My day job took me back to Toronto this week, with the same coworkers and same business partners as my last Toronto trip.  Booking through Air Canada this time, I was able to pretend I was still making good on my pledge to never fly United Airlines again, even though they’re not only travel partners with Air Canada, but also the carrier for my return flight.

What could go wrong?  Everything, though nothing actually did… despite the considerable efforts of Mother Nature and the customer “service” department of what is apparently to be the 5th highest ranked air carrier.

What should’ve surprised me the most?  That United was somehow the fifth highest ranked airline or that I decided to do enough research for this article in order to determine this fact?  The research part was actually pretty easy, but the ranking definitely required further explanation.  Was there perhaps a zillion-way tie for 4th place?

As it turned out, not quite, but almost.

The Forbes study which provided my data (thank you, Google) ranked the major carriers separately from the low cost airlines… so while United was appeared to be a truly mind-boggling 5th place, carriers such as JetBlue, Southwest, WestJet, and Frontier were part of a separate survey… United truly earned attained 5th place… and it was 5th out of 5.

Congratulations guys.  It was well earned.

I’d gone to Toronto to lead an event for my company’s customers, and although the number of pre-registrants was encouraging, a snow storm threatened the event’s true attendance numbers.  Worse, many of my fellow travelers were receiving flight delay and cancellation notices throughout the afternoon.

Somehow my iPhone remained silent in this regard, but it was hardly comforting given the fact I was supposed to fly home on United.  For all I knew, they were waiting to turn me away at the gate… just like last time.

Upon arrival at the airport, the departure board was almost at red, but amid all of the delays and cancellation was a single flight still on schedule for an on time departure.

And it was mine.

And somehow I still wasn’t satisfied.

With all of the delays, there were other United flights still trying to leave Toronto… and one of them could not only take me home but also departed within the hour.  Quickly I was left wondering if I were somehow not up to the challenge of getting on it.

Because my United flight was booked through Air Canada, the Air Canada desk person sent me to the United desk.  At the United desk, the desk person sent me back to Air Canada since they’d booked the ticket.  This happened twice.  I’m a big believer in the apparent fantasy that people will do the right thing when they recognize absurdity.

Clearly I forgot who I was dealing with.

After clearing Customs, I called my corporate travel agency.  They were unable to help me.  They wouldn’t even entertain the thought of purchasing a one-way ticket.  Had United gotten to them?

I stumbled across a customer service desk where United personnel and Air Canada personnel were seated side by side.  Could the three of us possibly work together to a desired outcome?  The short answer was a resounding NO.  I expected as much from United, and going forward I suppose I’ll have to judge Air Canada by the company they keep.  This time, it was at least funny when each tried to send me to the other and all I had to do was turn my head slightly.

I arrived at my gate hours early but in time to see the flight before mine boarding.  With nothing to lose, I asked the gate agent if somehow I could get on the flight… and shockingly, without as much as a sigh or change fee, she handed me a ticket.  Did she know what she’d done?  I’d be arriving home before the flight I was supposed to be on would even be taking off even if it somehow remained on time.

Aboard the plane, I greeted the flight attendant with the same nonsense comment I frequently use—“If you need any volunteers for first class, you know where to find me.”  I’d barely settled into my seat in steerage when she came to ferry me back to the front of the plane.

“I won’t be able to bring you a drink until after takeoff,” she offered, as though that might somehow force me to reconsider my unexpected upgrade.

I want to thank both her and the gate agent for getting me home quickly, but I’m resisting the urge to mention them by name.  I’m not sure they’d have much of a future at United if their company knew they were actually accommodating their customers.

Meanwhile, I’m fighting a considerable poutine withdrawal.

Unfortuantely, there was none to be had… not even in first class.