I’ve heard it said many times that Canadians are some of the nicest people you will meet.
I’ve now learned this is true.
“If you need any help, we are here. We can call people for you or get you to where you need to go — Anything, just ask.” This kindness and concern came from strangers in an airport. Three Canadian women stared at Andrew and I, genuinely listening and showing sympathy as we explained what happened.
“It all started the moment we arrived at the airport,” Andy and I said together and this is how we begin our story to anyone patient enough to listen . . .
We woke at 3am on a Friday to head to our small local airport where we would take off for a series of four flights that were supposed to last a total of twelve and a half hours. Our first flight was set to Boston at 6:30am. After, we would fly to Toronto followed by a flight to Vancouver then a last flight to our final destination of Campbell River in Canada’s British Columbia. Campbell River was where we would spend one week kayaking around and backcountry camping in uninhabited wild forest islands.
This trip, by the way, was paid for one month short of a year in advance, which shows our overwhelming excitement for our next Bucket List adventure. Normally, we are spontaneous planners: When we happen across a unique adventure that will challenge us, we immediately book the trip and set it for a few months away so that we cannot back out.
This Canada trip was vastly different.
“We’ve been scuba diving in search of whale sharks — twice,” Andrew told me and it was true. This is my top Bucket List dream but after diving in both Honduras and the Galápagos Islands, the elusive sharks never showed so we still couldn’t check that box. “I think is my turn now,” he said.
I agreed. I had to. It wasn’t fair to continue galavanting around the world with my dream solely in tow. “Right,” I answered back. “So what’s your dream?” But we both knew — His was to kayak with killer whales.
This led us to Spirit of the West Adventures — and I’ll say here in case I forget to say later, if you have any desire for a kayaking adventure, book with this company. Spirit of the West prides themselves on multi-day kayaking tours (in various countries) that offer “the best experience whale watching, paddling and reconnecting with nature.” Simply put, the company is remarkable and I could go on eternally about how remarkable but hopefully this post will illustrate that.
And so our search for a Spirit of the West tour began: There were whale and wilderness kayak adventures; there were glamping (glamorous camping) and backcountry camping kayak ventures; and then there were coastal mountain scenery, rainforest, and island life kayaking trips. The one we chose though was their ultimate package: the Johnstone Strait Expedition.
At the time, this expedition was the longest available and the only trip to combine all day kayaking with orca and humpback sightings, numerous wooded and rainforest-ed islands, wild camping, First Nations culture and history, and even a floating lodge the first night.
The description kept getting better; however, I was sold at the start. “Humpback whales?!” I shrieked elated. My second Bucket List goal would be crossed off with Andrew’s first. The opportunity to get close to a humpback, to see its tale, to see its head — its eyes! — I was beyond myself with the sheer thought.
“Yep, let’s book it,” Andy said without hesitation and so we booked the trip last summer . . . without a second thought to our absolutely and utter lack of kayaking experience.
Let me backtrack: See, Our Bucket List Quest started with my yearning to scuba dive with whale sharks . . . even though we were not open-water certified divers at the time. Now Andrew’s dream to kayak with orcas existed . . . even though we had zero kayaking experience. I mean, technically we both touched a kayak before and sat in one for our two-hour paddle on a flat river but truthfully, if you read that post, you will know I barely survived. Now here we were, paying for a moderate-level kayaking trip with zero kayaking skill.
Even more shocking, we determined to pass on a custom trip — you know, a trip created and catered solely for us so that we could learn and grow and travel without pressure and at a pace we were comfortable. But nooo — We passed on that custom option, determined we could hack it with a kayaking group. Yep, that means we apparently welcomed embarrassment and shame in front of the judgement of super-skilled kayakers. Because let’s be honest: They would all be super-skilled. No one signs up for a week-long all-day kayaking trip in a different country without kayaking knowledge. Again, our intelligence astounds me every time.
Trip paid for though, we had essentially a year to put aside our stresses and fears and concerns and basically ignore the inevitable . . . until it became the inevitable. And so our trip finally arrived.
