How I Handled My International Flight Being Canceled

My travel has been fairly uneventful lately, in the sense that the last major delay/cancellation I recall having was enroute to Beijing last year (and I’d say I made lemonade out of lemons with that, by rerouting through London in British Airways first class). I figured I’d share the experience I’ve had over the past 24 hours, since a lot of people ask me about my thought process in the event of delays and cancellations.

Let me also add the disclaimer that this isn’t at all a big deal, especially in light of the recent EgyptAir tragedy. I feel like that goes without saying, but the second I start talking about what went wrong with my travel day, people quickly chime in to say “well, you had a better travel day than the people on that EgyptAir flight.” With that out of the way…

Yesterday I began my journey to South Africa on Air Canada and South African Airways, routing from Vancouver to Toronto to London to Johannesburg to Cape Town.

YVR-CPT-Fare
The routing I booked from Vancouver to Cape Town

I got to the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge in Vancouver at around 9:30AM for my 11:30AM flight to Toronto.

Air-Canada-Lounge-Vancouver - 10
Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Vancouver Airport

About 30 minutes after arriving, the following announcement was made:

“Mr. Schlappig, please see the concierge at the reception desk for a message.”

Being paged at an airport is rarely good news, unless it’s at the gate for an upgrade. The last time being paged in a lounge was good news for me was back in 2012, when I received the most apologetic upgrade of my life on Japan Airlines.

I took a deep breath and walked to the desk.

As it turned out, South African Airways had canceled my flight from London to Johannesburg.

SAA-Canceled

First of all, kudos to Air Canada for catching this before I did, and for being proactive. Air Canada has “concierges” who assist their top tier elites and business class passengers when things go wrong, so it was great to see that program in action. Air Canada really is in a different league than their North American counterparts.

The concierge was friendly, and explained that she’d try to have me rebooked on the London to Johannesburg flight which was scheduled to depart two hours later. Unfortunately by the time they got around to requesting it, all business class seats were gone.

When it comes to travel (or perhaps most things in life), I tend to think it always makes sense to do research on your own, even when you’re dealing with a competent person, as I was in this instance.

The added wrinkle was that my Vancouver to Toronto flight was on a rolling mechanical delay. As I looked at options involving other routings, I didn’t know how much of a buffer to leave in Toronto, since rolling mechanical delays have the tendency to go on and on.

After playing around on ExpertFlyer I narrowed down my options a bit, keeping in mind that they’d probably only want to rebook me on Star Alliance carriers. Here’s what I concluded after my search:

  • I could take the same flights from Vancouver to Toronto to London, overnight, and then take the SAA flight from London to Johannesburg the following day
  • I could connect in Frankfurt instead of London, as there was one business class seat remaining on SAA from Frankfurt to Johannesburg, and plenty of space on Air Canada from Toronto to Frankfurt; in the event the one seat on SAA disappeared, there was a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Johannesburg slightly later with business class space
  • In theory I could connect in Munich instead, as there was plenty of space from Munich to Johannesburg on SAA; the catch was that I wasn’t sure I could make the Toronto to Munich flight, given the rolling mechanical delay in Vancouver

After looking at the options I spoke to the concierge and explained to her that the routing through Frankfurt seemed like the best option. I emphasized that there was exactly one seat left, and that I’d appreciate if they could grab it for me. I also explained that if that didn’t work, there was a later Frankfurt to Johannesburg flight on Lufthansa which had space. She radioed her colleague right away to try and get it booked.

Air-Canada-787
My ride from Toronto to Frankfurt on the Air Canada 787

I headed to the gate for the flight to Toronto, and just moments before boarding the concierge approached me to explain that they had the flights confirmed, and that someone would meet my flight upon arrival in Toronto with the updated boarding passes.

I was so impressed when I landed in Toronto and there was in fact someone waiting for me with the new boarding passes.

Even better, when I got to Frankfurt there was an Air Canada representative waiting with the South African Airways boarding passes, printed on SAA stock.

If all goes as planned I’ll arrive in Cape Town at the same time as initially scheduled, simply swapping a day in London for a day in Frankfurt (which has been quite amusing, to say the least).

