Distractions, reflections

David Ing, at large … Sometimes, my mind wanders

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Fall from gold

For the first time in a long time, I’m a zero on the Air Canada frequent flyer program.
For the first time, in maybe 15 years, I’ve fallen from the upper level status in frequent flyer programs. Last year, I was Aeroplan Elite (which is Star Alliance Gold). This year, I’m at zero. I’m so low, my Aeroplan card doesn’t even state a level on it!

Diana dropped me off at the airport for my 8 p.m. flight to Munich (on my way to Fuschl am See, Austria, for an IFSR meeting). Since I was late for my flight last fall, I made extra sure this time that I would be early. We arrived at about 5:30 p.m. for an 8:00 p.m. flight. I tried to check in, but the first agent said that I couldn’t be assigned a seat. She said that the equipment was being changed (i.e. one aircraft was being swapped for another), and that my baggage would have to be tagged as standby. Since this is a complication that could result in my luggage being left in Toronto, I declined, and she told me to come back in 20 minutes.

In 15 minutes, I was back in line. The second agent said that there wasn’t an issue with equipment being changed, and I still couldn’t be assigned a seat. My baggage was tagged as standby, and I went through the security check to get to the departure gate. (I normally would have stopped by the Maple Leaf Lounge for soup and sandwiches, but Diana packed dinner for me). At the departure gate, no agent showed up until 7:15 p.m., and then there about 40 people got into line. He told everyone to wait, and he would call them.

At 7:30 p.m., boarding started. At 7:45 p.m., I was one of two persons left sitting in the departure area. The agent finally called my name, and I got my boarding card. I lined up, and was right behind a person with whom the Air Canada agent was saying “Sir, there’s no call for that type of language”. I’m used to flying, so I wasn’t really worried about making it onto the flight, but it’s likely that others aren’t quite as patient.

I flew over in a middle seat of the last row of the second cabin (behind business class), and mostly dozed on the flight. I had my inflatable neck pillow and eye shades, and my feet fit on top of my bag under the seat in front of me. (It pays to be small on trans-oceanic flights). I woke up and caught the end of Aeon Flux — a good time-waster. Some more dozing, and next thing I knew, we were on descent into Munich. My baggage arrived, without drama.

Seat assignments are one of those behind-the-scenes things that work well for frequent flyers. I overheard the check-in agents working their way through the list of premium (full fare) customers, Super Elite and Elite passengers. If I had still been at one of the higher levels, I might have been offered a free upgrade. (The airlines like to fill up business class, because it’s a fixed cost, anyway). Unfortunately, Air Canada doesn’t give points for discount fares within North America anymore, so I’ll have to earn my Elite status on trans-oceanic flights. Since this trip, I’ve been trading stories with others who have lost their gold status, and are saying that they’ve been sent into the last class for boarding, as a penalty for falling from their levels of high status.

Fri. Nov. 11, 2006: Missed the flight

Fatigue is evident at the start of the journey.
David sees signals of overload in missing his flight to Helsinki via Frankfurt.

(by David): It looks like I’ve really maxed out on stress. My colleague in my day job said that I always look like I’m not under stress, but I guess I hide it better than most. I know when I’m tired, and try to watch out. On Thursday morning, when I drove into the office, I pulled into 3 parking spaces, before I decided to choose one. I got into the client office late — after making a stop at our downtown office to pick up printouts — and the remaining parking spaces were pretty tight. Since I was tired, I decided that I shouldn’t take any chances, and gave up on 3 parking spaces before I found a space that wasn’t so tight.

On Friday, in packing, I seemed to lose sense of time. I know that it usually takes 4 to 5 hours to pack for a trip of 2 weeks to Finland, if I don’t do any packing in advance. I got up late (having stayed up until 4 a.m. finishing up a report, and then puttered away at things that needed to be done: re-registering on the company’s medical plan (on the last day of registration), and checking in with DLH (since people in Finland will ask about him).

Diana picked up Mary — they were planning to go shopping out the direction of the airport, after dropping me off — and I was still packing. With a 5:15 p.m. flight, I had planned to leave around 2:30 p.m., knowing that if I left around 3:00 p.m., that I would probably still be okay. By 3:30 p.m., I was throwing things into the suitcase, and we were rushing to leave.

And … by 3:30 p.m., we were hitting rush hour traffic. I’ve been doing the trip to the airport almost every day for the past 8 weeks — the client office is right across the street from the airport — and Mary said that it was clear that I was taking all of the right side routes to get out of traffic — but it still took about 40 minutes to get airport. When I got to the Air Canada counter at about 4:30, the check-in clerk said that I was arriving about 20 minutes after the flight had closed, and that I would have to rebook.

I walked across to the ticket desk. In line, I phoned AmEx, and they said that the alternative flight at 7:15 to Frankfurt was full, so I might have to go the next day. When I got to the ticket counter, the check-in clerk was very nice, and said that I could get the last seat on the flight to Munich. I’ve taken that route before, so I said yes. She checked with some other reservation clerks, and put stickers on my tickets. Since I was booked on Air Canada for the whole trip — yes, the Germany-Finland legs are actually Lufthansa, but they’re Air Canada codeshares — she said that Air Canada usually charges for ticket changes, but that she wouldn’t charge me today. I thanked her profusely.

At the other end, Annaleena was scheduled to pick me up from the airport, but when I looked at my PDA, I hadn’t updated her phone number from when she was in Sweden. I phoned DLH, and asked if he could call Annaleena. At that point, since the time would have been past midnight in Finland, DLH said that he would phone Annaleena.

As soon as I got on the Toronto-Munich leg of the flight, I put on the eye shades, and went right to sleep. (The plane was full, so I was in upright seating). On the Munich-Helsinki leg, I tried to do some reading, but still fell asleep.

When I arrived at the Helsinki airport, Annaleena wasn’t there. I phoned her, and she said that she had come to pick me up for the original flight, but I wasn’t there. (Sorry). I took a taxi to the hotel, instead.

I’ve been definitely stressed out this past week. I know that DLH has been pretty stressed out recently, but I guess that I was so stressed that I forgot that, and he probably miscalculated the time zones to speak with Annaleena. These are signals that everyone is just too busy.

Postscript, adding injury to stress: As the flight was landing in Munich, the overhead door flew open, and someone’s laptop fell onto my lap. The top of my left thigh hurt initially, and then was okay. After sitting on the Munich-Frankfurt flight, my thigh started to hurt again, and I’ve been walking with a limp. It could have been worse … it could have hit a bone ….

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