“Hi, we couldn’t pull up our tickets at the ticket kiosk,” Andrew told the Delta lady at the front desk the day of our departure.
“Okay. I’ll just need your passports,” the woman whose nametag read Karen said while taping furiously on her keyboard. “You don’t see it because it isn’t there. Who did you book your trip through?”
“Expedia,” Andrew said. “I have the information here” and he pulled our copies of email — proof of a paid for and planned trip.
“No need,” she dismissed what he produced with a flourish of her hand. “Expedia cancelled all of your flights. It looks like there was a change — You were to fly to Boston as scheduled. Then there was a change and you would fly to Atlanta.” She continued looking at our reservation, “But this has you flying from Boston when you would have been in the air heading out of Atlanta and — wait. This actually doesn’t make sense at all. That is an impossible flight.” She hesitated while we open-mouth gaped at her. “It also looks like the airline informed Expedia of their change, but Expedia never informed you or made an alternate itinerary that would work.” She looked up at us as if giving us a final answer.
“We clearly weren’t told this,” Andrew repeated and this was true. We had tracked our emails diligently. We had checked our flights the night and morning before we left. We had been diligent (There’s a first time for everything) and done all we could.
“Alright so you said we were to still fly to Boston so we can just take our original flight there and instead of leaving for Atlanta, we will stay and then board our original flight to Toronto and so on.” This seemed an easy fix but what I would soon learn was that I could not even begin to fathom the horrid mess-up.
“You would think that, but your seats were given away. As I said — Expedia cancelled your flights. All of them. You won’t be able to get onto this Boston flight — or any flights. You don’t have any seats.”
The look on Andrew’s and my face cannot be reduplicated through actions or words. Here we were after almost a year of waiting . . . for Andrew’s dream trip . . . bags in hand . . . pets dropped off at my parents . . . vacation requests approved . . . taxis, ferries, and B&Bs booked . . . holiday paid for . . . and this Delta woman said we couldn’t go. I was at a cross of getting aggressively loud and also openly weeping in front of her.
In the end, Karen gave us her best advice: “You only have forty-five minutes until your Boston flight. The best I can do is put you both on stand-by and hope you can stay in Boston long enough to somehow get your original seats for Toronto . . . and Vancouver . . . and Campbell River. But at best, you will more than likely be on stand-by for all of these so making them is extremely unlikely.” I heard her fingers tap, tap, tap again on her keyboard. “For instance, everyone has already checked in for this flight. And it is a full flight.” She stared at us. We stared at her. Clearly, we had missed her original message: “You have to run — You may not even make the Boston flight. You only have forty-five minutes.” Well, we did have two hours, Karen — not that I blame you for attempting to sort our un-sortable trip because little did I know then but her recommendation was the least impossible of what we would encounter.
Regardless, as we ran through the first airport of the day, Karen’s last warning haunted me:
“This happens often with people that book through Expedia. If I could say not to do one thing in the future, it would be not to book through Expedia.”
With zero minutes to spare, we made it to the Delta desk as the Boston flight was being boarded.
“We have two stand-by tickets,” Andrew and I announced out of breath, producing our two tickets. I felt embarrassed having hope for two — Two stand-bys held slimmer odds than one.
“Yep, I see you in our system,” Delta Rep Number Two said, looking at his computer screen. His nametag read Jeffrey but know in advance it should have read Airline Angel. “We have six people who have not showed yet — It appears one is a family of four and another is a couple. And this man was waiting on stand-by before you. But the gate will close in ten minutes though so let’s see if everyone comes.”
Anxiously, Andrew and I waited as the last people in line disappeared down the tunnel and onto the plane . . . and the previously waiting stand-by man walked past Jeffrey to board. Time stretched in that slow way it does when one’s desire swells.
Eight minutes after departure, the family of four came tearing up to the gate. They had their shoes in their hands, their hair tussled, their mouths all open as they gasped for breath.
Jeffrey scanned their ticket as my heart sank with each beep, beep, beep, beep the machine made.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered seeming to understand and also seeming to cheer us on. “There are still two seats left.” No sooner did he say that when a man raced to the gate yelling and waving his ticket.
