Tag Archives: air travel

Best way to travel Montreal-Toronto

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Montreal’s “Gare Centrale”

I’m just about to set off from Montreal on a Via Rail train to Toronto. I have lots of fond memories of making this trip frequently during my studies as an MBA student at York University. In fact, I’ve made the trip in all modes of travel: train, plane, bus, and automobile. The only thing I haven’t done is walked or biked!

In keeping with the travel theme of my blog, here’s my opinion of each of these four modes of transportation.

Automobile: I love road trips. But for me, the conditions have to be right. I could probably travel nearly any distance by car if I’ve got the windows down and the wind in my face, radio blaring my top travel tunes, and ideally a travel partner with whom to stop at Tim Horton’s coffee shops along the way. My last road trip was in the USA: from Chapel Hill, North Carolina to Tampa, Florida via Charleston, South Carolina. A great time! But, I rarely travel this way. This is mainly because I haven’t owned a car since the late 90’s. I could rent but my drivers license recently expired and I can’t get another one until my work visa is renewed. So, the trouble factor is too high. And of course parking would be a burden in a city like Toronto. Renting a compact car for this trip – three nights and four days, plus fuel, and parking, would probably have taken me to about $200-250. There are options to ride-share. Check places like craigslist or simply ask your friends on facebook!

Bus: My global travels started by bus, and although its probably my least favourite mode of transport, it’ll always be a fall-back for me and I like to think it keeps me grounded to being a frugal traveler. Bus travel takes a long time: at least a nine hour trip to Toronto. Advantages include affordability and I sometimes like being able to travel overnight (you save on a hotel and can maximize your daytime hours in the city). Greyhound buses have a seat-side socket for your laptop and wi-fi on board, though on a recent trip from New York to Montreal I found it to be quite slow. For me, the major cons to traveling by bus are the frequent stops, the bumpy ride which makes it difficult to get any rest, and the usually crappy dining options along the way. But sometimes its still the best option in comparison. My most recent bus trip was from New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal to Montreal on a Greyhound bus. I paid $78 for a one-way ticket and the journey took eight hours door-to-door. The money saved lets my travel dollar go even further and that keeps me true to my roots as a budget backpacker. :)

Plane: Usually the fastest way to go of course. But don’t forget to add the travel time to and from the airport, check-in and security clearance, boarding time, and the extra costs of a taxi. Consider flying into Billy Bishop Toronto City airport which is much closer to downtown than Pearson International. Remember that flying by plane is the least environmentally friendly way to travel. Don’t be fooled by those airlines which allow you to purchase “credits” or “offsets” so that you can be carbon-neutral. Some carbon offset programs may not be having the impact we seek (more on that in another blog post). A return flight from Montreal to Toronto can be anywhere between $250 and $600, depending on when you book, who you’re flying with, and what time you’re flying. I last flew this route in January, as the first leg of a journey to Ethiopia.

Train: My favourite way to travel to Toronto is by train, mainly because I can sit comfortable with lots of leg room and work while on board using free wi-fi. Travel times ranges from five to eight hours, depending on the number of stops. There are fewer security hassles too. Getting to the train station in Montreal is easy and fast and likewise in Toronto. And fares are usually quite reasonable: I paid $116 for this trip, tax in. Another huge plus is that its much more environmentally friendly than taking the plane or traveling by car.

Via Rail still has Economy Escape fares available to Toronto for the upcoming Labour Day weekend, at $90 all in, return trip. What are you waiting for? :)

If you’ve done this trip before, please share your thoughts below! Thanks!

Compensation offer from United Airlines

For those of you following my long-running customer service debacle with United Airlines, they have sent me a cheque for US$1600 plus a US$250 travel voucher as a customer service gesture (they are assuming I want to fly with them again).

The value of my goods lost was US$3000 and I claimed US$2000 because I could not provide receipts for the rest. They haven’t provided a breakdown of how they arrived at US$1600 and have assumed I would be happy to accept their offer. I don’t think I am going to accept it and I am going to fight for the balance.

For those of you who think I should take the money because it’s all I am ever going to get out of them, you may be right. But the bigger issue for me is the way I have been treated throughout this whole process.

So long as I can help it, I will not fly with them again until they actually listen to me and compensate me for my loss. I have already booked one flight with a competing airline – it cost me more but if I am not willing to put my money where my mouth is, then what good is my word? I will not be a sheep.

