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I needed to go to Calgary for a funeral. Though I haven’t seen Alan Blackburn in over 2 years, I decided to make my stay just 24 hours., seeing as how the forecasted weather for the area was listed as:
“Alberta has declared a state of public health emergency. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise, largely in unvaccinated Albertans.”
I browsed potential flight options, sadly everything was creeping up into the $700 range. Then “Flair Airlines” caught my eye. I’d never flown with a discount carrier before. Mostly because I assumed they would go out of business before my travel dates. But since I would be going to Calgary in just 4 days – I was reasonably confident they would still be up and running until the end of the week. I took a deep breath and booked.
Flair could keep advertised prices so low for many reasons, but one clear explanation was that they charged extra for everything. A checked bag started at $50, carry-on was another $50, and advanced seat selection at an additional fee was required. God forbid you have to check multiple bags or are travelling with a pet…. that would more than double your ticket price. I managed to keep costs down by avoiding all those frills and booked for about 60% of the price of a real airline.
Leaving at 6 am wasn’t my idea of fun, but Flair only flew this route once a day. I checked in smoothly* at 5 and was on my way.
*And by “smoothly,” I mean: I realized at 4 am that I hadn’t opted to splurge for the carry-on, so I had to dig out another suitcase and repack everything hastily.
I was somewhat surprised to see our plane was an older Boeing 737. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but the aircraft wasn’t tied together with twine, and my seat was inside the plane, so that was a good start.
A flight leaving that early was only 1/3 full, and all passengers were bleary-eyed. But the inflight crew was delightful. They said beverage service wasn’t available due to covid – which makes no sense. But I knew I could manage the 65-minute flight well enough without, same as the lack of in-flight entertainment or power outlets. I was displeased that none of the seats reclined but made due by stretching out across the empty row.
Perhaps more confounding was the fact that the seats all had recline buttons, but the buttons didn’t do anything. That perhaps explained the state of my assigned seat… it looked as though someone had forcefully tried to make the seat recline. Either that or my cushion had already been used as a floatation device. I was happy for the empty row so I could park my butt elsewhere. The other seats didn’t recline either, but at least my seat was in one peice.
The flight was smooth sailing until we hit turbulence so wild that it knocked the flight attendants off their feet. Call buttons were frantically jabbed as passengers started retching. An overhead announcement let everyone know the crew were strapped in for their safety. No one would be coming to attend to passengers. I blame the strong winds of southern Alberta for that more so than the airline. We touched down without any further drama, and I made my way off into the day. Flair had won me over… for the time being.
24 hours later, I was back at the airport. I was checked in 75 minutes before departure by a very grouchy woman, and I made my way into the security lineup. The line was long, but the flashing sign overhead said the wait to get through security was 5-16 minutes. Plenty of time. My gaze dropped to my phone, and I was absorbed by mini-games. About ten minutes later, I glanced around suspiciously… I’d moved about 2 feet, and the sign overhead was now reading 17-23 minutes. That would have still been enough time, but the line was essentially at a standstill. I stayed calm; it seemed security was making everyone use those little plastic bags for gels and liquids. I shrugged as that was pretty standard practice… 5 years ago. Still, each airport had its own version of security, and I guess this was Calgary’s.
Inching along, the couple behind me started to get real… unravelled since their flight was currently boarding, and we were nowhere near the front of the line. I advised them to ask an officer for support. I listened to the soft-spoken woman plead her case as the officer shot back, “what’s that got to do with me?” At that moment, I realized the sweet couple were on my flight, and these officers were being total dicks. I pulled the couple along behind me as I politely asked each person in front of us if we could go ahead. We cut through until we came upon more people on our flight. I leaned over and asked the closest security officer if he could help; he snapped at me to call my airline.
Great, neat. My flight leaves in 18 minutes, and you want me to call their head office in Edmonton. Sounds useful.
The five passengers and I stared daggers into each of the screening officers – they were going through every bag by hand and making people throw out items that were fully allowed as carry-on: lipsticks, deodorant, tripods, jam….No wonder I had been in the lineup for FOURTY-SEVEN minutes. I made it to the front of the line and sailed through… as I got through the next set of doors, I was greeted by a sign telling me my gate was a three to eight-minute walk away.
With ten minutes to go, I ran. I skidded to a stop at my gate; there were people lined up. Whew, I’d made it! But the door to the gate was closed, and no one was at the desk. I stood by with 11 other passengers as we watched them detach and reattach the jetway. After fiddling around for 12 minutes, we all watched in disbelief as our plane took off. At that moment, the attendant returned to the desk, announced she had been there the whole time, then she claimed we had NOT been there and stated loudly that there would be no refunds. She went on to say that she would book us on the next flight in 24 hours for a “re-booking” fee of $200.
Another two passengers came up asking what happened. I told them that boarding had closed early, so all of us had missed the flight. They tutted and said that was a common complaint with Flair. I have never heard of a flight leaving early. Sure, six hours late maybe, but early?!