“My son is still in the TSA line!” he shouted, hair disheveled, bags unzipped with contents spilling out, which he did not go back for and reclaim.
“Let’s hope he is here soon,” Jeffrey told him. A minute more passed. Nine minutes past departure now.
“Will you fly without your son?” Jeffrey asked the man who still stood son-less.
“No,” the man said. “He’s coming” and he turned his back on our Airline Angel to call his son — again and again — in an effort to confirm progress.
By this time, Andrew and I had been talking to Jeffrey — We had shared our sob-story of our vacation plans to the point that I felt certain Jeffrey was also a certified therapist. Seriously. He was handing me tissues at this point while I was crying opening. “Expedia strands travelers often, believe it or not,” he had said. “If you have to choose a third party booking site, I recommend Orbitz.”
Here we learned Orbitz was created by the airlines after they had enough of third-party booking sites — like Expedia. To combat Expedia — Delta, United, Continental, Northwest, and American all invested millions into a company called Orbiz. This essentially means these airlines care about the passengers because they have shares in the passengers’ purchases. Good to know and good to pass on . . .
“Sir, I’m sorry,” Jeffrey said to the waiting man, “but I have to close the door — This is the time for boarding to end. I’ve held the plane ten minutes past departure. How far is your son now?”
“He’s coming!” the man exploded, not necessarily angry at Jeffrey but strung so tightly he snapped. “I just spoke to him and he is through security! He’s coming!” The man appeared as Andrew and I — the three of us pacing, biting fingernails, dashing glances down the airport. This man’s wish was where Andrew and I hoped he would falter.
“I’ve never hoped for someone to not make a flight more,” Andrew whispered to me and I understood. While that man and his son surely had their own story, this is simply ours and this first flight wasn’t simply one flight — or even multiple flights. This one mishap compromised our Campbell River flight — and that Campbell River flight was the last one of the day. This is important because our tour left the next morning at 8am. After that, the next Campbell River flight was at 8:20am, which meant it was too late and we would miss our trip entirely. It wasn’t even as if we missed one tour or one hotel booking or one taxi-pick-up. Sure we would miss those steps to get to our group, but our group would be gone — They would be traveling away from land to kayak in the ocean for a week. Even when they would pause to camp, they would not have cell service on remote, uninhabited islands. And even if they had service, we could not be solo-airlifted or boated in. There was no way we would see or find our group again.
“I’m sorry but — ” and right when that word crossed Jeffrey’s lips, right when he was turning to us to offer two miracle-seats . . . the man’s son came racing down the hall.
My eyes flooded with more tears as the two disappeared. I’ve never felt such heartbreak in disappointment.
“Hold on,” I heard Jeffrey call. “Let me handle this plane but I think I can find another flight” and he disappeared for a moment only to return and re-tap keys again.
Here, he offered us a flight to Detroit and from Detroit, Seattle and from Seattle, Vancouver. “This is the only shot I can give you,” he said and that was because the Vancouver flight was the last of the day that would allow us to still make our Campbell River connection. Printing off the reservation, we had four hours to do the most impossible: Call Expedia to confirm the changes. Because Expedia was our original seller, Jeffrey could only create a reservation but could not actually make the schedule change.
Long story short, our already-scanned bags left for Boston without us — our bags filled with our raincoats and kayaking and camping clothes . . . our bags that had our kayak and camping clothes neatly packed in multiple waterproof bags . . . our bags that contained our sleeping bags and camp pillows.
Even on the slim chance that we made it to Campbell River, the chance that our bags would go through four airports to greet us were slim. We felt dashed of hope but we still had a resolve to try . . .
Because Andrew booked the tickets on his European computer, Expedia’s American number lead to a representative that refused to help. “You have to call Expedia UK,” the static-toned person said before hanging up.
Three and a half hours later, we made and paid for multiple international calls. Each time, after various number-option-pushes, we were able to speak to someone who would place us on hold for forty-five minutes or more. That person would then point fingers at the airlines, saying they changed the flights. The problem though wasn’t the changes — It was that Expedia never informed us of the changes or corrected the flights in a way that would have near reasonable. When we explained this, the Expedia person would then promise to call back. However, they never did. Three and a half hours of this game we played until an Expedia man who spoke little English answered and claimed he would help.
