As March Break comes to a close, thousands of Canadians will be making their way back to Canada after enjoying tropical vacations or visiting family across the country and around the world. According to one recent traveller, that journey may not be as smooth as they'd hope. Instead, the traveller recounts total chaos and even a safety hazard as he tried to fly home after the Boeing ban.
Just this past week, the Canadian government issued a ban on all Boeing 737 Max 8 or 9 planes flying into, out of, or even above Canada. At least 40 airlines around the world flew with this type of plane, including Air Canada, West Jet, and Sunwing. Because of the ban, flights around the world have been grounded, cancelled, or delayed as airlines scramble to operate with a big hit to their fleets.
One young Canadian traveller, identified as Mike P. has seen this scrambling first hand and revealed to Narcity that it has been complete chaos. He had been enjoying a vacation with his girlfriend and three other friends in LA this past week. It wasn't until they arrived at LAX, the city's biggest airport that they realized they may have some trouble getting home.
Their Air Canada flight was due to take off at 11:50 AM PST on March 13. Mike told Narcity that when they first checked in at the airport the agent at the check-in counter allegedly commented on the fact that some employees were not wanting to fly on the Boeing planes.
"When we were in security, we were actually on Facebook and that's when we saw the post about [the ban] and thought, I hope that's not that's not the plane we are supposed to be on," he said. They found out, it was.
It was only once they got to the gate where their flight was supposed to take off from that they learned that their flight had been cancelled completely. That's where the chaos began.
According to the Canadian, around 200 people were waiting for that first Air Canada flight and when it was cancelled, everyone began running from the gate back to the ticketing centre to try and get onto a new flight.
He recounts that the over-crowding made it almost impossible to get any information and calling Air Canada was no help either. Due to a large volume of calls after the Boeing planes were grounded, Mike P. reveals that all the attempted calls he made were immediately disconnected since their queue was too full to even put him on hold.
He and his friends ended up on a list for a direct flight home the next day, meaning they had to stay one more night in LA. Despite this, Mike says that they weren't ever offered compensation for a hotel stay. Of compensation, he says all they got was "a $10 meal voucher when a bottle of water at that airport costs like $12."
He recounts that that was only half the battle, and the most chaotic day was yet to come.
After spending an extra night in LA, the traveller and his friends got back to the airport in hopes of catching their new flight back to Canada. It turns out it wasn't that simple though. Despite being put on a list for the flight out that day, they realized they didn't actually have seats on the plane. Instead, their tickets were GTE.
GTE will appear on a boarding pass when you aren't actually assigned a seat on the plane. If you have this code on your pass, you will be assigned a seat at the gate. Unless the flight is oversold, which Mike P. says is what happened to them.
"The ticketing counter basically gave you that ticket so you wouldn't yell at them and they could just get you to the gate," the traveller told Narcity.
When they got to the gate, they realized that there were around 200 people also waiting and hoping for a seat on the plane, that he says had 70 seats available. However, all of them had the GTE code on their tickets. This is where Mike says the situation became not only chaotic but actually unsafe.
The traveller recalls waiting at the very crowded gate, where he says only one Air Canada agent was working. He said they were sitting waiting when all of a sudden someone announced: "come line up for a ticket," he says, "and that's when chaos happened."
What resulted, according to the traveller was a stampede of people, pushing and trying to get to the front of the line. "It was actually a safety hazard at that point, there was no security, with everyone pushing and yelling and everything," he told Narcity.
Eventually, they started just reading names down the list, leaving the traveller's group of five hoping that they would all get on the flight. They lucked out, however, and managed to all get tickets. He revealed that others weren't as lucky.
"Around 70 people stayed behind and didn't get on the flight. There was no prioritization, it was just random, luck of the draw," the traveller said. "There were families, one guy didn't get to go on with his wife for example.
He also recounts, even if families all managed to get on the plane, young children weren't given seats near their parents. According to him, this just added to all the chaos.
This Canadian traveller isn't alone in the chaos he experienced. Other travellers have turned to Twitter, expressing their frustration at delays and sharing how they also have been unable to get through to Air Canada.
@AirCanada my flight tomorrow morning just got cancelled and rebooked because it was a Boeing 737 Max 8. I want to get onto a different flight but can’t get through on your helpline. Can you assist?— Connie Scozzaro (@conniescozzaro) March 16, 2019
Dear @AirCanada you changed our flights yesterday from AC186 to AC114 due to the groundings; we fly out today in a couple of hours to connect to AC114 and NOW you’ve cancelled AC114. What do we do. Been on hold for a long time.— Andy W (@oldguyandy) March 16, 2019
Cancelled my flight. Rebooked me for 6 hours later. Waited at the airport.... Couldn’t board b/c they double-booked my seat. Lost my luggage. No flights to Montreal for the weekend. Missed my best friends wedding. Thanks @AirCanada #Boeing737Max— Jake Grodin (@jakegrodin) March 16, 2019
What a gong show at @AirCanada with the #737MAX8 disaster. After several hours on the phone I get a refund on everything except the seat selection fees (why?!). Now I get an email asking me to check in for a flight they cancelled on me two days ago.— Doug Shields (@dougshields88) March 16, 2019
Even after getting on the plane, Mike P. revealed that their flight was delayed another three hours because of the boarding situation and them trying to verify that everyone was supposed to be on the plane.
While he understands the ban, he says he feels like the handling of the situation was terrible. "I'd like Air Canada to compensate even though it's not their fault," he told Narcity. "I still feel like never using them again."
This traveller's experience was with Air Canada, but in the wake of the Boeing 737 Max 8 ban and Ethiopian Airlines crash, airlines around the world, not just Air Canada have been facing major delays as they try to relocate tens of thousands of passengers every day.
This ban also comes during March Break, one of the most popular travel times for Canadians.