A while back, I visited Toronto.
My flight arrived late at night, about 11:30 PM, but no worries. I had a guaranteed room booked at the huge ROYAL YORK HOTEL, Toronto’s Grande Dame.
As I wearily approached the front desk clerk, an onslaught of disheveled people rushed in front of me and proceeded en masse to check in. Turns out that it was the traveling road cast of the musical Hair…..probably 30 cast members.
Finally, it was my turn. But after presenting my credit card, I detected some confusion amongst the staff. The were talking with each other and not to me. Finally a manager sheepishly informed me that the hotel was sold out and did not have a room for me…even though my reservation had been guaranteed and confirmed.
Welcome to Canada.
After a very unpleasant, loud and expletive-laced conversation (or confrontation), he relented and offered to put me up for the night in the Grande Ballroom. “Just give me a few minutes,” he said.
I thought, Poor guy is tired. He meant to say ‘Grand Suite.’
By now it was approaching 1:00 AM. He escorted me down a hall to a large set of double doors, opened them, and there it was…a single cot and tiny night-stand, dead center in the middle of a gigantic room about the size of a Target store.
Too tired to bitch anymore, I fell asleep only to need to pee a few hours later. So about 4:00 AM, in my underwear, I traipsed across the vast expanse of the floral-carpeted ballroom floor, excited another set of doors and found my way to the men’s room.
If I had it to do over, I would have relieved myself in a corner of the ballroom. I figured with the loud floral patterned carpeting, no one would notice a little blemish.
Was it wrong of me to harbor such thoughts?
At any rate, last summer, with the announcement that AIR CANADA was introducing non-stop flights from Minneapolis to Montreal, Joanne and I decided to take our daughter, son-in-law, and the darling little grandkids on a weekend trip to Montreal. After all, they had been enrolled in a French immersion school and this would be a chance to test out their burgeoning skills in an actual French-speaking environment.
We had 7:00 PM dinner reservations in Montreal at LA CHRONIQUE, an essential dining experience in Montreal.
Despite our AIR CANADA flight being two hours late, we managed to arrive for dinner just in time.
Now would be a good time to pause and introduce La Chronique to those of you who might be planning a trip to Montreal this summer.
Located a 20-minute taxi ride from downtown on W. Laurier Ave, La Chronique is a small place – maybe 50 seats – that serves a sensibly priced set menu in a smart white dining room, decked out with white tablecloths. It’s wonderful.
A prominent clock on the wall is permanently set for ten minutes to five, which in French-chef lingo is that magical moment before dinner service begins.
Warning: This place is not for you if you are looking for a vegetarian, low-fat, low-calorie, gluten-sensitive, diet-friendly and sugar-free menu. You need to be a fan of “FAT IS FLAVOR” to experience the complete culinary euphoria of La Chronique.
Consequently, upon being seated, the first words out of my mouth were, ”I’d like some FOIE GRAS.”
Spring Pea Soup loaded up with lump crab meat and garnished with deep-fried chicken skin crumbles came next, and was followed by Ricotta Gnocchi with nuggets of, mmm, foie gras.
I warned you…..this place is NOT FOR SISSIES.
Main dishes around our tabled included Shrimp and Iles de la Madeline Scallops in a shellfish emulsion, sauteed milk-fed Veal Sweetbreads, a surf ‘n turf with a big fat Newfoundland lobster claw, Sauteed Sea Bass, the restaurant’s creative take on Seafood Paella, and Wagyu Beef Tenderloin dopped with a sturdy lobe of…oh, more foie gras!
Asparagus was in season, so we all shared a couple side orders of white and green asparagus with shrimp and Parmigiano Reggiano crumbles.
Dessert was all about chocolate…Black Forest Cake with Amareno cherries, profiteroles, and one called “Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate.”
La Chronique was a DELIGHT. I highly recommend it if you are ever in Montreal.
What was NOT a DELIGHT was the rest of our trip.
After checking in two hours before our scheduled 6:00 PM departure, we headed for the AIR CANADA Maple Leaf Lounge to relax, only to discover that it was closed due to a toilet that had overflowed and flooded the club.
We headed for our gate and were prepared to sit there for an hour-and-a-half. We were hungry, but decided to wait till we were in the air for a promised snack on board.
But…we were on the slippery slope of AIR CANADA. Our flight was delayed. 6:00 PM became 6:45. 6:45 became 8:30. 8:30 became 10:30, and 10:30 became midnight – at which time AIR CANADA CANCELED OUR FLIGHT and bluntly informed us that all hotels near the airport were full.
So it was back to downtown for a hotel (which Air Canada was to pay for. More about that later). However, ours was not the only Air Canada flight cancelled around that time. As a result, the airport was packed as we had to reverse our way through customs and immigration, which were clogged with other stranded passengers and woefully understaffed with very unpleasant people. Moreover, we couldn’t retrieve our luggage in the middle of the night because most of the baggage handlers had gone home.
Pick a word or phrase to describe our experience with Air Canada: CONFUSED…CHAOTIC…BEDLAM…UNHINGED…BAFFLING…SNAKE PIT. You choose: There are no wrong answers.
But I managed to put on my BIG BOY BRITCHES and convince myself that I could deal with this. We’d simply have another day in Montreal and catch the (only) flight to Minneapolis the next evening at 6:00 PM. However, an embarrassed but kind Air Canada gate agent informed us confidentially, and likely at her peril, “that flight to Minneapolis gets canceled almost every day.”
I awoke the next morning, feeling pretty good, only to have a message on my phone from Air Canada: “YOUR FLIGHT TO MINNEAPOLIS TODAY HAS BEEN CANCELLED!”.
WTF? REALLY? AGAIN? WTF, AIR CANADA? WT F**K ?
So here’s the end: We rented a van and drove to Boston, where we caught a Delta non-stop to Minneapolis.
But, even though they had promised, Air Canada STONEWALLED us and PAID FOR NOTHING – not our hotel, nor our transportation to downtown. No reimbursement for meals. No refund for the unused tickets for the return leg of our flight back to Minneapolis. No reimbursement for our transportation to Boston.
Even after hours on the phone, Air Canada refused to make any reimbursement whatsoever…NONE.
I can only imagine a future Air Canada captain making the following cockpit announcement to the cabin:
“Thank you for flying Air Canada. We know that you have a choice of airlines. And today you chose the wrong one. Have a nice day in Montreal – BECAUSE YOU AIN’T GOING ANYWHERE.