Saturday, February 27, 2010

Helsinki, Day 1 – Scheduling Disaster

I am off to visit Helsinki for a bit over a week … at least, that was my plan. I was told Wednesday that my expertise (yes, I do have some :-) was needed there immediately, so I booked a last minute flight on Air Canada through Toronto and Frankfurt. A pretty bog-standard trip.

However … connections through Pearson or O’Hare are anything but standard when weather hits, as it did last night. So I was delayed in Ottawa for 2 hours plus … as I watched my 2 hour window close, I visited agents 3 times and was assured that every flight at Pearson had been delayed by a minimum of 90 minutes, so my interval was supposedly maintained. Note: This turned out to be true, the Frankfurt connection left about 90 minutes late … read on.

We finally left about two hours late, so my interval was down to less than 90 minutes now … when we arrived in Toronto, we taxied for the usual eternity and then just stopped. The Captain came on and said that we would get a gate in about 8 minutes or so, that we were first in line.

Nyuk nyuk nyuk …

In fact, we got our gate almost an hour later … interval gone, and so was my connection. Now, I really hate inconvenience, but this was only the beginning of the nightmare.

Once inside the terminal, an agent is waiting for us to direct the hoards to the customer service area to rebook. Like lemmings we flowed through the terminal and eventually found the customer service area, which was the place where the lineup with 300 people was situated.

I got in line and stood for 10 minutes, during which time the line stood still. It was as many as 10 people wide and went around a corner, so I had no idea what was really happening. I then had a serious brain fart and thought I might do better by sitting in a corner (there was an unused gate area nearby) and so I sat down and opened the laptop. It of course needed a full reboot, which took 5 minutes (long story and I have a new one on order) … so my blood pressure is rising while I am conflicted about leaving the lineup. This is not at all helped by watching dozens of people arrive in the line.

Once the laptop is up, I have to purchase a day of Boingo Hotspot (Internet in Ottawa airport is free now) which I do. This takes time and the pressure is building. To make a long story short, this is entirely unfruitful, so I go back to the lineup, which is about 6 to 10 feet shorter than before. I meet and chat with a very interesting Brazilian gentleman, who is waiting for new tickets to Sao Paulo for 7:45am. I scan the departures and wonder if the early morning flights might offer a chance to get to London and the Helsinki.

Nyuk nyuk nyuk … this is Olympic weekend … the end of the 16 days when half the planet is leaving Canada.

Anyway, after 30 minutes or so, the gate agent calls the Sao Paulo people to move down the hall to the next gate and the line shrinks dramatically. Only a few hundred left. Looking good.

I finally turn the corner and realize that there are actually two lines and there are two humans with dot matrix printers screaming constantly behind them … printing new boarding passes of course.

I zone out for a while, listening to couple of people chatting and pondering how much i hate my life right this minute :-) and I suddenly realize that the agent for my line has come around to the front and is sending each person away very unhappy now. By the time I get to the front of the line, I have heard the drill 6 times … “I apologize, but I have no more agents and you now have to phone Air Canada to rebook yourself, as well as finding your own hotel and claiming the cost back from Air Canada later.”

Holy sh*t … talk about abdication. Apparently, she never entertained actually calling in an agent or two to clean up this mess. So perhaps a hundred people were left hanging … the right hand line kept going for a while, and a few brave souls went to the back of that line (after standing in our line for more than an hour, this was too galling for me to entertain.)

So I went to Tm Horton’s to ponder the evolving disaster and about 10 minutes later I noticed the gate agent leading a gaggle of 39 or 40 people off to the Soylent Green factory or something.

Anyway, once I have eaten my delicious muffin (so old that the top is rock hard) and my coffee (which was pretty good actually) I call in to our travel agency and begin the process of finding flights.

My overriding concern was arrival in Helsinki by Sunday. Absolutely mandatory, since the customer was expecting me and three people were joining me from Sweden. To make this part of the story shorter, we went round the pole on a lot of options over 90 minutes (ran my battery to nothing, so had to hook the iPhone up to my laptop’s USB port to maintain power.) The Star Alliance flights out of Toronto are all sold out, including business class. In fact, almost every flight is sold out.

There was a business class seat on Lufthansa through Frankfurt today at 6, arriving tomorrow at noon. Not bad, but 4 grand for the outbound leg only. That’s a little rich. But if that was the only option, I was taking it. When I asked if that was the only option, she decided to check something else and found a British Airways flight through London that left at 9pm today and arrived at 4pm tomorrow. 2600 instead of 4300 and coach … a no-brainer, if painful loss of first class seats and all my outbound status miles. Sheesh … can this suck any worse?

She tried the local hotels and found a Holiday Inn that could take me in immediately and allow me a late checkout of 1pm. No later since they were fully sold for Saturday check in.

On my way out of the building, I stopped to speak to the luggage people to see if I could get my bag. Not a chance. However, he was very good at his job and explained that we should route the luggage on Air Canada regardless of my change of carriers for the outbound leg. That would guarantee its arrival at my hotel, whereas rerouting it to take my flight would go through Heathrow and he chuckled at my odds.

I finally grabbed the shuttle, which ended up filling with people and luggage spilling over everywhere and eventually arrived at my hotel. The clerk did not believe me at first that I had a reservation for 3am, since there are in fact two Holiday Inns on Dixon. I was worried that my travel agent had got the wrong address, but in the end he found my reservation. Whew …

So I got some decent sleep. And woke up to this crappy weather …


All images in the Helsinki series will be from the F70EXR and are straight from the camera. I am not editing anything until I get home, when I will edit a series of images from this cam and from the D300 with 18-200VR, which I brought with me in anticipation of my acclimatization day in Helsinki on Sunday.

Nyuk nyuk nyuk …

My room on this night did not suck at all, that was something.


I’m not exhausted (yet) …


And my laptop still sucks … I hit some or key or other a moment ago and got this …


How wude … once I found the settings for this, I switched off the hot keys (and rotated my screen back of course :-)

So I will be checking out in 90 minutes or so and will print off my new itineraries and will then enjoy a leisurely day at Pearson airport while I fuss over whether plan B will be screwed by the almighty weather gods …

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