I was away visiting my family in Georgia over the Christmas break and it was such a joy to leave my studies and other responsibilities behind. I took the bus to Halifax and then went on from there.
The trip was perfect, save for the flight from Toronto to Atlanta. The connection from Ottawa to Toronto was delayed due to mechanical issues and I missed the last leg of my trip as a result. The airline was gracious enough to offer food and accommodation for the night and I was back on track the next morning.
Perhaps this is a good time to mention that save for my aunt and uncle, neither my sister nor my cousins knew of my impending visit. And we got them good! Soon after, Chi Chi and Nneome returned for the break. It was pure magic every time we were together. I haven’t been to Nigeria since I moved for my studies so visiting my aunt and uncle always gives me a semblance of family life at home.
Christmas Day was incredible! The turkey was delicious, the tunes were banging, we played games that caused wigs to fall off, and everyone was in high spirits. New Year’s Day was a bit milder as we were at church the night before.
Before I knew it, everyone began to return to their individual bases and I soon followed suit. My early-morning Thursday flight took off as scheduled and all went well until I arrived at the Montreal airport and was told that all flights to Halifax had been cancelled. A snowstorm was expected to hit the city that night and there were safety concerns.
Due to my previous experience on the way to Georgia, I expected that the airline would provide accommodation until another flight was scheduled. I got a text saying that I had been re-booked for Sunday. Sunday!!! That was three days away but it was the least of my worries. I found my way to Customer Service and explained my situation. I was told, to my utmost surprise, that there would be no compensation as the flight was cancelled through no fault of theirs. I stood there in disbelief and mumbled an incoherent “thank you”. Of course, I understood. But was I still frustrated? YES. How was I supposed to find decent accommodation in a city I had never been to so unexpectedly?
I was given a phone number to call and was told that the person on the other end of the line would be able to get me discounted hotel rates. After being on hold twice and being told to call back in thirty minutes, I was told there was nothing available in the Montreal area.
It dawned on me that I was now 100% responsible for myself.
My search for an affordable (lawyer speak for “cheap”) hotel room bore fruit after several minutes. Almost $200 evaporated from my wallet just like that. The receptionist who informed me that a shuttle bus would come to get me in no time soon called to tell me the opposite. My two options were either a $45 taxi ride or a $10 bus ride. I imagine you know the one I picked.
I hopped on the bus and told the driver where I would be alighting. It was not my actual destination but I figured I could walk the rest of the way. Once I got off the bus, the kind of cold that slapped my face almost sent me back inside.
I wore my scarf a little tighter and began to find my way. I entered the address into Google Maps and began to walk. It was a cold evening and since I didn’t have gloves on, I began to alternate pocketing my hands.
Men and brethren, whether Google led me astray or I led myself astray, I cannot say. The only thing I’m sure of is the fact that a journey of ten minutes took an hour and a half. It began to feel like I was in a Christmas movie. I started whimpering after a while because I had to drag my box up a hill against the wind’s current. And then my phone died right when I needed it.
After asking two kind security men for directions, I arrived at my destination.
I was grateful for the warmth that enveloped me when I entered the lobby. I was more grateful that I had the means to get a roof over my head, given the circumstance.
My flight on Sunday was scheduled for eight but I was up by four in the morning because I was scared that I would be left behind. I arrived at the airport and was through security with time to spare. All was well until we boarded. First, the service director of the flight informed us that they were de-icing the plane and that we’d be on our way in about ten minutes. Ten minutes passed and then we were told that there was a problem with the washrooms. I thought this was a minor issue that would soon be fixed but I was wrong. Very wrong. We stayed glued to our seats for an hour and a half before they officially cancelled the flight. Everyone was visibly upset.
When we disembarked, we were told that the next available flight was coming in from Dallas and would be ready to go at six in the evening. I had never felt more frustrated. My hope of going home that day seemed to be slowly slipping away. The bus to Charlottetown would be leaving at four thirty.
I had to find a solution.
I explained my predicament to the customer service agent who pitied me and said she would help. I held my breath until I saw that my new boarding passes had been printed. It didn’t matter that they took me back to Toronto. It didn’t matter that I spent six hours waiting at the airport. I was going home and that was all I focused on.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that I had been given a first class ticket! My friends, let no one deceive you. It is good to have money! Ah! I thought I was on the wrong flight but once I confirmed that I was not, I behaved myself. The seat was big and soft, the pillow was heavenly, there was ample legroom, and the screen was responsive. My day was made.
I got home at midnight and my roommates were already asleep but I woke them to say hi. They were sleepily joyful to see me and I let them be.
One thing I learned was to ask questions as soon as I did not know. “Fake it till you make it” cost me over an hour in the cold. Another lesson that was reinforced was to remain grateful because no matter what, it could always be worse. Imagine what would have happened if I did not have the means to get a room for those three nights. Finally, people may have fancy titles but at the end of the day, they are just people. Try to engage, as much as you can, on that common, human level.
I have gone, seen, and conquered. May 2018 be good to you.