Friday, November 18, 2022

A truly bizarre airline booking experience -Air Canada -Vancouver to Nice

Next month, my wife and I are off to Nice for a short holiday break. We are going to Cap Ferrat since a colleague has offered us the use of a waterfront villa. I couldn't turn down the invitation since the first time we visited the area on a Eurail holiday in 1977, we couldn't even afford to stay there for a night. We ended up spending an afternoon on the beach with our luggage, surrounded by glamourous people under their rented beach umbrellas. But this blogpost isn't about holidaying on the Cote d'Azur. It's about booking flights to the Cote d'Azur. While many people prefer to have a travel agent book their travel, I like to do it myself. I want to find the shortest flight times, most convenient departure times, good seat selection, at the best value. While I prefer to fly Business Class, I am reluctant to pay four times the economy price unless it is an important business trip. Furthermore, I recently discovered that if you purchase a Premium Economy ticket, you can often upgrade to Business Class for a modest fee compared to booking a Business Class ticket. On my last trip to the Netherlands, it cost $740 to upgrade each way.

For my desired dates, the most direct flights were Vancouver-Frankfurt and Frankfurt- Nice. On the Air Canada website this cost $983 for Economy, $1733 for Premium Economy, and $4,784 for Business Class.  The flight to Frankfurt was AC7395. The other flights had Lufthansa (LH) flight numbers. I decided to book Premium Economy.

When I tried to view the advanced seat selection, I received this message: 

This flight is operated by Ew Discover Gmbh. You'll need to complete your seat selection with them after completing your booking. Seat fees may apply. 

So, I proceeded to book the flights through the RBC Avion website using a combination of points and cash. Now here is where it gets bizarre. When I went onto the Eurowings website to select my seats, I found this message: 

You can select and reserve your preferred seat for your Eurowings Discover flight directly during the booking process or even when checking in. If you want to make or change your reservation at a later date, you can conveniently book your seat in the My Bookings section of the Lufthansa website. Seats are limited, so we recommend that you reserve the seat you want as early as possible.

Have you booked your flight with Eurowings Discover through a tour operator and would like to add a seat reservation to your booking? 

Unfortunately, a seat reservation cannot be added to your booking without the 6-digit Eurowings Discover booking code. If you have not been provided with your booking code yet, please contact the tour operator directly with your request. 

While I did not have a 'Tour Operator' I did have RBC Avion, so I contacted them. After a one hour and forty-minute delay, they called me back. I was told they could not provide a Eurowings Discover booking code or select seats, so I asked if they could give me a North American phone number for Eurowings, which they did.

When I phoned the number, I was asked my card number. I said I didn't have one. I was then asked for my Social Security Number. When I asked why they needed this, they said it was for security purposes. When I asked who I was speaking to I was told I was speaking to Discovery Credit Card. They had given me the wrong number! 

I called RBC Avion back and was given this telephone number for Eurowings Discover:  1 833 272 1446. I eventually spoke to an agent who told me that unfortunately she could not select seats on an Air Canada flight. I should contact Air Canada.

I then tried to select seats for the LH Frankfurt-Vancouver leg but was told I would have to contact Lufthansa. Which I did. Lufthansa told me that since the flight is operated by Eurowings only they could do seat selection. So, I gave up.

Now, while most people are leaving Twitter, I am not. I decided to tweet out a fraction of this bizarre experience and Frances Bula responded that she has found the best way to get results from Air Canada is to Direct Message (DM) them. I did and received an immediate response from an agent. I explained what was happening and she offered to assist me on the Vancouver-Frankfurt leg. I subsequently received the following responses:

"This is a codeshare. It is marketed as AC7395 which is actually operated by 4Y 071 (meaning, it isn't our aircraft, we regret to say). Our department closes in an hour. As an exception this time and only this time, we will call them on your behalf. BRB and hopefully they pick up before we close."

"Michael, we've tried to reach all possible numbers (at least 3) for Eurowings and all numbers went straight to fail. We then called Lufthansa and gave us a 4th number for Euro Wings which, also failed. They might not be 24 hours (surprisingly). Could you reach back to us tomorrow as a reminder? I will be back at 16:00EST. Like I said, this was an exception but I am willing to look into it further tomorrow when my next shift starts and hopefully it will work or they will be open."

I sent them the phone number I was given, and the next day received this message:

"Hello Michael, we regret to say we don't have good news. We were able to reach them. In complete honesty, what they advised didn't make sense to us. They kept saying they can only access a Lufthansa or Eurowing ticket number, not Air Canada. We were being insistent as they kept saying they don't have a ticket agreement but, we do. We called 3 different agents and they all advise the same thing. Maybe they have an old reservation system that has a limitation (We changed our reservation system in 2019. Before then, the one we had was more than 50 years old...). They've advised the seats can only be booked 24 hours before flight departure time. Regards" I thanked the agent for all her efforts.
If you google 'Air Canada and Eurowings' you will find this website:

Now, I realize that with all the horrific problems in the world today, I should not get too concerned because I can't select Premium Economy seats on flights between Vancouver and Frankfurt en route to a villa on the Cote d'Azur. 

