corporate.trivia.host.canada.jpgCorporate trivia host Canada

Where to begin with this one…

As I write this, I am currently on vacation with my family (although “vacation” is a relative term when you are the CEO of a company specializing in corporate trivia entertainment events).

Keeping aside the need to run my trivia hosting business smoothly, for the past week my wife, two young children and I have been crisscrossing the continent visiting family and friends. We left our home in Long Beach, California a week and a half ago, spending several days in Prince Edward Island on the Northeast corner of North America – Canada’s smallest province, if you’d like a bit of trivia.

The plan was to then make our way down to the New York City region, which is only a skip and a jump away compared to the cross-country trek from SoCal. Because PEI is such a small, relatively remote place, the airport is quite small, and there are very few direct flights. We checked in to our flight leaving Prince Edward Island last Wednesday morning, went through security, and expected a quick trip to Toronto before connecting to a Newark, NJ flight.

The first part of the journey was relatively uneventful; we landed in Toronto, where we were required to go through security screening again (I don’t know why) before proceeding through the mild aggravation of customs, as our final destination was the United States. We had a couple of hours before the connecting flight would take off. My wife insisted that we confirm with the airline that we didn’t need to manually take our checked luggage with us, and after speaking with somebody at the customer service desk, we were assured that our checked bags would be transferred to our connecting flight automatically.

We found a place to eat with the kids, then went to the duty free area and purchased some of Canada’s famed ice wine (delicious after-dinner wine, I highly recommend if you haven’t tried). With the plane scheduled to board in ten minutes, we then made our way over to the gate.

When we got there, however, we were in for a surprise. Instead of saying “New York,” the gate our flight was supposed to leave from said “Houston.” Puzzled, I went up to the gate agent and asked where our flight to Newark was.

“It’s been cancelled,” he said flatly.

Stunned, I repeated his last word: “CANCELLED?”

“Yes,” he replied, “Major thunderstorms in the New York City metropolitan region, all fights tonight leaving Canada for NYC have been cancelled. You’ll either be waiting here for hours for a rebooked flight, or you’re not going to leave until tomorrow.”

We grabbed the kids and rushed back to the customer service desk, which was now mobbed with fellow freaked-out ticket holders. Right in the middle of this mess was a stoic airline representative, dutifully handing out “Disrupted Travel” brochures while repeating the same thing over and over:

“All flights to the New York area are cancelled; all other flights this evening are fully booked; the next available flights aren’t until tomorrow; the airline will not be providing you with lodging; if you checked luggage, your bags are downstairs at Carousel 10.”

My wife and I both jumped on our phones: me to the airline, she to research local hotels. Before long, we had rebooked ourselves on a flight to La Guardia leaving at 8am, and had a room booked at a nearby hotel. Frustrated yet somewhat relieved, we led the kids down to what we thought would be baggage claim.

Imagine our surprise, however, when we got off of the escalator to discover a cavernous room in a state of complete and utter pandemonium. There were literally thousands of people lined up in multiple cues, crisscrossing each other and leading to who knows where. As it turns out, because we were no longer headed towards the United States but would in fact be staying in Canada for the night, we had to go through customs AGAIN.

Fast forward an hour, we finally make it through and are herded into an adjacent cavernous space, the main baggage claim area – which was another zoo. We elbowed our way over to Carousel 10, where not only was the carousel completely packed, but there were row upon row of unclaimed bags ringing the entire perimeter of the conveyor belt. I made my way around once, then twice, carefully scrutinizing the area for our checked bags.

But they weren’t there.

I then waited on the monstrous line to speak with an airline baggage representative, while my wife took our increasingly irritable and rambunctious kids to the bathroom. When I got to the front of the line, I presented my bar code stickers identifying our bags, and asked where they might be.

“You’re not getting your bags tonight,” the rep said in a depressed tone.

“Uh…what?” was all I could stammer out.

“There’s about 300 people ahead of you who have requested bags – I am 99.9% positive that if you waited around here all night, you still wouldn’t get them.”

“So…they’ll just be put on my new flight tomorrow?”

“Yes, that is correct.”

It looked like we would be spending the night in a foreign city, in an airport hotel, with two small kids – and no stuff.

I won’t bore you with the details of our overnight stay in Toronto, which was actually pretty decent considering the circumstances. When we returned to the airport at 6am the next morning for our flight, however, things definitely got…interesting.

After the airline’s online check-in crashed, we showed up and had to manually check in. Even at the crack of dawn, the place was an absolute madhouse: thousands upon thousands of other travelers who had been forced to spend the night in Toronto. We waited in a massive line to check in, then asked about the status of our bags. The ticketing agent scanned our documents, but said the bags didn’t appear to be loaded on the plane. She suggested we ask the gate agent.

Getting to the gate was a nightmare. After waiting in the longest lines imaginable, we had to go through security and customs AGAIN. Because we hadn’t been given back our checked luggage, that duty free wine we’d purchased the day before was confiscated by security when we tried to take it aboard in our carry-on bag. By the time we finally made it to the gate – stressed, hungry and un-caffeinated – the boarding was already underway. I presented our baggage stubs to the gate agent as instructed, who after a moment investigating told us that while she didn’t physically see our bags, we shouldn’t worry because she was “almost positive” they made it aboard our flight.

By this point in the story, I’m sure you can imagine what we discovered when our plane landed in La Guardia. You guessed it – no bags.

Want to guess when our bags finally arrived? Four days later. That’s right – we had to fend for ourselves away from home with two small kids, with no luggage, for four straight days.

I’ve written something like 800 or 900 posts on this blog since I began producing corporate entertainment and trivia team building events back in 2009, and every one of them has a distinct lesson or set of useful information attached to it. But you know what? For this one, I think I just needed to vent a bit.

If you would like to read another post from a similar airline situation a couple of years ago which DOES have some helpful tie-ins with tips, pointers, etc. you can follow this link. You can also read about my favorite Canadian trivia host here http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/pat-kiernan-teams-up-with-trivworks-114573574.html