Sunday, 26 April 2015

Icelandair and The Unfriendly Skies...

Icelandair has our money and won’t give it back. My better half, Dr. Jon, was supposed to be flying through the air with them to Denmark right now, and instead he’s just home from the hospital, laden with painkillers, and we’re trying to figure out what the next few months will bring. Let’s back up a bit.

This was supposed to be a very sophisticated springtime for Jonny and me. Last week, Jon travelled to Chicago to present a paper as part of the American Educational Research Association conference in Chicago, and this week, he was to fly to Copenhagen to present another paper at another conference. I couldn’t get time off to attend both, and the trip to Denmark was prohibitively expensive for two, but I managed to get six days free to go to Chicago and I was thrilled.

I did that dorky thing where you get travel recommendations from everyone you know and I planned a dream itinerary of things we might do. Definitely the art gallery and museum, maybe the trip to Oak Park if we have time, etc. On our first day, we managed to take in the Magnificent Mile and get some shopping in. That night, Jon got out of bed in the middle of the night, tripped or slipped or something, and broke his leg in three places.

If you’ve never heard your beloved screaming in pain at four in the morning, limbs akimbo, I wouldn’t recommend it. I would recommend the fabulous Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers who had staff at our bedside instantly, wheeled Jon to the lobby and into a cab, saved us an incredibly pricey ambulance ride to the hospital. I would recommend the Northwestern University Hospital who spent the next seven hours trying to determine the extent of his injuries. I would recommend trying to stay cool and think logically while your partner is writhing in pain and you are asked to leave the room.

Turns out that most people that fall out of bed don’t come away with multiple fractures and breaks. The doctors were inclined to disbelieve our story and we were separated for a time in hospital because they thought this was potentially a domestic violence situation. As this dawned on me, I felt awful of course, but also became hyper aware of my behaviour. Would a domestic abuser be crying in the hallway? Should I be more concerned? Less concerned? I knew becoming hysterical wouldn’t help my case, but I felt like screaming that I was not the person they should be focussing on right now. Anyway, after some x-rays and consultation with orthopedic surgeons, it was determined that this break was indeed the result of a bad fall and not abuse from me. I just wanted to go the art gallery. After many hours and $550 in prescription costs (our hospital visit was thankfully covered by traveller’s insurance, but we have to claim any prescriptions after the fact—fingers crossed), we headed back to the hotel, where we parked.

Needless to say, the rest of our itinerary was scrapped in favour of days and nights in our hotel room. Jon’s injuries were to the extent that he was basically immobile and so required help for everything. Again, major props to the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers who put us in a disability-friendly room with a high toilet and walk in shower. Also, major thanks to the AERA disability services shuttle who got Jon to his session, where he (unbelievably), presented his paper while stretched out on a couple of chairs. Our flight home wasn’t necessarily advised, but we just wanted to be back in Canada, where further medical care was available. After a bumpy, tense, but relatively pain-free flight, we arrived home.

Because Jon was in a splint and not a cast, we were advised to go to a doctor and get a cast put on once we returned home. Instead, the doctor sent us right to Emergency, who took x-rays anew and told Jon he needed surgery right away and admitted him then and there. Because “right away” for surgery never means “right away”, Jon spent the next three days waiting, but finally has had pieces of metal inserted where bone used to be, been packed into yet another splint, and now he sits across from me on the couch in our apartment. His pain has lessened and his swelling has reduced, but there are still awful periods where one dose of meds wear off before another dose is due, and we get through it.

Obviously, the visit to the second conference, the one in Denmark, had to be scrapped. The hotel canceled Jon’s reservation instantly and kindly wished him well in his recovery. The airline, Icelandair, has refused to issue any refund or credit. They claim that because Jon did not purchase cancellation insurance, nothing could be done. These were arrangements we tried to make well in advance of the actual flight, mind you, they could have resold the seat, but no dice. Furthermore, because Jon paid for the flight through a third party travel agency on his debit card, there is no credit card insurance to rely on either. The travel agency, Merit Travel, also refuses any liability and will not refund or credit.

Our main concern, naturally, is Jon’s recovery. The cost of an $850 flight down the drain is a vast expense, but we’re lucky that we are able to afford it. We ought to just let it go, I suppose; we didn’t purchase the stupid cancellation insurance after all. Ironically, we would have been happy with a credit to Icelandair because we would have spent more money on top of it so both Jon and I could go on a kind of do-over trip sometime in the future. But we certainly can’t afford any more travel for the next little while.

Icelandair, if you’ve read this far, I hope you’re satisfied with the results of your iron-clad “no refund” policy. Instead of extending courtesy to us as potential customers, you have alienated us and (hopefully) anyone who reads this blog post. As corporations go, you’ve done a bad job of convincing us you do business in the interest of your customers. Canada’s airline industry is a tough market to crack, and you seem intent on making inroads, but how successful will you be if you choose rigid self-interest over compassionate consideration? My partner and I are not powerful or influential people (though Jon does get invited to speak all over the world), but we don’t hesitate to talk about our consumer experiences, both good and bad. So if you’re following along at home: Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers: Great. Hotel Ste. Thomas, Denmark: Great. United Airlines, who accommodated Jon in a higher class of seat to get a desperately needed extra six inches of legroom: Great. Northwestern University Hospital and University of Alberta Hospital: Great and Great. Icelandair: Bad.

Our springtime of being grownups has turned into a stressful few weeks where we just want our moms. We’re lucky to have the means and the friends to help us out if we need it, and we’re especially lucky that broken bones eventually heal and life goes back to the way it was. Really, beyond the surgical scars and depleted savings accounts, there won’t be much to remind us of Spring, 2015, except the people who showed us so much compassion and the airline (Icelandair, Icelandair, and if you’re Googling a third time, Icelandair), that did not.