By this time, whenever we got an Expedia person, Jeffrey would take our cellphone to take charge of the situation. Being significantly more knowledgeable than Andrew and me, what was more impressive was how he was more knowledgable over Expedia. This shouldn’t be a shock though: Jeffrey did admit he had to undo Expedia’s messes often.
“What is your confirmation code?” the Expedia man asked Jeffrey.
“I don’t know what you are talking about. I already explained to you airlines do not have ‘confirmation codes.’ I just need you to confirm the schedule to the reservation that I created and sent you. You said you see it. You simply need to confirm it.”
“I cannot do that until you give me a confirmation code,” Expedia said.
“My system doesn’t give confirmation code — That is in your own system so you can get someone else to overwrite that. There is no way I can provide you with that — If I could, I would but we don’t work in ‘confirmation codes.’ Listen, I’ve already done your part and created a reservation — which you should have helped them do in the beginning. Now, I just need you to hit ‘approve.”
Long story short again: This was the most impossible part of our travels.
There was cussing.
There were tears.
There were hand gestures as Expedia continued to say, “Hold on. I will try” only to place us on extended holds and then return again to re-ask for the same confirmation code or — even worse — this question: “Are you sure you want these flights?”
Meanwhile, with our cellphone in one hand and the airport phone in the other, Jeffrey was calling every single airline in our new reservation in an attempt to bypass Expedia’s useless existance. As he did this, I took to emailing Spirit of the West and our B&B where we were supposed to stay the night we arrived.
Soon, four hours approached and our flight — our Only Hope Flight — was being held past its departure time at Jeffrey’s all-mighty command. The hang-up was still Expedia clicking ‘confirm’ on the new reservation.
“If you leave one more time and do not do what we request — ” Andrew now has his cellphone back and was full fire and fury, threatening the Expedia man. This was the first time I ever saw him truly angry. His face was a red, his voice seething with flames, and his eyes, wild.
“Yes, yes,” the Expedia man said. “Just one moment — ”
“No! I will not hold one more moment!” Andrew yelled in the middle of the airport where everyone turned to stare. “Our flight is set to leave now — Do you understand? They are literally holding the bloody door for us! All you have to do is confirm the schedule that you didn’t even take the time to create when we asked. You need to hit ‘confirm’ and you need to do it now!”
“Just one minute, promise, just one” and off the man disappeared.
“Go!” Jeffrey interrupted. “Just go!” and off Andrew and I moved to the neighboring gate. “I don’t know if you have flights past this but you have this one at least. Just go!”
“Thank you,” I said, darting to him to give him a hug behind the desk while tears glossed over my eyes. “We will send you a postcard if we make it!”
“Go!” he yelled, giving me a small hug before pushing me on. “I’ll get your flights resolved and your bags will meet you in Vancouver. Just go!”
So off Andrew and I raced to the terminal, leaving our Airline Angel — the man that took four hours of his day to not only perform his every day tasks seamlessly but also provide the ultimate care and attention to two random passengers. I kept glancing back at Jeffrey, but he never caught my eye as he stayed on the phone determined to make our flights work.
If it weren’t for Jeffrey, our story would have ended here . . .
“The Expedia man isn’t back!” Andrew yelled while we ran down the tunnel. The Expedia man who had far surpassed his one-moment time put us in a precarious spot: The hang up meant we could take this flight but risked having no other flights after. But staying on the phone to get those flights meant we would miss the first one that would be needed for all others to follow.
“I’ll run ahead and explain to them,” I shouted and dashed ahead before shouting to the confused two female flight attendants who were poking their heads out of the plane, waiting for us. “I’m sorry we are late — My boyfriend wants to know if he should hang up from Expedia because we know the plane has to leave but we don’t know what to do because we don’t have — ” and the looks on the women’s faces made it clear I made no sense.
“Come,” they said in the most bewildered way. “Just come. We are waiting for you — and get your boyfriend.”
