Air Canada: We put the "Hell" into "Helsinki"

Why are there no new cartoons up this week?

Let me relate to you the Last 72 hours of an 18-hour trip:


Greetings from HELSINKI!

Uh…I mean Toronto.

I should be at Ropecon by now. Instead, Judith and I were lucky to find an open Tim Horton’s next to the Hilton Airport Hotel, Toronto, midnight last night…the first food we’d had in 12 hours.

The lead-up to this trip had me operating on several days of four- or three-hour-a-night’s sleep in a row, as extra work got thrown at me at the last moment.

Fortunately, the work I did during the semiconscious awake hours I had went well. In the last couple of days, I finished:

* Two Dr. Blink backup stories for Dork Tower 29 (five pages of new Blink! Woo!)
* A SnapDragons backup for DT 29 that I’m pleased with.
* A two-page Dork Tower for Dragon Magazine. I think I’ve been doing some really special cartoons for them, recently. (Anybody see the Foodie Dork Tower in the latest issue?)
* The second Redshirts comic strip for Amazing Stories
* Four Dutch Munchkin cards for the Holland version of the game.
* Five Chez Geek cards for the German version of THAT game.
* A Dork Tower for tomorrow’s Pyramid that I’m pretty chuffed with.
* A whole buncha Munchkin Bites cards .
* And much, much more…

I’d been getting to sleep at 1 am or later the last few days, waking up around 5 am. So by Wednesday morning, when we left for the airport at 10 am, I was exhausted, but exuberant. Doing good work — work I’m personally happy with — is very, very important to me.

Then we ran into Tropical Storm Air Canada.

I was a little trepidatious about a trip that involved so many changes and layovers: Madison to Chicago; Chicago to Montreal; Montreal to London; London to Helsinki. Would our baggage EVER get there, for example?

Well, I made sure that we had a four-hour layover in London, in case there was a problem or two along the way.

Trouble is, there was a problem or three. Or four.

The Air Canada Flight We Were SUPPOSED to take from Chicago to Montreal at 3:45 pm was cancelled. Just cancelled. No explanation.

But we COULD get on a 4 pm flight to Toronto, which could then get us to London a half-hour later, but still with time to spare.

So at 3:45 we boarded the plane. Despite the fact that — through the terminal windows — EVERYbody could see three mechanics and the pilot staring at the front wheel, as if they had just hit a possum.

At 4:30, we were told there were mechanical problems that could not be overcome, and we had to disembark. But “new equipment” would be brought “in 15 minutes” for us. And suddenly, our two-hour layover in Toronto became an hour-layover in Toronto, meaning that IF this new plane got off when scheduled (5 pm), we could JUST make the connecting London flight.

To be on the safe side, the chap at the Air Canada desk also booked us on a later flight to London out of Toronto, so we had seats waiting for us on the 8 pm flight AND the 10 pm flight.

“Can’t you just get us on a flight from one of your partners, to get us there quicker?” I pleaded.

“You’ll have plenty of time,” he smiled. “The new plane will be here in 15 minutes.”

Fifteen minutes, by the way, seems to be the basic unit of measurement for time at Air Canada. Maybe it’s a metric thing.

Half an hour later (“two fifteen minutes,” in metric units), the Airbus 319 arrived. So we boarded at 5:15 (45 minutes to connect in Toronto now), and waited.

Which is when time stood still.

Unfortunately, the clocks didn’t.

An hour (four metric 15 minute units) later, we finally pulled away from the gate, traveled roughly 200 meters, and then stopped. The pilot said, there was a “mechanical fault that was being looked at.” If it was serious, we could be sitting on the tarmac for an hour. If not, “we should be in the air in fifteen minutes.”

Fifteen minutes later, we were told the problem was fixed. But they were “just waiting for some paperwork to be filled out.”

And this is when the thunderstorms hit. “We’re trying to figure out a course around them,” says the pilot. “This should only take 15 minutes or so.”

Fifteen minutes later, no flight path could, apparently, be found.

So we taxied to a “holding area,” on the promise of free cocktails and all the nifty in-flight Air Canada snack mix we could eat.

It was now 8 pm Eastern Standard: the time that our flight to London was taking off from Toronto. But we could STILL make the second flight, IF…

…we had been left with more than a half-hour too change planes, go through customs, change terminals, take a shuttle bus, get new boarding passes, and run to the gate.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t .

“The last plane to London left at 10,” said the woman behind the booth at Toronto’s International Terminal, where we finally dragged our sorry selves there. “Go over to ticket counter for re-ticketing tomorrow.”

Standing in a long line late at night in an empty International air terminal is nobody’s idea of fun. So after a few minutes, Judith and I started taking turns alternately waiting in line and wandering the empty, cavernous building.

It was only on my second walkabout, at 10:30, that I glanced at a Status Board to see that the flight to London, Heathrow was listed as “10:30 pm – On Time.”

I strolled purposefully back to the woman behind the counter.

“At 10:10, you told me that the flight had left,” I said, trying to be calm and reasonable, yet leaving no doubt that I was as peeved as a pack of rabid French weasels that were travelling internationally.

“Well, you never would have made it,” came the non-answer answer. “You only had 15 minutes.”

Our luggage, apparently, was swifter than humans could have possibly been, and DID make the flight. It is now in London, and Judith and I are in Toronto. We can’t hook up with any friends, since we have to remain here until we get the last leg of our rescheduled trip figured out. We were given $7 vouchers for breakfast at a hotel where the buffet runs $15. We also have $10 lunch vouchers. My guess is burgers start at $20.

