“That’s right, sir. The airport is the only place in Edmonton where you can have
your ticket re-issued.” Those were the chilling
words that rewarded my 35-minute wait on the Air
Canada help line as I tried to change an unused
ticket before the current seat sale expired.
Next morning I made the 50-minute drive without
the usual feeling of expectancy that the beginning
of a trip brings. Today’s was same-morning
return—but at least no baggage could be lost.
With any luck I’d arrive back at work in
plenty of time for a productive day.
I brought my parking stub with me into the newly
opened Terminal II (dedicated entirely to our
largest carrier) hoping that like the Eaton Centre
I could get it stamped and save at least enough
for a down payment on the gas. The early morning
passengers were stoically kicking their bags to
the head of the Snakes & Ladders-like check-in
line, which if unwound would have reached Leduc.
I smiled in quiet triumph as I marched past them
and went directly to the customer-free Purchase
Tickets Only desk.
I quickly established my desire to apply the
value of my four-month-old Palm Springs ticket
against a reservation I’d just made for Ottawa.
The agent nodded knowingly, brought up my file
and began making the changes. I knew the fares
were similar but was expecting to be charged the
$100 re-issue fee.
Sounding like a priest who’d cornered a
long-absent parishioner she said, “The Additional
Collection will be $213.”
“But, that’s more than double! Have
the penalties been merged as well as the airlines?”
I cried. She laughed with me and quietly confessed
to being a former Canadian Airlines employee who
found her new working conditions to be similar
to Canada Post in its glory days of Jean-Claude
Perrault and institutionalized strife.
Despite the fact that I had never made the trip,
we soon learned that the U.S. taxes were non-refundable.
That was the difference. My inquiry as to whether
Uncle Sam would issue a donation receipt was met
with a blank stare. Nonetheless, having long ago
lowered my expectation for all things connected
with air travel, I surrendered my credit card,
shrugged off another value-subtracted transaction
and awaited my new ticket.
During this pause I had a chance to reflect on
Air Canada’s unerring ability to stay in
the public eye since devouring its chief rival
last year. I recalled President & CEO Robert
Milton crowing just before Christmas that his
self-imposed 180 day “fix everything”
had been achieved ahead of time. To celebrate,
he’d fired 3,500 employees and raised the
fares. Next he went back to his Roots and purchased
a large stake in the beret-backed airline that
crash landed before it had a chance to take off.
But he couldn’t fix the books and, after
“tipping off” 13 of his closest analytical
friends that the year-end’s results would
be “lower than predicted”, he was forced
to grab $1 million of his shareholders’ cash
to pay the Ontario Securities Commission’s
fines. (Even in Monopoly© there are rules.)
Fortunately, $500,000 of that will be put into
a designated fund for “investor education,”
thus ensuring they would not be caught again.
Presumably the most recent chop of 4,000 more
jobs will include the executives in charge of
investor relations. But Milton will share their
pain: his own salary of $1 million has been gutted
“Who’s for Vancouver?” bellowed
another long-suffering service representative
to the adjacent herd of ticketed travellers. I
hadn’t been “for” Vancouver in
years, having endured six months there of rain,
winds and Glen Clark’s home videos. Nonetheless,
like the Pied Piper, his relocation song soon
attracted a dozen subscribers who were sent up
the ladder to the Executive Class check-in. How
very un-Canadian, I thought. We’re a docile,
patient people and here was intentional corporate-led
queue jumping. By the expressions and oaths emanating
from those who weren’t Wet Coast admirers,
I fully expected an outbreak of line rage!
But their discomfort was small beer compared
to mine as the computer refused to print my ticket.
Three times my agent pounded, pressed and pushed
data into the uncooperative program. Smiling bravely,
she summoned her supervisor who was only too happy
to assist rather than face the smouldering wrath
of those whose destinations were incapable of
getting them ahead.
My service duo set about their work as if I wasn’t
there; I’d been put on hold without the cheesy
music. Worse still, this extended wait guaranteed
another hour of parking charges—not even
the free copy of the Edmonton Journal would balance
that equation. My lighthearted inquiries as to
where I should submit the invoice for my time,
fuel and non-flying customer parking was met with
a double icy glare. Tactfully pointing out that
this morning’s preferred landing-place had
a well-appointed Air Canada ticket office in its
downtown core probably did little to speed the
The morning rush finally dissipated. I remained
the longest-served client in the sparkling new
terminal. Like my fellow travellers, my initial
smugness had departed. Suddenly, accompanied by
squeals of technological triumph from my travel
staff, the dot-matrix printer spat out my ticket
and credit card charges without further cajoling.
I quickly signed, proffered thanks and ran towards
the parking garage remembering that although it
was my airport improvement fees that had constructed
this stalled beauty, I would forever have to continue
paying for the privilege of using it.
I got back to my desk nearly two hours late.
On top of my in-box was our public institution’s
statistical report. It concluded that since beginning
to charge admission to the very citizens who had
funded its construction, attendance had dropped
by more than half. In the same period our population
had increased by 30%. I wondered where everyone
had gone, then began browsing WestJet’s flight