The flight(s) here was easily the worst experience I have ever had with an airport/airline. The only thing that really could have gone more wrong would be for the plane to crash.
What was paid for was for me to be flown by Air Canada from Chicago's O'Hare Airport to Montreal-Trudeau Airport and after a four hour layover onto to Frankfurt Airport in Germany.
After arriving three hours early, being that this was my first time flying internationally, it seemed like this was going to be to easy. I checked two bags and had two carry-on bags. Sitting with Ben Neher, who is joining me on this journey, we asked ourself why we bothered coming so early as we had almost two and a half-hours before our flight. Soon, all hell broke loose.
We were notified that our flight had been cancelled and that Air Canada was going to book us on an American Airlines flight. I was assured, for the first time, that my luggage would be fine. As the new flight was to leave earlier we had to run 15 minutes across the airport to make it to the American Airlines terminal. We arrive there only to find out that the "nice" lady at Air Canada had failed to reserve our tickets correctly, the flight was overbooked, and that they had no idea where our luggage was. The flight was set to board in 15 minutes. We also noticed that we would be flying the two hours to Canada on a rather small plane.
At this juncture of the adventure, the American Airlines employees we encountered were nothing but exceptional. They notified us of what had happened, how Air Canada had sort-of booked us a ticket, but hadn't released control of us. Apparently, the airlines essentially buy and sell passengers to each other at the airport. One of the American Airlines employees was nice enough to call Air Canada, with very little time left to get on the plane, in order to attempt to figure out what was going on. After waiting on the phone for 15 minutes (beginning the point where we delayed the flight) she was finally able to book Ben, myself, and another lady in the same situation as us tickets aboard the flight.
As we watched the other passengers board their already late flight (it was lightly raining, so things were already a little sluggish), I asked about our luggage. The employee taking care of us called over to the Air Canada "shipping area" to attempt to locate our bags. She was told they were in transit across the airport. Another employee went to communicate with the "loading/unloading employees" to find out if they had seen our bags yet, they had not. They delayed the flight so that we could wait in the hope that our luggage would arrive from across the airport. After waiting 10 or so minutes, our luggage did not arrive and we were intelligently advised not to board the plane. We were sent back to Air Canada.
After 15 minutes of walking back across the airport to visit with our "friends" at Air Canada, we were redirected to yet another American Airlines flight to Montreal. We were told by Air Canada that our luggage had been sent to American Airlines and that there was nothing they could do about anything relating to our luggage at this point.
Walking 20 minutes to a significantly more distant American Airlines terminal, we were greeted by a not-so friendly employee of American Airlines. We encountered the same problem as last time with the release of our tickets, however, it apparently only matters for electronic tickets. My ticket was somehow transfered to paper at this point, so I had no problem checking in for this flight. Ben, on the other hand, still had an electronic ticket. Instead of calling Air Canada like the last employee did, this employee said she had no outgoing phone line (which I assumed to be a lie) and sent Ben back to Air Canada across the airport to get the mess straightened out.
Forty plus minutes later Ben returns ready to finally check-in with American Airlines. After Ben finally is ready to fly, we inquire about our luggage. We're told by a different, and more friendly than the last, employee that while they couldn't check for our luggage (they somehow could last time) we should assume that it would be on this flight. Fine, I just wanted to get out of Chicago in one piece at this point.
After arriving in Canada, we were summoned upon landing by American Airlines to discuss transferring to Air Canada. We were marked as having no checked luggage. Great. After standing with an American Airlines employee while she communicated with the "loading/unloading employees" I was told that one of my bags was found and that the other one was probably there and that I should move on. Consider this bit about the bag a little dramatic foreshadowing.
Attempting to make my way through customs I, unlike Ben, had a small confrontation with a customs officer. She did not believe that reaching a connecting flight to Germany where I would study for a month was a good reason to enter the country. After she looked through every page in my US Passport for no apparent reason and asked me a series of insane and mundane questions about everything from tobacco to Chicago to firearms, I was finally allowed entrance into Canada. At this point it should be noted that I know next to nothing about tobacco, Chicago, and firearms and try to avoid the three.
Next up was the metal detector. While having no problems in Chicago, Montreal did not go so smoothly. I was stopped beacuse of one of my bags. Not having a clue what was wrong, a couple of Canadian police/security guards exchanged words in French about me. They pulled out this fancy drug/bomb sniffing gigantic Q-tip and swabbed my bag. Found nothing. They then proceeded to dismantle all my items within the bag. It turns out, I had accidentally brought a small scissors in my carry-on toiletry bag. After being scolded in French and English and losing a $2 pair of scissors that had probably been in my family since the 1980's, I was finally ready to fly. One can reasonably assume that at this point I have probably been added to the Canadian do-not-fly list.
Ben was not without his own excitement. Montreal's airport is a maze of checkpoint after checkpoint. Ben walked through one line immediately after me, but was firmly grabbed by a security guard. The security guard repeatedly stated "where are you going? where are you going?", which confused Ben. After attempting to feed Ben a line ("Germany, Frankfurt, Germany, Frankfurt), Ben finally said the magic word and was let go by the testosterone-raging guard.
Somehow, we landed in Germany six hours later, but the fun was not over. After a quick test of the German plumbing system, it was on to customs. Passing through customs quickly and without-hassle, it was on to the baggage claim. I found one of my bags right away. Ben proceeded to find his two. My next bag never came.
An Air Canada employee in Frankfurt was able to help me file a claim and after extensive research discovered that my bag was somewhere that was not Germany and would be coming to Germany tomorrow. He said they would then fly it the regional airport nearest to Kassel (which due to the distance between Kassel and Frankfurt, I can only imagine was a ten minute flight) and deliver it to me at the hotel. I just had to call with the address once I got to the hotel.
Calling over Skype
internationally for pennies a minute, I was able to speak to someone in the United States (as opposed to calling somewhere in Germany) and struggle through giving them my address in Germany.
Just a few hours ago (close to 11 p.m. local time) I finally received the second of my two bags of luggage. Victory!
Somehow, I'm in Germany (and alive).