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2,000-Mile Mistake

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 19/10/2015 Gary Garfield
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2000 Mile Mistake: Ontario, CA is NOT Canada
When you board a flight, you imagine reaching your destination, departing through the jetway, and meeting friends, starting your vacation or getting to work. Well, it doesn't always work out that way.
Nearly once a month, Traveler's Aid volunteers at Ontario International Airport in Ontario, California (twenty-five miles east of downtown Los Angeles) are approached by traveler's who request special logistical help. Thank you to our volunteers for sharing these travel tales and helping our traveling guests find their way . . . back.
What's in a name? CA (Canada) or CA (California)
I think most people will agree that people watching is a really fun thing to do. Travelers Aid Volunteers, however, people watch with a purpose. We take our organizational motto, "A Helping Hand Along the Way", seriously. We don't just "watch"; we discern. Every glance is a search for a tell tale sign of question, doubt or need and when we see it we come to life, smile, make eye contact and ask "How can we help you?"
Such was the case one Friday evening as I glanced up at a young gentleman who was standing about 10 feet away from me in the center of the passenger walkway. His was a look of definite distress. When we finally made eye contact I smiled and asked if I could help in some way. He ended a cellphone conversation and walked toward the Information Desk, shaking his head the whole way. He explained to me that he had made a huge mistake when booking his flight on-line. His intent had been to spend the 3-day holiday weekend visiting with his cousin...in Ontario, CANADA, not Ontario, CALIFORNIA!
The young man was a Caribbean Islander now living in New Jersey. He had booked his own flight on line and mistook "Ontario, "CA" for Ontario, Canada. The International Code for Canada just happens to be "CA", as "US" is the International Code for the United States. He had no idea that in this case the "CA" stood for California. In reality, Ontario is a Canadian Province (think "State") in Canada. There actually is no city within the province of Ontario named "Ontario".
Our initial efforts focused on attempting to get him to Canada but when we spoke with his air carrier they were unable to absorb the cost of correcting his mistake. In the end he finally decided to remain in Ontario, California for the weekend. We were able to assist him in finding a room at one of our local hotels who, once hearing his story, offered him a "distressed traveler" rate that he could afford. On the following Monday morning he returned to the airport for his return flight to New Jersey.
There have been many similar occurrences over the years and ultimately, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) decided to identify the Ontario (California) International Airport as "LA/ONT" in hopes of avoiding these types of booking errors.
How's that one working out? Since they keep coming, I would certainly have at my disposal the directions to Disneyland, Hollywood, Venice Beach and Palm Springs just in case one of our guests wants to do a little sightseeing while they wait.
A few more accounts . . .
It's always a bit of a gamble!
It was Sunday evening of Labor Day weekend, so the airlines were operating on a truncated holiday schedule. Although it was still early, around 7 p.m., the last of the passengers from the most recent arrival, a flight from Dallas, were trickling out of baggage claim area when a middle aged couple approached the Traveler's Aid Information counter.
"Where can we find the shuttle to our hotel," the woman asked. "I would be happy to call them," I replied as I moved closer to the phone, "which hotel?"
"Caesar's," the woman replied.
"In this city?" I asked.
"Toronto," she replied.
After a brief, but stunned pause, I offered; "Ma'am, I am very sorry to give you the bad news that you are not in Toronto, but the good news is; you're pretty close to Disneyland."
"How could this happen?" was her shocked reply as her husband gave her a steely eyed glare.
I explained that they had arrived in the city of Ontario, California, not the province in Canada and that it happened all too often. I offered further, that if she booked through the airline or travel agent, she may be able to get their money back.
"I did it to myself!" she exclaimed, "I have no one to blame but myself." She had booked the trip on an on-line travel site. When she had entered "Toronto" onto the site, it came back with "Toronto, Ont." She mistook the abbreviation for Ontario province as the city code for Toronto and entered it into the site's itinerary(ONT), unwittingly putting the couple on a course for Ontario, California.
My partner and I spent the next five minutes explaining how far away LAX (Los Angeles International airport) was and options for getting there, their local hotel choices and the pros and cons of each proposal. We had encountered Toronto arrivals before but these were the first ones we could actually assist and we were excited.
"Enough," the woman cried, "We need to sit down and think this over."
As her husband retreated to nearby seating, she paused long enough to say: "You'll still be laughing about this in two weeks, but I'll still be feeling really, really stupid."
I felt a little guilty.