Bottom line

I’m quite happy with the end result, as it’s rare you can have a cancellation on the most significant segment of a complicated itinerary and still make it to your destination at the originally scheduled time.

I’m also impressed by Air Canada’s concierges, who look after premium passengers when things go wrong. I didn’t have to queue forever, but rather they were proactive and competent, which is probably why the end result was as good as it was.

Comments

  1. You top-tier on Air Canada too? Anything to look into for AA EPs just for having a Star Alliance cover?

  2. Woah, now I don’t feel all that bad for Canadians for not having much of ME3 coverage. Air Canada is actually pretty damn good.

  3. The best part about Air Canada are the Concierges. I couldn’t thank them enough when I was Super Elite 100K and things went south (weather delays, mechanical delays, etc.)

  4. So is there any differences in taxes, fees, etc. for not connecting in London versus Germany? Just wondering.
    Nice post by the way.

  5. I also have great experience from delays with Air Canada. My friend and I flew ARN-GVA-YUL-FLL in economy and we had a major delay in Geneva so when arrived in Montreal the clock was way past last flight to Florida and the majority of the passengers seemed to had missed their connecting flights so there was a crazy line to the Air Canada transfer counter. Out of nowhere an Air Canada agent approached the line where we stood last and shouted out our names she gave us a hotel voucher and several vouchers for Subway sandwiches. I have no idea why she approached us since there was at least 50 people waiting before us in line and none of us had more than member status on SAS Eurobonus at that time.

  6. Very nice…and very fortunate, indeed! It helps that Star has so many possible options to JNB, but a very impressive show of customer service by AC, indeed.

    To be fair, Air Tahiti Nui canceled our LAX-PPT flight in business class last month–and called us, even though we were ticketed using AA miles. They had us immediately call AA to re-book us on the next day’s flight which had 2 business class seats still available.Had Air Tahiti Nui not bothered to call, we would not have known the flight was canceled until we arrived at LAX several hours later–since it didn’t update in their system until 1 hr before departure!

    The important thing here is that premium class passengers get the better treatment and notification when things go wrong. It shouldn’t be that way–everyone should be notified somehow–but it is. This is another reason why having elite status and/or having a premium class ticket is incredibly helpful in such scenarios.

  7. AC is above and beyond the best North American airline. That’s why I’ve been a super elite with them for the past 9 years in a row. The concierge service is a cut above the rest. The problem I have is that the flight attendants can be a hit or miss on some of the EU flights from YYZ. Overall the product is strong.

  8. @ Lucky – what do you mean by one seat left on SA? One award seat or one regular seat? Also, if this was on miles do you think they could have handled differently?

  9. Ben, I’m curious as a Vancouverite, was there also the option of just spending your wait time/day in Vancouver and taking the non-stop YVR to London (AC), Frankfurt or Munich (LH) that evening? Or did you have to route through Toronto (either for your own reasons or AC’s)?

  10. No denying the fact Air Canada is the best North American airline. It also has great lounges miles ahead of what you find with American carriers.

  11. I am not (nor will I probably ever become) a flier at your tier, so I was incredibly impressed by the service I received from United when I woke last March to a text alert that my flight from Newark to Brussels has been cancelled for “operational disruption.” I immediately got online and contacted United (where I learned what was happening in Brussels from the booking agent) – after a lot of research (at both our ends) we came up with a workable re-routing (via Munich rather than Brussels) that still got me into Birmingham, UK in time to catch my train later the next morning.

  12. Coming back from South Africa last Fall, we did not have a good experience with SAA. We had award seats in business class and had reserved seats months in advance, only to find them playing musical chairs with our seats the day of the flight when we arrived at the airport. Thankfully some nice fellow passengers agreed to switch seats so my gf and I could sit together, as we had originally set up when we reserved our seats.

    On the other hand, we enjoyed our experience getting to South Africa with Ethiopian Airlines in biz class so much more than with SAA.