Unexpected overnight in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

While en route to Lilongwe, Malawi, a travel glitch sidelined me in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a night. I’m taking advantage of the time here by meeting with a local company that sells water filters and has plans for an East Africa expansion. The information I glean will be published in the next issue of my newsletter on household water treatment.

This is not the first time I have had travel trouble at Addis Ababa’s airport. In September, I tried to stop over here and was refused a visa. You can read that story here. So when I was re-booked for the following day’s flight, I crossed my fingers I would not have to sleep overnight in the airport.

But thanks to the efforts of a helpful Ethiopian Airlines transfer desk employee named Thomas Dejene, I was able to quickly secure a transit visa and overnight stay at the Panorama Hotel. The entire process took less than 20 minutes. The transit visa has a total cost of US$70 which comprises a visa processing fee of US$20 and hotel accommodation cost of US$50. (This is quite inexpensive for Addis Ababa.) The bonus? Breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as transport to and from the airport is included. Not a bad deal at all. Another plus: the transit visa is a simple stamp (a tourist visa takes up at least one whole passport page). Amesegenallo Thomas!

Organising a transit visa may not always be this easy. My previous experience suggests some rules apply, such as staying in an Ethiopian Airlines approved hotel and having no alternative flight options to your final destination in the event of a missed or cancelled flight. Contact the Ethiopian consulate or embassy nearest you well ahead of your planned travel and make sure you are informed. Wikipedia offers a list of Ethiopia’s worldwide diplomatic missions.

Not giving up

Leaving on a backpacking tour of Africa in June 2012

Two months ago, after flying in to the USA from Malawi , I discovered that my backpack, with all my belongings for six months of travel, had been lost (see photo inset). My subsequent experience in dealing with the airline’s delayed baggage team was extremely disappointing: my bag wasn’t found, I didn’t feel like they tried hard enough and I was told to submit a claim for compensation which under international conventions will probably give me a fraction of the value of the property I lost.

From an early age my father always taught me to fight for what I think is right and not to let anyone take advantage of me. Why should that be any different with a large company? So I decided to go right to the top with my problem and try to achieve an outcome that seems fair for all concerned: reimbursement for my out-of-pocket expenses and a reasonable compensation for the value of the items lost.

In a letter I wrote to senior management, I detail my experience and request the airline to provide fair and reasonable compensation for my lost belongings. The normal claims process has so far proven to be bureaucratic, slow-moving and ineffective, which is why I am trying to circumvent it.

Will update here if and when I hear back from them. And until I do, the airline will remain unnamed . (But feel free to guess which one it is.) :)

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27 December 2012

RE:  DELAYED BAGGAGE REPORT, FILE REFERENCE #XXXXX

Dear X, Y and Z:

I write to request your kind assistance in resolving a recent issue with your airline in respect of my lost luggage.

Following a recent flight from Malawi to North Carolina, one of two checked pieces of baggage on my [airline name removed] flight did not arrive to Washington DC and could not be found. The local airline representative said FAA regulations require me to submit a claim at my final destination (Raleigh, North Carolina) and that [the airline responsible for my final flight] was responsible for handling my case. I followed the instructions.

The last time I saw my backpack – at Lilongwe Airport in October 2012. :(

During the following two weeks, [the second airline] advised that as a [frequent flyer], I would receive priority treatment and regular updates. I also mentioned that I was in the middle of a period of six months of continuous travel in Africa and South America and that the bag contained extra medication for diabetes, clothing for my work and travel accessories, much of which is difficult to replace. Consequently, I was worried about being prepared for my onward travels and relieved that I could take advantage of my frequent flier status.

Unfortunately, the promised help never materialized –

First, I was told on various occasions that the success of [the second airline’s] efforts were dependent on receiving a status report from [the first airline]. Upon further inquiry seven days after the loss of my luggage, I discovered that only a single email had so far been sent to [the first airline] and no response had yet been received, suggesting to me that my case was not being followed with priority attention.

Second, I was initially told that [the second airline] would either email or phone me daily to keep me updated. However, I never received any such communication and was thus required to regularly check in myself. I was also frustrated that your Bag Tracing website always showed the same message that baggage tracing efforts were “still in progress” and to check back later.

Then, when I complained, I was advised to submit an official baggage claim to accelerate the process and initiate a trace in “lost bag” warehouses around the USA. This seems like looking for a needle in a haystack – hardly more effective or efficient than simply getting on the phone with [the first airline]!