After ten or fifteen minutes, my partner and I wandered over to the couple (by this time, we were the only four people in the terminal). In the interim, using her tablet, had discovered what the fares from LAX to Toronto would amount to. She wasn't interested in spending the money since they had no real reason to be in Toronto other than to sight see. Her husband still had not said a word but still fixed her with that steely eyed glare.
My partner suggested that they were in Southern California and there was much to see and do if they rented a car. "Rent a car," she said with pause, "That's it; we'll do a Southern California road trip!"
"Disneyland," my partner suggested.
"I'm not a Disneyland kind of person," she stated. Been there done, that I thought.
Remembering that they had reservations at Caesar's I offered that there was an Native American casino only twenty miles away. When that suggestion didn't catch her fancy, I said: "For that matter Palm Springs is only about seventy miles away." The woman's face brightened, and the husband's glare grew a little less intense (he still had not uttered a thing). I suspected that this was a place she had heard of but never been. Just then, my partner said: "If you're willing to drive that far you can be on the Las Vegas strip in three hours." (Probably four.)
"Las Vegas," she cried, the husband smiled and just that quick they decided to go to Las Vegas. "Its kismet," I said; "you'll probably hit a million dollar jackpot," as they happily headed off to the rental car shuttle.
I'm sure, they'll be telling this story for the next decade!
Seeing through the Forest . . .
"A gentlemen arrived at Ontario International Airport and queried the gate attendant why there weren't forests of trees on the approach to the airport." It wasn't too long before he found out.
All we can really say is that this area has always been a desert.
Was this the way to hydrate?
"There was the middle aged man who apparently consumed far too many of those little bottles on his flight from Boston to his destination. He never bothered to ask the flight attendant why the flight to Toronto, CA (Canada) ended up taking six hours. What a sobering experience to figure out how he was going to make it to his business meeting the following morning." Salud!
Mistake, Really!
"Once aboard, there was no getting off. When one of the guests realized that this once in (his) lifetime error had occurred, he commented with a sense of humor that it was a small mistake. However, that mistake had a price tag of nearly three thousand dollars to return to Canada the same weekend." Not so small, but good attitude.
Blame it on the secretary. . .
"My new secretary made the reservations, and obviously she didn't know what she was doing"... or did she? Now, the boss is three thousand miles away and it could be really nice at the office (or a party). No holiday bonus for those folks.
Down Under . . .
A nice gentleman and his girlfriend from Australia had flown from across the South Pacific. He purchased his tickets at one of the many on-line sites. Their intended destination was Toronto, Canada, where they were supposed to attend a wedding. It wasn't long before they realized they were two thousand miles short of their planned destination. The "Aussie" was was very friendly, cordial, patient and relaxed about this unintentional situation. He even managed to find a little humor in it. His girlfriend, well not so much (another story, another time)!
He explained to our volunteer that he was attempting to convince one of the legacy airlines to assist him with this problem. That was not to be.
"He talked about renting a car and driving to Toronto in a day and a half! He didn't realize at the time that he was on the west coast of the United States, and the province of Ontario, Canada was at least two thousand miles to the east. We discussed the size of Australia and the size of the United States and he realized very quickly that he would not have time to make the drive. The last I remember of him, they were going to Los Angeles International Airport about an hour away to try to book a flight to the East Coast. I sure hope they made it!" It's always good to look at a map.
Gift to be Returned . . .
A very nice couple from Dallas, Texas was given a 50th anniversary gift trip to Niagara Falls from their adult children. They landed in Ontario, California where the "mistake" was discovered. Unfortunately, by the time they found a scheduled flight to Toronto as well as the additional expense, they simply decided  to "get back to Dallas as quickly as possible." No more flying for us!" Maybe next time they'll just give us a crystal vase.
Thank you to all the Traveler's Aid volunteers who shared their stories and for the wonderful work you do to assist our guests.

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