I walked up to the desk to demand the whereabouts of my luggage. She piped up that I could claim it whenever I got to Vancouver. A real airline would have made every effort to get luggage reunited with the passenger as soon as possible. I gave her a look that would have turned Medusa to stone and enlightened her on the purpose of my voyage. She quickly clickety-clacked away on her keyboard and told me in a hushed tone that I would not need to pay the $200 re-booking fee, but she piped up that everyone else would have to pay $180.
Seems the re-booking fee was variable based on her mood. So she could have waived the cost for everyone or given us all refunds. But she chose not to. She could also have apologized or at least pretended to empathize. I was grateful for the waived re-booking fee. But I was still crying angry tears. I got on the phone to make arrangements for my son, cat, and lodging for another night before browsing options to get back on a different airline.
A real airline.
A “departure-times-mean-something” airline.
A “we-notice-when-passengers-are-missing” airline.
With prices starting at $525+, I decided to stay another night chez Alan Blackburn for free and try the whole rigamarole again tomorrow. I spent most of the day reading up on Flair’s policy to see the best points to stress when I asked for a refund. But I would wait until I was safely back in Vancouver before making any official complaints.
I returned to the airport the next day, again. This time 30 minutes earlier. I decided to go through a different security checkpoint, one run by all-female officers, and I was through in under ten minutes.I was happy it wasn’t a repeat of yesterday, but now I had 85 minutes to hang out. It could be worse; at least I had time to go to Chili’s for breakfast tacos. I was at my gate well in advance and was one of the first people settling into my seat.
An attendant came through with the manifest, checking for all passengers. Where the hell was that guy yesterday when the flight took off without 10% of us? My eyes landed on a guy a few rows up – he was supposed to be on the flight yesterday, too. His eyes absolutely BULGED when they announced they were holding the doors for a few stragglers. The last passenger wandered onboard a full 16 minutes past departure time. So, their policies were flexible guidelines. Just do what you feel like. I tried to settle down and tell myself I was happy the today passengers were getting good treatment. It sort of worked.
One beverage service-less hour later, I was back home.
As soon as I set foot in the airport, I asked about collecting my luggage – they replied I needed a PIN. What the hell are they talking about, a PIN? It’s MY suitcase, with MY name on it. And the bitchface from yesterday assured me they would keep it safe until I arrived. She never said anything about a PIN. Ms. “You-Need-A-Pin” told me to sit tight and wait for her supervisor. But I had already waited 24 hours for my suitcase, so I stalked off to baggage claim.
There I found the lost luggage enquiry desk for Flair, lights off and totally abandoned. The first airport worker I spoke to laughed and said there was never anyone there and I’d have better luck at their check-in desk. I weaved through the airport and up to the second floor and flagged down a Flair worker. I explained, and she pointed me in the direction of someone else before scampering off.
The next guy seemed reasonably competent and told me to hang on as he waved a new guy over. He explained to New Guy what to do to get my suitcase, and we all piled into the elevator together. We wandered down back hallways, and I imagined probably wasn’t allowed in this section of the airport. At that moment, Mr. Competent told New Guy to stop following him. New Guy nodded enthusiastically. Mr. Competent slowly explained the process of retrieving my luggage again.
New Guy assured me everything would get sorted out, and he led me back to the baggage claim area, where he proceeded to ask me again what the issue was. After listening to the short temper fuse version of my story again, he smiled and pulled out a lost luggage form “it’s always a good idea to fill one of these out,” he chirped. I was about to strangle cheerfully ignorant New Guy. I told him my luggage had come in 24 hours ago and he just had to go look for it. He smiled and asked me what colour my suitcase was.
Turquoise. He looked at his form and shook his head.
No, what colour code is it? Options included BLU, GRN, RED, BLK, YLW, WHT, and ORNG.
I replied, it’s turquoise – my words washed over his pleasantly blank face.
Aqua, like half blue-half green.
He smiled and told me just to fill out the section with my name, address and signature.
Promising to find my bag and he then turned and walked off, returning upstairs. Moments later, he returned to ask me my name, this time writing it down on a shred of paper he’d dug out of his pocket. He repeated his promise full of cheer and departed once again. It had now been almost an hour and a half, and I had a headache. Surprisingly, 5 minutes later he returned with my suitcase in hand.I snatched it and ran off, leaving his idiotic happiness behind.
I have since emailed the company 6 times with no response. Until I told them it would be in their best interest to respond. They have only replied about the bag snafu. They have said they will “see what they can do” regarding monetary compensation. But they haven’t gotten back to me, and it’s been 3 weeks. Nor have they addressed the mental anguish I had to suffer from returning dressed in Alan Blackburn’s clothes. I have also contacted the Better Business Bureau; they responded, saying that Flair hasn’t responded to them yet either. And that they have 47 pending cases open with Flair.
Discount airlines are discount for a reason. Not just because their seats don’t recline. But because they apparently don’t train their employees. I bet they save a lot of money operating that way.