Meanwhile the Expedia man was apparently back because I heard Andrew continue to rant at him. “They are closing the fucking door now — I’m being told to turn my phone off because the plane will be taking off. Sort it out now while we are in the air!” and the phone was hung up. Squeezing our way down the aisle, we bypassed passengers with blame-filled gazes. We were those people — the ones you hate and huff about under your breath. And now we understand. Shit just happens sometimes.
Walking to the only two seats — sweating, shaking, and emotional — we had no idea what would happen. Ask us where Detroit was and we didn’t know. Ask us how long the flight was and we didn’t know. Ask us what we were doing after this flight? No idea. But this flight was was our only hope.
“Here,” I heard a whisper next to us. “I think you could use this.” It was one of the flight attendants who produced two water bottles — one for Andrew, one for me.
Her act of kindness made me cry again because overall what I learned from this experience is that there are kind people, there are people that will go out of their way to help, there are people like our Airline Angel in this world . . .
When we landed, we hesitated none, going to the flight board to see what gate belonged to our Detroit flight. “Do you see our names?” we asked the Delta representative at that gate. We had not introduced ourselves so how she knew who we were was beyond us.
“Is it — ” tap, tap, tap and we held our breaths. If our names did not show, Expedia had not confirmed anything and that meant we would literally be asking her for a flight home. “L? And Andrew?” Celebration burst from our bodies as we screamed in happiness and jumped in front of the woman before hugging each other. Jeffrey did it. Expedia did it.
Unfortunately though, our travel hell continued when we made it from Detroit to Seattle.
We now had to race to make our next flight . . . a flight that (not surprisingly) was already boarding.
“We can make it. If we hurry,” Andrew huffed as we ran-ran-ran through the airport, proving once more that we are those crazy airport people.
Turns out, our flight was delayed, which seemed to be great news at first until the delay went from five minutes to fifteen then to over an hour . . . and all of this means we missed our Campbell River flight that was set to leave an hour after we would have landed. What is more, this illustrates the larger picture — We missed the opportunity to go on our kayaking/camping trip.
“Should we go back home?” I asked Andrew with overwhelming heartache to have come this far — one flight from Canada — only to have to turn around. “Or should we continue to fly to Vancouver and explore that city?” The only problem with the second option was we didn’t have money to pay for a second trip because we had already paid for our earlier one.
“I’m sorry to overhear but we want to help — Why do you have to go home with the delay?” This is how we met the three Canadian women I mentioned at the start of this story.
“We aren’t sure what to do,” we said and here we began our tale . . .
“If you need any help, we are here,” they told us in a genuine way as we thanked them and, rejuvenated that there could be hope, we decided to give our trip one last try.
“I’ll contact Spirit of the West,” I told Andrew.
“And I’ll contact the last airline,” he told me so that together, we worked to secure our trip until the Seattle flight lifted off the ground . . . which means we were finally in Vancouver International Airport, where our bags should have been delivered earlier to baggage claim.
This was the next feat.
“What do you mean it isn’t here?” we asked the French man behind the Delta desk.
“Vwell, it iz nuot ‘ere!” he said lacking the least bit of sympathy. In fact, he even stood straighter as if proud of himself.
“But Jeffrey said it would be,” I explained to the French man, knowing he neither knew who Jeffrey was nor cared to know. “And I trust — I know — that Jeffrey did this. He promised our bags would meet us in Vancouver. He got us this far — I know he did this.” I was adamant. Andrew was adamant. We were not leaving without proof of where our bags were.
“Eh, noh. Noh bags” was all he continued to say.
“Where are they then.” Andrew’s question was stated.
“Bostoun!” the man said, as if that were apparent.
“BOSTON?!” we shouted back. “No. No, that’s not right. They definitely left Boston. They had tags at the start to say they were taken here. They boarded that plane. They made that trip. They are here — in Vancouver.
“Noh,” he said again. “I can puut in an ordre for jyour bagz and vhen ‘de avrive, ve can mail zem to zou at jyour des-teh-nay-shion.”
Andrew moved closer to the desk. I could sense his anger rising; I stepped back.
