Idyllic vacation turns into transportation nightmare

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I’d like to share our experience during a recent trip to Newfoundland that, unfortunately, ended badly due to transportation issues. I have also written to the municipal council of Fogo Island as well as to Transportation Minister Paul Davis.

My wife and I had the pleasure of spending two nights recently on Fogo Island (Aug. 16-18). We had a chance to visit all of the communities, see many studios and meet many of the very kind people living on the island, including the wonderful owners of the Landwash Lodging, Leo and Madonna. We also had an excellent dinner experience at the new Fogo Island Inn and, at the end of the trip, wished we could’ve stayed longer.

Fogo Island seemed to be the perfect end to our 10-day trip across Newfoundland, and we felt so much at peace and decided that this was a place we had to return to again, soon.

Where things went wrong, however, was when it was time to leave. We arrived at the ferry dock an hour and 10 minutes ahead for the 1:45 p.m. ferry to Farewell. Most folks were doing some calculating and the common opinion was that up to, maybe, 10 cars behind us would safely get aboard.

When they started to load the ferry, the line ended up getting stopped one car before us. Having  lived in the Maritimes for six years, my wife and I decided to at least ask the ferry crew, as there was clearly quite a bit of space still left on the ferry.

We explained that we had a flight to catch out of St. John’s that evening and if we missed this ferry, we would not make our flight. The gentleman replied that they had to take on 15 cars on Change Islands and could not take us aboard. I asked if they could make an exception, as missing our flight would cause a lot of issues for us. He simply replied that if we walk on, we could go, otherwise, he could do nothing.

We even said that if they could take us to Change Islands, we’d ask the folks waiting there if we could continue on and if they said no, we’d get off at Change Islands. He said no to that, as well.

We were fairly shocked at the response, to say the least, but could do nothing more and didn’t want to delay the ferry departure so we stepped off and began trying to figure out our way back to Toronto for the next two hours before the 4 p.m. ferry.

Our tickets were Aeroplan rewards tickets, so Air Canada could not assist with alternate flight arrangements. The earliest available rewards flight back would’ve been Aug. 30. We had to put these tickets on hold and now have 12 months to reuse them (but they have to be in the direction of the Maritimes to Ontario).

We then looked into buying new tickets, the earliest available being the following afternoon, Aug. 19, for over $1,000 per ticket. We looked into travel disruption coverage with our credit card company but this situation was not covered.

The final option we explored was to drive back to Toronto, but due to the ferry situation, the earliest we could get space for getting to Nova Scotia was Aug 24.

We ended up buying the new tickets as it was the only real option we had. We were fortunate to find a vacancy at an inn at Spaniard’s Bay, which was close to St. John’s. And the rental car company waived the extra day after hearing our plight. They also told us that many of their customers had been stranded on Fogo during the festival a few days earlier, and had ended up being airlifted off the island.

At the end of the day, what made this so frustrating was that Fogo Island was, in our opinion, the gem in our 10-day trip to Newfoundland. To have such a magical end to the trip ruined in this manner was tragic.

Besides the unexpected costs (new plane tickets, accommodations, meals and a missed day at work), it was having such a wonderful experience snatched away. Having such a ferry situation is quite surprising considering the investment that’s been made (and is still being made) on Fogo Island for tourism that features an establishment the level of the Fogo Island Inn. To have to wait hours in advance to get off the island is really not helpful in getting folks to visit the island, nor is there clear communication for folks who have never been on the island.

When we left on the ferry at 4 p.m., it could not take everyone in line and when it stopped in Change Islands, it left many cars behind as well. The lingering question is whether an exception really couldn’t have been made in our circumstance, as they could not take everyone on Change Islands anyways.

 We knew it would’ve been

an exception, and didn’t make demands or treat anyone in any manner we wouldn’t want to be treated ourselves. We simply asked for some help. The indifferent response seemed more typical of what we see back in Ontario and certainly not what we expected in the Atlantic provinces, where during our six years living there, we’ve seen time and time again the very best of people coming out when there’s a need.

There is indeed a very real transportation issue between Farewell, Change Islands and Fogo Island, especially if the intention is to attract more and more visitors to the islands.

Fogo Island is just one of numerous treasures that Newfoundland has to offer but there just isn’t enough infrastructure in place to support the growing number of people choosing your province as their vacation destination. This was pretty evident in conversations with many fellow travellers in each B&B, or at attractions along the way on our journey.

The locals are stepping up to keep travellers informed but that, in itself, will become strained as the number of visitors grow. We used our experience travelling throughout Cape Breton to take the necessary measures to stay safe and plan smartly when travelling through the more remote areas of Newfoundland, but what are the statistics on travellers, adventure-seekers and hikers having accidents each year?

We do wish to return to your province, especially Fogo, but it’s so hard to forget how it ended which is truly the biggest loss for us as all we wish to do is embrace the memories of when we were there.