Frustrated by this response, I contacted the baggage handling team at Lilongwe Airport in Malawi and made other calls until I spoke directly to a baggage representative [from the first airline]. It took me only 60 minutes of persistence to learn that records showed my baggage was loaded on to the plane in Lilongwe but was not received in [the first airline’s hub].

I understand that under international conventions airlines are limited in their liability for lost bags. However, in my case it is clear that an inadequate and unsatisfactory effort was made to locate my luggage and much more could have been done to expedite the process within the small window of time that was available to contact [the first airline] and locate my bag. I communicated my dissatisfaction several times and still, nothing was done about it.

Over the last several years, I have been a frequent and loyal domestic and international flyer with [the second airline] and [their worldwide partner network] and feel that I have been wronged by the loss of my luggage and subsequent attempts to assist me with this loss. The efforts by your delayed baggage team were far below what was promised and what should be provided in good faith when an airline (or its partner airline) loses a passenger’s baggage. This is disappointing in comparison to my prior satisfactory travel experiences with [the second airline] and is hardly consistent with the customer service message outlined by your CEO [name removed] in one of your in-flight videos “Doing what you say you’re going to do”: [link removed].

My career is focused on providing consulting services to firms and governments in developing countries. It is a profession that has required and will continue to require me to travel extensively. I would hope that you regard me as a valued customer offering the potential for recurring business, and one who can continue speaking positively about my travel experiences with [the second airline]

My lost luggage has an estimated value of $2007.00. Interim expenses to replace some of these lost items have so far amounted to $730.52. I am requesting total compensation of the amount lost which equals to $2007. The attached sheets detail these amounts. In keeping my request reasonable, I have not accounted for time spent/lost and transportation expense incurred in shopping for replacement items.

As I have been traveling in remote parts of South America and then on a cruise ship in Antarctica until just days before the Christmas holiday, this is the first opportunity I have had to contact you in this form. I apologize for the delay.

Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions or wish to discuss further.

Sincerely,

Ryan Rowe
Lilongwe, Malawi

Attachments:

(1)    Boarding passes and baggage tags
(2)    Itemized list of lost belongings
(3)    Itemized list of interim expenses

I went to Ethiopia (for two hours)

About a month ago I booked a ticket to Nairobi with Ethiopian Airways via Addis Ababa. But when I saw the late arrival time in Nairobi (1:30am), I saw an opportunity to stay overnight in Addis to visit a local friend and see how the city had changed since my previous visits in 2008 and 2009. An added bonus was the chance to meet, interview and photograph a local company selling water filters (I am always eager to network!).

Being aware of visa requirements is always prudent and before booking my ticket, I checked to see if rules had changed. They had not: Canadians can still get a tourist visa on arrival for 20 bucks, said various websites including that of the consular services section of the Ethiopian Embassy in Ottawa, Canada. Just to be safe, I double-checked a trusted source of travel advice (lonely planet’s thorn tree forum) and also asked a couple of friends who had travelled there recently. After all this, I felt quite confident I would have no problems.

Well, on arriving at the airport tonight, I lined up for a visa and waited 45 minutes after which I was told by immigration authorities that because my stay was for less than 24 hours, I was eligible only for a transit visa. Such visas are organized by the airline and I was told to sort it out with them. The catch: the visa costs 70 dollars and requires a stay at a pre-determined hotel. And, since there were open seats on a connecting flight to Nairobi leaving within two hours (the same flight I had originally opted out of), there was no good reason why I should declare myself to be “in transit”, thus they doubted I would even be eligible for a transit visa. I tried to reason with the officials – and of course this went nowhere fast. Feeling the resistance, I decided to give in to the flow, and rebook my flight to head to Nairobi. Sometimes things are just not meant to be! And as soon as I did so, things started to work and my mood brightened. A pretty woman at the counter let me use her mobile phone to cancel my appointments and hotel booking and she managed to get my baggage moved on to the new flight ( and she spoke French!). Ethiopian’s inflight magazine, Selamta, was chock-full of inspiring travel reads. And my taxi driver at the Nairobi airport barely haggled with me over the price to my accommodation. :)

The upshot? If you are going to make a short visit to Addis, ie less than 24 hours, you might want to get yourself the tourist visa ahead of time. Or be prepared to wait in a very very long line for a transit visa at the airport.

And if that doesn’t work, you can always visit one of the half dozen or so bars in the terminal concourse and get yourself a local beer while you wait for your next flight. :p

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St George’s Beer in Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia