. Two more hours to go before I can join yet another queue and find out if, just maybe, I will be flying to Istanbul tonight and on to Skopje.
And back. Let’s not forget back.
What none of the five castaways understand is that we all had connecting flights; we were all on their computers; they are all allied airlines. They knew were were en route. They knew our planes were arriving just at the departure time. Waiting ten for fifteen minutes for us to run the length or breadth or round and round or wahtever it was of Pearson would not have delayed that flight significantly at all. The planes were all several hours late; they had ample warning of the situation. We could have informed at our plane-exiting of where to go (correctly, mind you. In my case, the misdirection probably made that one minute’s difference). None of this was necessary at all. It has caused entirely undue stress to a lady alone in a foreign land, caused lots of problems for others, ruined plans for the most important parts of a literary festival that many people have been working very hard at, and investing much time and money in, since last June.
At least we all made some new friends. I hope I, or anyone else lost and alone in a foriegn land without any common tongue to get by on, can find such a gang to stand by them in our turn.
With luck, I will be off for two days in Macedonia in another few hours. I’m afraid my efforts to learn Macedonian are not going to do me much good. I’m exhausted and have been trying to think intermittantly in French for the past many hours, to the point that when I accidentally ran a trolley into the luggage of a man speaking Chinese, I apologized in French. I guess it’s temporarily been elevated to default foreign language, though I notied in the last hour or so that German is being to reassert itself.
Anyway, that’s my update for now. We still have a reading at a Roma children’s charitable group scheduled, so I will get to meet some children and introduce them to Torrie. I will have spent more time travelling than being there, though.
Pearson International, in my opinion, is one of the lower circles of hell.