Kyo Song and Mini Ryu live in Toronto.

Organizations: Fogo Island Inn, Air Canada

Geographic location: Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Change Islands Toronto Ontario Nova Scotia Cape Breton

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Recent comments

    September 02, 2013 - 18:30

    The other culprit here is Air Canada. Something needs to be done about the premium that we have to pay for our tickets in NL when compared to the other provinces. This is an extremely unfair business practice and makes absolutely no rational business sense from Air Canada's perspective. Price gouging citizens who have limited options to move to and from their province is unacceptable. I quit Aeroplan years ago. Where's the reward???

  • Carl P
    August 30, 2013 - 09:02

    It's unfortunate that this couple had such a bad experience while visiting the province. Hopefully it didn't ruin what sounds like an otherwise good visit to the island. Wait times are definitely getting longer. Sometimes we go a couple of hours in advance and still *cross our fingers* There was a good point in the letter about the locals stepping up. It's true but I think this is something that definitely needs to be communicated better so people are aware after landing on Fogo. Maybe posting average wait times or a sign recommending that people show up x minutes early for their departure. I've been in that lineup quite frequently and notice the odd car cruising by, its occupant(s) not quite sure if it's the lineup or what's happening. And the expression is the same, surprise. We can say that visitors need to do better research and plan with more time buffer, but that doesn't mean the Government isn't responsible for providing better information on travelling, safety, etc. Shiny looking commercials on why you should visit the province has resulted in a new category of tourists. We have families, people who have never been in areas like Gros Morne, people who have no idea how large the island actually is coming to see what they saw on the commercials, not knowing that some of these places require a good day's drive. Just my two cents

  • Carolyn R Parsons
    August 29, 2013 - 15:55

    The reason they didn't just let them on the ferry is that the workers have heard these stories before. People cheat the system all the time to jump in lines and then get to Change Islands and they refuse to get off essentially blackmailing the crew into taking them where they want to go. This couple wasn't doing that obviously but it happens so the crew cannot let people into those Change islands spots. leaving on a 1:45 ferry if it were on time was crazy. an hour on the ferry, 5- 6 hours of driving from Farewell to Torbay would put them in St. John's around 7:30pm if they didn't stop to eat. This couple should have taken the first morning ferry (which I bet crossed with empty spaces)or the previous evening crossing..but like the ferry services people don't take into account delay windows. A simple solution. Electronic booking system and a second boat for Change Islands during July and August.

  • Mike
    August 29, 2013 - 09:58

    Good luck getting a response from Paul Davis. I wrote him regarding another ferry issue about six weeks ago and he hasn't even had the common courtesy to acknowledge receipt of my letter, let alone respond to it.

  • Gerri
    August 27, 2013 - 15:48

    It's terrible that these people were treated in this manner. I am a Newfoundlander and am embarrassed for this incident. Vacations are costly enough but when people chose to visit our province and spend their money here the least we can do is be courteous to them (like we USED to do). If there was actually no room on the ferry personnel may have put a little effort forward to see if one of the other (locals) on the ferry might have been willing to switch out with these visitors. I certainly would have been quite upset as well if that happened to me in another province, country. However to be given the replies they were given was uncaring and absolutely rude, in my opinion.

    • Carolyn
      August 29, 2013 - 16:00

      Gerri; the ferry personnel on the ferries are great but they don't have communication with the dock in Change Islands while they're loading. Switching out isn't as simple as it seems..the ferry was loaded already..the person switching might be anywhere in the might take another hour to load and unload. This would require further couple made a grave error..there wasn't enough time either way to catch that flight by leaving at 1:45...I can't imagine leaving it that late to catch a flight in St. John's. It would be possible but by the skin of your teeth to make an 8:30 flight from Fogo on the 1:45 if she were on schedule.

  • anna
    August 27, 2013 - 11:49

    I think we as Newfoundlanders are so used to bad service we can't believe it when people actually complain and expect something to be done. I was at the airport last week and waited for 40 minutes to get out of the parking lot as repairs were ongoing and there was only one check out opened. Now after being inconvenienced for ten months, you would think the St. John's Airport authority would have had the hindsight not to charge people until the repairs were completed but when I complained it was like so what? Yesterday I bought my brother to the Motor Vehicle registration, after three hours he called for me to come bet him, all he had to do was change his address from Ontario to Newfoundland and he had to wait three hours. A person from Alberta he spoke with said he couldn't believe Newfoundlanders would put up with such bad service but yet we do. I don't know how we resolve these inconviences but it would be nice if we didn't have spend so much of our day waiting.

  • Observer
    August 27, 2013 - 11:17

    With tongue firmly planted in cheek, may I suggest Zita Cobb buy her own ferry with all her millions. All joking aside, it would appear that this is the major piece of her Fogo Island renewal project that she totally forgot about. if they can't get people there and back, then what's the point? