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Archive for May 6th, 2017

The unbearable experience of flight

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Air Transat A330 at YVR

This post has been inspired by Stephen Dowle, one of my contacts on flickr, in response to something he wrote under one of his pictures recently. The Pleasures of Travel seem to be a thing of the past:

Has there ever been a more horrible means of getting from one place to another than air travel? I am resolved in future to avoid it whenever possible.

I have been avoiding travel to the United States since inauguration of the present President. The people who work in airport security, and those employed by Customs and Border Patrol, have often seemed to me needlessly officious and unpleasant. The arrival of Trump on the scene seems to have encouraged them to ever greater incursions into personal liberties. I am not willing to allow CPB – or indeed Canada’s equivalent – access to my passwords and information on my cell phone, tablet or laptop. Nor am I willing to travel without them to avoid an unwarranted search. I am also tired of being picked “at random” for pat-downs at airports every time I fly.

Airline travel has also become far worse, as a result of the pressures on airlines to cut costs, to make fares seem cheaper, but provide far less in the way of service. I have not at first hand experienced the sort of indignities offered to passengers in recently highly publicised incidents, but I have to say I am not surprised by any of them.

Our most recent trip seemed to parallel Mr Dowle’s. The flight from Vancouver to Cuba was scheduled to leave at 6am Air Transat TS188 to Varadero calling at Santa Clara. We were expected to be at the airport three hours in advance as is common for international flights. This is actually one of the first departures – and there is not very much activity in security, so the necessity for all this prematurity is not readily apparent

We did not take the precaution of prebooking our seats or a meal. There is not much open in YVR between 3am and 5am. In any event, I do not want to eat when I ought to be sleeping. But I did get quite decent coffee.

By the time the food cart on the plane got to row 41 there were no breakfast sandwiches left – which I would think must happen on this flight every week. It is about two thirds of the way down the cabin. So every time this happens the cabin service crew must be aware of it but have not managed to get anything done to change it. That tells you a lot about how seriously Air Transat treats customer service.  All I got to eat all day was one muffin, which was not good for my blood sugar levels. The fact that it was my birthday is entirely irrelevant.

Yutong airport bus

This service ran one hour early due to favourable winds – and thus when it got to Santa Clara there was no gate ready. After the passengers who were going to resorts locally disembarked, the rest of us were told to get off too, so that the plane could be cleaned. We were also told that anything left on board would be regarded as fair game by the cleaners and taken as being abandoned.

We were obliged to stand on the apron as there was nowhere else where we could be accommodated.  The few people at the front of the line were apparently treated to the usual search and interrogation procedures for arriving passengers, even though they were going on to Varadero, and were not going to be allowed beyond the airport terminal “quarantine” zone. One small benefit from standing on the apron, wearing clothing suitable for a Canadian winter, in 31º C is a nice clear shot of this bus.  There must have been a shortage of security staff since most of us were simply reloaded onto the bus and taken back to our plane.

When we got to Varadero, there was also an arrival of another service from Germany. There were three carousels for the baggage – and no indication of which one was allocated to which flight. So there was an almost comical shuttling backwards and forwards of people searching for their bags as batches of them randomly arrived on one of the three belts. The only people who actually knew where to get their bags from were the German flight crew – who obviously go through this palaver every time they land there.

I did manage to buy a can of cold beer once we got out of the terminal. The vendor was clearly used to taking foreign currency from people who had had no opportunity to get Cuban convertible pesos. In fact on the return trip through the same airport we were asked multiple times by all sorts of people if we would change their Canadian dollars into pesos we would no longer be needing. The terminal itself being “free” of currency controls: they will take anything including your Cuban currency of you still have any. I even got change in Canadian coins!

The bus from Varadero to Havana made drop offs at all the resorts and hotels on the way, and we were among the last to get delivered. Our 5 star hotel did have many restaurants, bars and a café.  Most food service was closed at 10 pm – shortly after we got there.

I think if you are going to take flight TS188 you ought to bring your own breakfast and lunch. Unless you are willing to pay extra for those nicer seats at the front of the plane. Which of course is the whole point. Airlines make travelling in the cheap seats as nasty as possible, so that you will consider paying a lot more next time.


On May 16 the Canadian government announced that (at long last) it was going to introduce legislation to give Canadians the consumer protections airline passengers have had in the U.S. since 2002 and in Europe since 2005. Though I think the legislation is necessary, it will not be enough: there needs to be a change in corporate culture in Air Canada (and other airlines) to change how airlines treat passengers in cases like this one. Gabor Lukacs says the Bill is just smoke and mirrors – what is needed is enforcement of existing rules – the CTA is another captive regulator. (Taken from the 4pm CBC TV News Vancouver. At time of writing that is not available but Global is )



Written by Stephen Rees

May 6, 2017 at 4:50 pm

Posted in Transportation