Sunday, February 3, 2013

Flying - The Highs And The Low!

I haven't had a lot of opportunity to travel in my life, but as I told you in a recent post (A New Year, A New Adventure!), I was about to embark on an adventure.

Well, it was a wonderful trip! There is far too much to tell in one blog post though, so today I want to focus on the actual travel part rather than the destination.

I hadn't flown since 1999 and that was only to Calgary, so rules and procedures have changed greatly.

Luckily for me, I was flying with WestJet - an airline with an excellent reputation for customer service!

The only issue I had was in advance of the flight when I called customer service to add my name to the "meet and assist" option for those with a disability. I wasn't impressed that I had to wait on hold for almost 45 minutes before speaking with a very helpful rep who patiently answered all my novice flying and security questions.

As a friend drove me to the airport on the morning of Friday January 11, a blizzard was approaching Winnipeg. The only problem I had though, occurred while walking through the airport parkade. I didn't see the edge of a curb and fell. I scraped the base of the knuckle of my left hand (to the point of bleeding). I also managed to go through the left knee of my pants! Luckily, my injuries were not serious. I went to the washroom, cleaned up my knuckle and changed into a different pair of pants before checking in. (I had colourful bruises on both knees and a nasty looking knuckle for a couple weeks but at least I hadn't broken anything in my fall!)

A WestJet rep, met me and escorted me through all of security, showed me my gate, where the ladies room was and where to get some water. WS 493 de-iced before takeoff but the flight was smooth with a friendly crew. 
When we landed in Calgary, I was assisted by a very helpful WestJet fellow who filled out my customs form for me then showed me where to check in for my connecting flight later that afternoon and he pointed out washrooms and eating/shopping areas for me to check out during my layover.

I spent the next couple of hours walking and exploring some of the shops but also enjoyed the big comfy chairs for waiting passengers! The White Hat volunteers were also very friendly and helpful!

When I checked in with WestJet at 3:50, for my 5:50PM WS 1494, I was met by an incredibly helpful woman! We chatted about my trip as we collected my checked luggage and transferred it. At the security and customs, she helped me with everything! Once through, she showed me where to sit to put my shoes back on - then she got all of my belongings from the bins and put the zipped bags back in. She showed me where my gate would be (it was closed off at that time as other flights were landing). She guided me to a restaurant so I could eat before the flight, spoke with a server to make sure they would assist me with reading the menu and even made sure they refilled my water bottle! Before this angel left she gave me a big hug and told me to have a wonderful trip! WOW! Talk about making a person feel special!

The flight to Phoenix left about 25 minutes behind schedule but the crew were very friendly and extremely helpful! We landed only a few minutes late.

The ground service assistance in Phoenix is apparently contracted out, so I was not met by a WestJet rep. The Red Vested man who assisted me was helpful but merely doing his job. My family met me part way to the luggage carousel. Once arriving at the carousel, the luggage was very slow to come down and it took close to 45 minutes before my luggage came out the chute! This is apparently, not that uncommon at that airport.


On the return trip, Thursday January 17, I checked into WestJet at about 6PM for my 8PM WS 1343 flight home to Winnipeg. I was passed off onto a Red Vest fellow who was also assisting a woman unable to walk the distance to the gate so was using a wheelchair. Our departure gates were close to each other as were our flight times so he was attempting to help both of us. 

For a competent staff person, this would not have been a huge challenge but in my opinion, assisting one would be more than enough for him. He was also soft spoken - normally a good thing - but often hard to hear amongst other airport sounds.

It started well enough. He pushed the wheelchair and I walked behind carrying my winter coat, pulling my carry-on and using my white cane. At security, he placed both our carry-on bags on the conveyor, and placed a couple of bins on the table for our personal items. He then helped the other woman get up and to the screener. I was pretty much left on my own to place my items in the bin and remove my shoes. Our bags were already on the other side and out of sight. I neglected to remove my passport holder from around my neck so was delayed further. When I finally got through the screening, he was busy helping the other woman get resettled with her possessions and only gave me minimal assistance. Luckily, there wasn't a line-up behind us.

We asked him to stop at a washroom near our gates in terminal B. While there, I realized that I didn't have my coat and neither did our assistant! It was still back at security!

I, of course, started to panic!  He assured me it would be fine and that as soon as he took the other woman to her gate, he would come back and escort me to security to claim it. I stressed the necessity of my winter coat for our winter weather but he seemed unfazed by my concern. 

Since I wasn't sure of the way back, I had no choice but to wait - although I do feel that he could have had another staff person assist one of us. It was several minutes before he returned and a long walk back to security. We did use the moving sidewalks but regrettably. he had little training in assisting a visually impaired person as he grabbed my arm as we got on or off rather than having me take his!

Thankfully, the much needed coat was still there and I reclaimed it. On the walk back to the gate, I asked where I could refill my water bottle. He showed me a drinking fountain! It is impossible to fill a water bottle from the average drinking fountain!

Needless to say, his assistance was subpar at best! 

After I sat at the gate for awhile, I walked back to a Starbucks and got friendly assistance from the counter staff to get a snack and a new bottle of water.

At the gate and on my flight home, the WestJet staff were a refreshing welcome after the unnecessary stress of earlier! The flight attendants were very accommodating and friendly - engaging myself and others in conversation en route.

On landing in Winnipeg shortly after midnight, I was met by a WestJet rep who guided me through customs and collecting my luggage. A second rep (wearing a winter overcoat) helped me get a taxi and ensure my luggage was loaded. I was back in my apartment just before 1AM!

I could easily have been soured by my experience with the ground service assistance in Phoenix, but thankfully, the WestJet flight crews and those who assist on the ground in Calgary and here in Winnipeg, soared high above the expectations of many who travel!

Thank You WestJet! I hope I get to fly with you again!


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