“Listen,” he tried unsuccessfully to be calm. “You cannot ‘mail’ these bags. There is no address to mail them to. We are leaving on a kayaking/camping trip at 9am — the moment our plane lands in Campbell River — so unless you can get our bags to meet us in Campbell River tomorrow morning, we cannot take them.”
“No, no. Zat ’tis not posseble!” the man said. “But we vill sheep zem to jyou.”
“You can’t ship our bags to us! We are being picked up from the airport and then traveling in a kayak during the day and camping at different spots on different islands at night.”
“Jes, jes,” the man responded. “Just vrite down ze address of vhere jyou’ll be and ve vill sheep ze bagz to jyou.”
With a deep, booming voice, Andrew held back no longer. “No, no — You aren’t listening. Our address? You want me to write our address? Okay. Give me the paper — I’ll write our address” and so he picked up the pen. “ON A KAYAK. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN. In British Columbia. Does that help — British Columbia? Do you understand now — There is no address.” He paused to look the man straight in his eyes. “Ohhh but maybe you want where we will stay at night?” Re-hovering over the paper, he announced, “IN A TENT. ON A DIFFERENT UNINHABITED ISLAND. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN!” Then he moved the paper back towards the French man. “There! Deliver our bags please.”
“Ohhh,” the French man said. “Ohhh, I zee.”
Andrew had a few more words to say to the man — something around bloody hell and “We are supposed to be camping” and “Without our luggage — which means we have no sleeping bags” and “Kayaking trip without clothes or shoes — beyond what we are wearing.” “Listen, I’m not saying it’s your fault — I understand that. However, if you’re going to tell me you cannot deliver them, you might as well send them back to Richmond and we will get them at the end of our trip.”
To cut this story down, I decided to hunt for the bags myself. You know — in an airport in a foreign country. “Excuse me,” I asked a petite woman at the counter next to the French man. “Can you tell me where international baggage claim is?” This is the location the French man reported no bags have arrived from, however, I trusted Jeffrey wholeheartedly: Our bags were here — I could feel it.
“What flight did you come on?” she asked me.
Turns out, instead of thinking we had just entered into the country — Our bags had already been in the country because they flew Vancouver to Toronto.
“Then it will be in domestic — not international. Let me search that for you” and here she tap, tapped on her keyboard while Andrew and the French man continued to chat not so nicely. “Your bags are here — L? And Andrew?” she asked.
“YES! THEY ARE HERE!” I screamed as Andrew came closer. “OUR BAGS ARE HERE!!!”
The amount of relief and hope and happiness we felt as we cheered and skipped towards our bags cannot be replicated.
As we walked, we checked our emails to find the next most amazing news: The Vancouver to Campbell River flight rebooked us on the earliest 8:20am flight, which incredibly worked because Spirit of the West emailed me back saying they would hold our tour and send someone to pick us up from the airport when we landed. It was nothing short of a miracle. Ignoring the fact, of course, that we would now have to introduce ourselves to our new highly-skilled kayak group by explaining we were the ones that held everyone up on their trip — Yea, let’s just ignore that for now. What can I say? We love to make a first impression.
With adrenaline pumping through our veins, we glanced out the airport window and peered outside. This was our first pause since waking up at 3am the day before. Finally, we could relax.
“At least we have our sleeping bags now,” Andrew told me. “We could just sleep in the airport.” I think he even yawned then. What should have been twelve-and-a-half hours of flying had now turned into two days.
Because it is Andy and me. These types of ordeals should no longer shock us.
“Why don’t you ask the airline to put you into a hotel?” a polite airline woman recommended after hearing Andrew.
So that’s exactly what we did — Delta put us up in a hotel and with grand desires to explore Vancouver, we instead ate half of dinner with heavy eyes then showered barely awake before crawling into our hotel bed. Before our heads even hit the pillow, we were both in a deep deep sleep.
For more on our Canada trip, seek Telegraph Cove: Starting Our British Columbia Kayaking and Camping Adventure.
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Disclaimer: Due to COVID-19, I want ensure all reading know this trip was in August 2019 before the virus.