Saturday, May 15, 2010

Delays, Downgrades, Dress Shoes - My visit in Toronto

I haven't blogged here for a long time, opting to tweet short cryptic messages, if at all. Well, my trip to and from Toronto was eventful enough to warrant a full post or two.

Being the mileage optimizer I am, instead of flying direct to Toronto, I had a stopover in Houston, a Continental hub. Due to differences in price, I flew from San Jose airport instead of SFO, and parked my car in a hotel near the airport. This minor fact will prove crucial later.

The outwards flight went well, except that I did not get an upgrade on the flight to Houston (I was 2nd on the waiting list). I arrived in Toronto, and took the cool wifi enabled bus to my hotel. Upon arrival, I checked the conference schedule and was somewhat surprised to see that the main part of the conference starts the next evening, which meant I had a whole day to tour the city.

Since the banquet was to be held in the CN tower, Toronto's primary attraction, I decided to use my free day to visit the Royal Ontario Museum. That day I walked several kilometers to the conference venue, then to the museum, inside the museum, and finally back home. During all that time I wore dress shoes I usually wear for interviews -- I packed my best clothes for the conference.

What I did not realize, is that dress shoes can severely hurt your feet. By the next day my feet started to develop painful blisters and abrasions, which made it painful to walk. I used taxis for my travel to and from the conference venue since.

Academically, the conference was very fruitful. I got to meet many colleagues from institutions around the world, including Michael Wooldridge from the university of Liverpool, where I am about to interview soon. My students' talks went well and there were many interesting posters, some with the potential to lead to further research.

The conference banquet was held in the revolving restaurant on the top of the CN tower. This was the first time ever I've been to such a restaurant. Dinner was edible (not a trivial thing for a fancy restaurant) and the view was beautiful. Having the restrooms in the non-revolving part proved a challenge when I was trying to return to my seat. Sitting right next to the windows, I have attempted to send clever messages by writing them on paper and putting them on the non-revolving part of the restaurant. Few of these came back to me.

On the final day, I rushed to pack all my things and check out of the hotel. Then I took a taxi to the conference venue, attended the final talks and demos, and took the wifi bus back to the airport. At this point my feet were still in pain and it was difficult to walk.

At the airport, I found out that my flight to Houston was delayed by about an hour, which meant I was going to miss my tight 1-hour connection to my flight to San Jose. The Continental agents at Toronto had two options for me: Fly direct to SFO on Air Canada, or stay in a hotel in Toronto and fly via Houston the next day. In either case, my confirmed first class upgrade will be canceled since there was no first class availability.

Since my car was parked near San Jose airport, and they were not willing to pay for ground transportation to San Jose, I decided to go for the next day flight. However, since the flight was pretty early, I asked if it was possible to take the delayed flight to Houston and spend the night there. The agents agreed. This had the added benefit of being able to make the connecting flight in case the other flight happens to also be delayed.

By the time I made it through US customs and immigration at Toronto airport, the flight had been pushed back even more. The reason: Delayed incoming aircraft -- the plane from Houston departed late. With the flight two hours late, there was little hope in making the connection. By the time I was ready to leave toronto the plane I was supposed to board to San Jose was already en route and on time from San Juan Puerto Rico.

Upon hitting the ground in Houston, I decided to check the flight status to San Jose in a last-ditch effort to make that flight. To my astonishment, the flight was severely delayed and I would be able to make the flight! As it turned out, the plane fron San Juan (SJU) had to be diverted to Baton Rouge (BTR) due to weather in Houston. By the time I landed, the diverted plane was en route from BTR to Houston (IAH).

As it turned out, I had to spend a few additional hours waiting in Houston. The plane had to be maintained and was even further delayed. I finally landed in SJC 3 hours late. I still had the upgraded first class seat so I was able to sleep for most of that flight until finally returning home, going straight to sleep. Until now.