We’re in clothes we’ve been wearing for 24 hours, and which need to suffice for the next 18, at least. Right now, we’re back off to the airport, to try to figure at what time Air Canada will get us to Helsinki…and what we can extract from them in the meantime.

I don’t think it will take me long to come up with some ideas.

Give me 15 minutes.



Things are getting…worse…

Not COSMICALLY worse, of course. We’re not in a warzone, nobody’s dying, life would be good…

But according to Finnair, the flight an Air Canada worker told us he had booked us on does NOT show us as being booked.

We are in Toronto’s AWFUL remote International terminal, waiting for our flight to Heathrow. Once we are IN Heathrow, who knows?

I used to think it funny that Heathrow had two Sock Shops in its international terminal. I would pay GOOD money for a clean pair of socks right now.

My family in London is desperately looking for any flight that will get us to Helsinki on Friday. I m kicking myself for not booking one when Judith and I were at the BA ticket counter earlier. That was for 500 poinds EACH, but right now, I’d give pretty much any amount to be done with this and in Helsinki.

Bottom line after a day of discussions with airlines:

Air Canada accepts NO responsibility for the fact that they made us miss our flight to Helsinki. (All any ONE of their three potential flights had to do was get where they were supposed to on time. But nooooooooooo…even though the problems were mechanical)

British Airways says there are NO economy class tickets to be had on any of their other flights to Helsinki Friday.

Finnair has economy flights…for $900 each. This is apparently some strange new usage of the word “economy” that I was previously unaware of.

There is no good internet access here (I’m at one of those horrible Kiosks), but even if it means going from Heathrow all the way to Stanstead Airport the moment we touch down, I hope that at SOME point I’ll be in Helsinki tomorrow.

Folks know I love to travel. But this may be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever had to face, as far as airlines are concerned. I’m sure my blood pressure’s through the roof right now.

Oh, boy. Only an hour left in this Terminal of the Damned.




The lovely and talented Judith and I will get into Helsinki LATE Friday, but we WILL get in!

Madison to Chicago. Chicago to Toronto. Toronto to London. London to Amsterdam. Amsterdam to Helsinki.

I have NEVER travelled such a roundabout, multi-layovered route before.

But I’m outrageously happy that (knock on wood) I *will* be at Ropecon!

I hear Finnish beer is grand.

I will need LOTS of it.


PS. MANY thanks to all those Canadians that offered support (and socks)! I’ll be back…and under better circumstances!



The Surreal World

The lovely and talented Judith and I are in Heathrow at last, and tickets are in hand for the next leg of this bizarre journey.

The least expensive flights we could find were on KLM, leaving London at 2:30 pm, arriving in Amsterdam around 5 pm, then leaving for Helsinki around 8 pm and finally getting in at 10:25.

Phew. But also: Dinner in Amsterdam. Cool.

While I love Canada, Canadians, all things Canadian in general and Poutine in partricular, I have seldom been so thankful to leave a place as I was to flee from Toronto Airport’s miserably remote, personality-less International Terminal.

Our brief (though not brief enough) encounter with Air Canada did really beat into us just how NICE Canadians are, though…even when they’re telling you you have no hope of making your connection and no, there’s nothing they can do about it. Nothing at all. Sorry, eh.

However, one supervisor I spoke to was a prince.

“What can you do to make this better for us?” I asked.

“Several things,” he replied.

And THAT is how Judith and I crossed the Atlantic First Class, and got into the Air Canada Arrivals Club in Heathrow, to shower, change, and in general feel like a million dollars.

A million EXHAUSTED dollars, but a Million nevertheless.

Now let’s see how KLM treats us.

I don’t suppose telling them that I just finished some cool Dutch Munchkin cards will help…



“Where am I?” I ask Judith, as I awake, completely oblivious as to what any possible answer could be.

“Finland,” she says.

“What day is it?”


And life is good again.

The nine-hour layover in Heathrow is over.

The KLM flight to Amsterdam is over. The two-hours we waited inside the 737 BEFORE the flight to Amsterdam (as the words “Oh, no…not again” float Douglas-Adams like through my mind) are, likewise, over. The mad rush throug Amsterdam’s labbarynthian airport to make our 7:05 flight to Helsinki is mercifully, brilliantly, gob-smackingly amazingly over.

From the looks of it, Amsterdam is a place I’d love to visit. But therelaxed two-hour layover we were scheduled for is reduced to 15 minutes (that Canadian metric unit of time again), and the phrase “Dutch Treat” now simply means catching our plane and not being stranded in yet another major world city without luggage.

A trip that should have taken us 18 hours is now well into its third day, and I almost kiss the ground as we disembark in Helsinki. I want to hug our guest liason Anu as soon as we see her, but that doesn’t seem a very Finnish thing to do. Weeping with joy, likewise, is right out.

A light rain is falling. It is 11 pm.

Judith and I wander over to the convention, to get a feel for the lay or the land. Everything about it is disarmingly lovely. Perhaps it’s just the fresh air, after almost 72 hours of inhaling airports and airplanes’ innards, but even the stands selling vast vats of fried sausage and potatoes seem unbelievably beautiful.

A bar at the con sells a drink called “Golden Cap.” Apparently it’s a cider, and I’m not really a cider drinker – but to me, at this moment, it’s a nectar of the gods.

We are in Finland, and by some miracle just about on par with the parting of the Red Sea, our luggage is ALSO in Finland and(shock! horror!) with us.

Our room is quiet and our bed seems almost heaven-sent.

I sleep the sleep of one who has just been hit by an eighteen-wheeler, and survived.



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