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No room at the inn

Thu 22 Sep 2011 by mskala Tags used:

I'm in Vancouver now. The typhoon aftermath was somewhat nightmarish. Air Canada dumped me and my luggage in the lobby of Narita Airport (which does NOT operate 24 hours a day like pretty much all other major-city airports in the world), telling me to go away and come back the next day. That was the first point at which I really realized that not only were they not planning to pay for my hotel, but they also washed their hands of actually finding me an hotel. And hotel rooms were unobtainable in Narita, because of the large number of other people who had found out much sooner than I did that their flights were cancelled; and the trains out of Narita were about to stop running.

I won't go into too much detail. I wrote most of a lengthy posting here on Narita's airport wireless and then it mysteriously vanished (my browser suddenly displayed the Google front page and when I tried to go back the draft posting was gone). I tried to contact my friends, difficult between needing to learn and use the Japanese payphone system, and the abysmal wireless access in Narita, and people's availability. I decided I had better get out of Narita while the getting was good, and I got on what may have been the last train out. I had already missed the last JR train (which would have been covered by my pass) so I had to figure out how to use the fare machine for the Keisei Line - which was only a problem because the ticket I really wanted to buy turned out to be for a train that had been cancelled, and the machine only said so in unclear Japanese. Other passengers had to explain it to me.

I thought the best thing to do would be go to the place I could get to that would have the most hotels - which ended up being Ueno Station, back in the big city. (In retrospect, I should have instead aimed for a place with some hotels and the highest expected rate of vacancies, which would have probably been one of the smallish towns somewhere between Narita and Tokyo.) I spent two hours on the train, standing, and it was one of those heavily packed Asian trains you read about, full of Japanese people in much my own situation, and it was supposedly an "express" but seemed to stop at every station nonetheless, and it kept getting delayed. So I arrived at Ueno at 1:30, and set out on foot to look for an hotel.

Hotel rooms are unobtainable in Tokyo after the trains stop running.

What is up with that? Why do they stop running the trains when they know there's a substantial population who would pay to use them? More than one entire industry has evolved to support people who have missed the last train out of Tokyo with things that are not really hotels but where you can sleep anyway - for instance, the capsule-hotel industry, and the all-night-Internet-cafe industry. I tried a lot of those and couldn't find a space there either.

I spent four hours wandering all over Tokyo on foot, dragging my suitcase (although coin lockers are ubiquitous, they are not sized for Western luggage) and being solicited by prostitutes, until it was an hour at which there was pretty much no point anyway, and that was about when the trains started running again, so I came back to Narita. I had not slept. It's easy to say that all this may not have been the best way to handle the situation, but it's water under the bridge now.

I spent three hours waiting in line with others who had had cancelled flights, to check in to my replacement flight to Vancouver. They gave me a 1000円 meal voucher, which was not even enough to cover the train ticket I'd had to buy. But I'd like to emphasize that what I'm really angry about is that Air Canada didn't help me find a place to stay. They just dumped me in the lobby of an airport that was already in the process of shutting down for the night, far from a city where I wouldn't be able to find accomodation anyway, in a foreign country where I don't really speak the language - and because of dragging their feet letting me know that I'd need to make arrangements all by myself, they also made it impossible for me to succeed. (If I had known as soon as they decided that the flight was cancelled that I would have to find an hotel room myself, I probably could have done it [at great inconvenience to me and the friends I'd have prevailed upon].) Air Canada didn't cause the typhoon, but their lack of communication, their delay, and their abandonment of me are all culpable and that's a much bigger deal than the money.

After I managed to check in, it went pretty well. Now they're about to start boarding my flight to Winnipeg.

I still have photos to post, but this will probably be my last travel update.

ETA: Am home in Winnipeg as of 8pm local time. Axel, you'll be happy to know my computer crash was just something organic to the computer (still not sure what) and was fixed for the moment by a reboot. No burglary occurred.

ETA: I think the 1000円 meal voucher was actually supposed to be to compensate me for the delay of the replacement flight - which, had it remained on its originally stated schedule, would have departed before I managed to check in for it, because of the long line-up. I ended up spending the voucher and some of the coins I was trying to use up, on a bowl of curry ramen and a beer. The curry ramen from the Narita airport international departures lounge "Japanese eatery" was terrible - tasted like instant and not even good instant - but the beer tasted the best that Asahi bleedin' Super Dry has tasted for me this whole trip. As for the cancellation of the original flight, I have so far gotten bupkes.

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Bless you! At my age that would have made me very ill.
Axel - 2011-09-22 16:40
Beth Skala
Oh the airline ticket reservation counter lady
Is a very special friend of mine.
When I asked her in the morning if my flight was ready,
She assured me it was right on time...
--Tom Paxton
Sorry you had to go through that. Will you be writing AC a letter? We did that and got a voucher for $100 off our next flight.
Beth Skala - 2011-09-23 11:20
So sorry you had such a problem with your flight! I hope that enough other things were good about the trip to make up for this misadventure.
Amity - 2011-09-24 00:00
Mom: yes, I had that song running through my head at times during my adventure. I'm drafting a letter in English to Air Canada's main office in Calgary now, and will also send a copy to their Tokyo office with a covering blurb in Japanese, which I suspect may get better attention.
Matt - 2011-09-24 22:43

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