Vancouver, 6th January 2000
I was in Vancouver with a friend to celebrate the Millenium there with some other friends. We’d had a great time and it was the day before our flight back to Amsterdam. Just like my previous visits to Vancouver, the day before my departure meant one thing: reclaim the VAT on my shopping and use the money to have one last fab dinner! 🙂 We’d done quite a bit of shopping so the amount reclaimed would be quite substantial. We’d booked a table for our last night out at one of my favourite restaurants and I was really looking forward to it. Armed with our purchases, receipts, flight tickets and passports, we made our way to the VAT Refund office at the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Vancouver.
Once inside the VAT Refund office, we filled in the appropriate forms with the help of the friendly lady who then inspected our purchases and compared them with our receipts. No problem there. She then took our passports and flight tickets for a final verification. We stood lazily at the counter as the lady flipped through the paperwork.
As the lady went through the paperwork one last time, she looked up and with a puzzled look said, “You’ve filled in your departure date incorrectly. It should read the 6th”.
“No, my flight back is on the 7th”, I retorted.
“No”, she insisted, “the 6th”.
I was starting to get annoyed with this lady who obviously had the dates confused. I grabbed the form and my flight ticket from her and was about to point out the correct date when I froze. I quickly looked at my watch, then at the calendar on the wall. By this time, my friend, who was beginning to wonder what the confusion was about, had taken a step towards the counter and stood next to me. I looked at him in horror and was totally speechless.
“What’s the problem?”, he asked.
I didn’t know how to put it. I could hardly get the words out of my mouth: “err, our flight is on the 6th”.
“No, no. Our flight is on the 7th”, he said defiantly. I shook my head and this time, it was he who froze. “And… today’s the 6th?”, he asked quietly. I nodded.
“Our flight is at 12:20 right?”, he sputtered.
I glanced at my watch again. “Yup…in twenty minutes”, I replied.
We looked at each other. We both considered ourselves highly experienced world travellers; we’d seen the four corners of the planet; flew tens of thousands of miles each year…. and now, we stood there in silence.
Neither of us had ever missed a flight in this fashion before: somehow, we’d mixed up our arrival date in Amsterdam (the 7th) with our departure date from Vancouver (the 6th). Those few moments of silence felt like an eternity, then we both simultaneously broke out in laughter. Realising our mistake, we cracked up and laughed uncontrollably until the tears ran down our cheeks. The lady looked at us quizzically, wondering why this could be so funny.
Ten minutes later, we stood outside the Fairmont Hotel with our shopping bags, still stunned by the whole incident, as our plane took off from the airport, many miles away…. without us. We made several calls to the airline office but our tickets were non-refundable and non-everything basically. We found a travel agent, took a seat and explained our predicament. The lady tried to stifle her laugh and I said, “Oh go ahead… we had a great laugh too!”. She was absolutely fantastic. She checked her screen, made a few calls and within fifteen minutes, she’d booked us for an incredibly cheap rate on a direct flight home the very next day!
As we walked through the hotel lobby, exhausted from all the excitement, the hotel manager called out to us from behind the reception.
“Good afternoon sir. I’ve been trying to contact you all morning”.
We both looked at him and realised what for…Oh no…We explained what happened and he joked that he was about to get our baggage removed from the room. “I hope you’re not fully booked for tonight”, I said.
He looked at me and said, very solemnly, “I’m sorry but we are….. but I can offer you another room, a better room for the same rate; the only room that’s available tonight”.
“Cool”, I offered. I was too tired to think.
We went back to our room, packed our bags and moved to the other room. As I opened the door, I counted our blessings. Yes, we missed our flight but we were able to get some cheap seats back the next day and now this: the hotel had given us a super luxurious suite with views of Vancouver to die for!
That evening, we had dinner with all our friends at my favourite restaurant. It was a side-splitting affair as we were the topic of many, many jokes.
The moral of this story?
Always double-check, even better, triple-check your flight schedule several days ahead of your departure. You can never be too sure! 🙂