  13. A few years back, I had a different experience with Air Canada, although it wasn’t only Air Canada’s fault. We arrived in YYZ on time, however we had to hold on a remote stand, however we weren’t allowed to deplane. We ended up arriving at a gate 2 hours late, which would be a very tight connection to the US. Luckily that flight was delayed, so it would all go well right? No. Turns out, the Border Preclearance system they have at YYZ closes at 9pm, and we reached that area 10 minutes late. As there were many other passengers in the same situation as us, there was a long line at the AC agents. By the time we reached the front of the line it was 11:00 (I was a teenager at that time, otherwise I would have begun to look at other options). There was a flight to YUL which would allow us a few hours there before connecting to MCO. We could have also stayed in Toronto until the next day. We took the former option and the flight ended up leaving at 4am for various reasons (I was half asleep at this time, so all I heard was “gate change”, “flight attendants have to swap”…). Once arriving in YUL, everything went well.

    Not all of this was Air Canada’s fault, but they sure do treat elites differently 😉

  14. must be because you were in business class – or maybe because you got lucky with those agents in the lounge. Lots of airlines put their best people in lounges — I’ve encountered very helpful agents at UA clubs and Delta Skyclubs for example.
    I have never had a single pleasant or helpful interaction with air canada customer service or airport agents. Every trip I take with them is at best mediocre, and at worst totally horrible. On the other hand, I never had access to a lounge when these things happened, so there is that.

  15. Wow a GOOD AC story! I usually hear the bad ones….

    Hope you enjoyed Vancouver Lucky!

  16. “I’m also impressed by Air Canada’s concierges, who look after premium passengers…” That means they look after everyone, right?

  17. I can’t possible say enough about the AC concierges. As an SE they’ve saved my life countless times, and at this point (3 years in) all of the YYC ones know me by name, and me them. It really is miles above anything offered in North American.

  18. Absolutely agree about AC concierge program. Saves my bacon a few times a year and it’s awesome to have friendly faces at your home airport too. They will serve Super Elites always, business class pax mainly in case of delays or problems.

  19. Had my first Air Canada flight last summer. Of course it was economy, but the Canuks onboard quickly informed me of how aircanada sucks so bad. I had been looking forward to the transatlantic to Alberta. It was fine.

  20. My bride and i were booked on a Delta routing from YXE to HNL via MSP and LAX and all in coach. Departure from Saskatoon was at dawn hour and as we were packing around midnight, a text arrived to my phone as well as an e-mail informing that departure was delayed by like 5 hours… but it didn’t say that a rerouting was prearranged! I called the toll free Delta assist number to ask if any alternative was available as we won’t be able to catch the following flights. The pleasant agent suggested two WestJet flights to Calgary and Los Angeles and finally ended up arriving to Hawaii earlier than expected. First we were denyed SkyTeam miles on the WestJet flights, but later we were granted the miles count for the flights we circumvented i.e. YXE-MSP-LAX. This happened for Y travellers and i have always had a smooth and efficient customer service with SkyTeam airlines.

  21. Air Canada is so much better than any of the US carriers that making a “North American” grouping which includes them is almost silly. In fact when you add Porter (regional flying in the east and central) which, while Q400s, feature excellent ground service, free wine and beer and a Toronto airport literally downtown – AND WestJet, which not fancy, is always friendly – why anyone *with an option* would choose a US carrier is beyond me. We all like to complain, but in fairness theyre not just in a different league – they’re playing a different game. And the AC Concierges are tremendous. When I was flying transcontinental weekly they saved my bacon many times. And I’ll never forget the care one of them gave us while flying with my then young family from SYD to YYZ. Truly above and beyond.

  22. “Even better, when I got to Frankfurt there was an Air Canada representative waiting with the South African Airways boarding passes, printed on SAA stock.”

    Pardon the ignorance, but what is the advantage to having the ticket on SAA stock rather than Air Canada stock?

  23. I am an AC SE and I LOVE the AC Concierges! Last month I was to fly back to Canada via Frankfurt and the day before the flight, the Concierge in Frankfurt got in touch with me b/c someone was going to be striking at the airport and they had pre-emptively rebooked me on another routing just case the strike did materialize and I might want to change my routing. Yes, I realize that that I get that service because I am a Super Elite with them, but I am also incredibly loyal to AC.

  24. How did Air Canada know about your South African Airways connection? Did they share the same passenger name record?

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