But I share this experience since more of us are now flying. As a Canadian (and Aeroplan member) I like to fly Air Canada whenever I can. While Air Canada boasts about this new partnership, I would like management to know there is a fundamental problem with this new arrangement since each partner says it can't select seats on the other's airline and so it becomes impossible to pre-select seats!

I am sure many will take great delight reading about my difficulties and frustration selecting seats. "Christ Geller. Stop worrying about airline flights and spend more time doing something to address homelessness."

I get it. However, this situation needs to be rectified so that others who truly need to pre-select seats because they're travelling with young children or have special needs can do so on Air Canada/Eurowings flights. I will let you know if I make any progress.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Architecture & Design Film Festival Vancouver November 9 to 12, 2022

This festival is organized by Adfilmfest based in New York. Similar festivals are held in Toronto and other North American cities.
The Rotterdam program was impressive, and some of the same films will be shown here. 

On my last night in Rotterdam last month, I attended the Rotterdam Architecture Film Festival. I wanted to see Robin Hood Gardens but it was sold out, so I saw Ascension, a fascinating film about life in contemporary China. While I am not sure why it was included in an architecture festival, it was well worth seeing.

On my return to Vancouver, I lamented on Facebook the fact that we did not have a similar film festival. I was promptly corrected. Vancouver does have an annual architecture festival. It is organized by ADFILMFEST out of New York and I was subsequently informed by the organizers that it begins today and runs through to Saturday. Details can be found here:

Tonight is opening night and Fashion Reimagined is playing at the Hollywood Cinema at 3123 West Broadway, starting at 6pm. Grethe Meyer-The Queen of Danish Design and Richard Henriquez: Building Stories are two of the films playing tomorrow. 6:30 at VIFF Centre - House 1181 Seymour Street. 

On Friday I plan to see Robin Hood Gardens and Under Tomorrow's Sky which coincidentally is about a Rotterdam architect. 

I am told that 7 of the screenings are now sold out but tickets are available for others. I think these films will be of interest not only to people in the architecture and design profession, but also anyone who cares about design. 

The Henriquez film will be of great interest to those who live in Vancouver and wonder why some of his buildings are designed the way they are! (Yes, he designed the Beach Avenue building with the tree on top.) It's a short 30-minute film but well worth watching, despite my small cameo role! 

See you at the festival.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Where to stay when visiting Victoria? Laurel Point, Oak Bay Beach, Abigails, and Magnolia.

My daughter, son-in-law, and two granddaughters live in Victoria in a comfortable house in Fairfield. Whenever my wife visits on her own, she stays in a lower-level suite in their house. But when I visit, I prefer to stay in a hotel. Over the past few years, we have enjoyed four different properties: Oak Bay Beach Hotel, Erickson Wing at Laurel Point, Abigails, and the Magnolia. 

Last weekend, we stayed at the Magnolia. Hotel and Spa. It offers a choice of rooms, but all our comfortable. We stayed in room 511, a deluxe corner room, but there are even nicer choices for a few more dollars

The Magnolia is very well located in the heart of the downtown, close to Government Street, the harbour, and an array of shops. There is valet parking, but also convenient street parking and two nearby parkades. 

I recently stayed in hotels in the Netherlands and Belgium. One of the features found in European (and Asian) hotels that I wish our hotels would implement is a key wall slot by the door that is used to save electricity and energy while you’re out of the room. If you must keep the power on to charge batteries and heat or cool the room, you can insert any card in the slot. But this is truly an energy saving feature that it's time for North American hotels to copy.

That said, the Magnolia did offer some nice features that I would like to see in many other hotels. When I travel, I keep a small, portable plug-in night light in my toiletry case to light up hotel bathrooms. However, the Magnolia had a motion activated light under the bathroom vanity which worked well. 

The comfortable lobby lounge offered free coffee, tea, and even hot cider which was a nice touch. While the coffee wasn't as good as the Nespresso coffee in the rooms, it was welcomed when sitting in the lounge. 

While there is no pool, there is an exercise room and business centre located on the second floor, which are both well-equipped. There is also a spa which we are yet to take advantage of.

In two weeks, we will be staying at the Empress, which is also a pleasant and special experience. Nat Bosa has undertaken a major renovation since purchasing it a number of years ago. However, there is considerable variation in the rooms, and you need to pay quite a bit more for the larger, more comfortable rooms. We will be attending the BC Government House Foundation Ball on November 19th which is happening after a Covid hiatus. If you have never been, you should check it out. It's a fabulous event.

Abigails comprises two buildings, the main building and the coach house. The hotel offers an excellent three-course breakfast which is included in the room rate.

We enjoy meeting other guests in the library bar. 

In recent years, we have stayed at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel over Christmas. However, we used to have our family over to enjoy the pool and we are advised the property no longer allows visiting children to use the pool. So, this year we have booked into Abigails over Christmas. While we would have liked to have stayed in their new wing (it was scheduled for completion this fall) it will not be ready until February.
If you want to join us, there are still a couple of rooms left over Christmas at a 20% discount if you stay three nights!

If you prefer something more contemporary, do check out the garden level suites in the Erickson Wing at Laurel Point looking out over the harbour. They are terrific!

Below are a few more photos taken at the Magnolia.