Friday, December 12, 2014

Another Immigration Canada Clusterfuck

Once again, I've been screwed by Immigration Canada. Along with the rest of my family this time. The details are outrageous enough, it seems to me, that they bear recounting.

Reiko, Leila and I successfully boarded an Alaska Airlines flight this morning from Portland, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia. Vancouver was just where we were landing in order to get our connecting flight to Tokyo. The flight leaving Portland was delayed, but the captain said we were only landing 7 minutes later than scheduled.

We had 1-1/2 hours between landing in Vancouver and departing for Tokyo, if our flight had been on time. This was the schedule determined by Orbitz as being a reasonable time frame for making the connection. What I didn't know is that Canada, like the US, now requires travelers transiting in Canada to go through Immigration before boarding their connecting flight. (If I had known that, we could have gotten a ticket that would have taken us through LAX or SFO instead for a similar price, but too late now.)

Rather than going through Immigration like most other travelers on their way to another country – a process taking most travelers a few extra minutes at most, I observed today – we were told that we had to go downstairs and see an Immigration agent there. We were given a “104” on the customs form we had to fill out, and told by an unfriendly Immigration agent to go down two flights of stairs to Immigration down there.

We went downstairs.  The first line was for Immigration, for people trying to exit the airport.  It was very long.  I told someone we were going to miss our flight if we had to wait in that line, and we were directed to go "around to the right" and wait in that line.  The nice airport worker who directed us to do that reassured us that we wouldn't be missing our flight.  We got that reassurance several times from several different airport workers.  Around to the right there were two lines -- one for flight crew, and one for diplomats.  Being neither flight crew nor diplomats, we waited in the line with the flight crew.  When we got to the end of the line, no one was calling us or directing us to do anything.  At that point I figured we should have been waiting in the line with the diplomats, who were not diplomats as far as I could see, but people who needed assistance getting around, and were being driven in those airport golf cart things.

I said to the sole Immigration agent who was processing all the people in those two lines that I guess we were in the wrong line and should get in the other one.  The very rude Immigration agent took advantage of my question to snidely say to us, "are you airline crew or a diplomat?  If not, then you're in the wrong line."  According to the glowing signs above the dude's head, there was one line for flight crew, and another for diplomats.  No line for anyone else.  We got in the diplomat line with the folks in the golf carts.  The rude guy processed us quickly when we got to the end of that line.

After getting through that one, we were in a very large room.  On the other side of the room there was a long, slow line of people exiting the airport, and no sign of an Immigration office. At the Information booth we were told Immigration was on the other end of the long line. We told every official we talked to what time our flight was, and that we thought we were going to miss it. An airport employee at the Immigration line got us to the head of the line, and an Immigration official then told us to go into the Immigration office to the right. Almost everyone else was going to the left, exiting the airport.

In the windowless, bleak Immigration room there was no bathroom. Anyone who moved in the wrong direction was castigated by a very rude young white Canadian man with shaggy hair. There were around ten booths where agents theoretically call people to question them and search their stuff. The whole time we were in there, they were rudely and loudly (for all to hear every word) questioning a young man from Korea, and searching his luggage very thoroughly. As usual in these situations, I was the only white person in the room aside from a blonde woman who was traveling with her nonwhite partner, and my daughter.

Of the ten places agents could have been processing people, only two were actually open, and one of those two was busy the whole time with the Korean guy. So the line basically wasn't moving. We sat there with no opportunity to use a bathroom for a full hour. Early in our wait, Reiko told an agent we were going to miss our flight (again, and politely). That had zero impact. While we sat there, unable to use our phones by law, our flight left without us.

The agents, it appeared, had been on a lunch break, and once 1 pm rolled around (the time our flight left), more of them came around to “help” people. Including a nice agent of Asian heritage, who almost apologized for the wait (certainly his expression was apologetic). When he realized that I had a history with Immigration Canada but that we were only trying to transit in Vancouver, he let us leave the airport without searching our bags.

At no point were we given the option of Reiko and Leila boarding the flight, even though I was the one who was flagged for further processing, not them.

We exited the airport in order to then go to the check-in desk for JAL, where we were greeted by a nice airline worker who informed us that we had indeed missed our flight. She told us we could show up the next day to try to get on that day's flight to Tokyo, but she said it was completely full, and that it was unlikely all three of us would get on it. She said we were rebooked for the next flight that had available seats, which is for Tuesday – four days later than our intended departure date.

My gigs in Japan, incidentally, are supposed to be on Sunday and Monday. Even if we get on the flight tomorrow on standby, there's no way I'll be able to do the first gig. Probably both are lost causes.

Because we missed the flight due to Immigration and not due to airline-related problems, we were told there was no way we could be rebooked on a different airline. Furthermore, we were told that if we bought new one-way tickets to Tokyo through a different airline, our original return flight would be invalid. That is, the whole ticket would be thrown out, with no recourse.

It's worth noting at this point that if this had happened in Europe, under EU law we would be put up in a hotel from now until the 16th, regardless of whether this happened because of Immigration or because of the airline. But because Canadian law is almost as shit as US law, there's no rights for us stranded passengers here. Paying for hotels is our responsibility, we were told.


I'm hoping I have a good case to sue Immigration Canada. If so, stay tuned for more on that lawsuit... In any case, for now, we'll hopefully have a nice few days bumming around Vancouver instead of Tokyo, until Thursday. Any demos or other events in the next few days in Vancouver that I should know about?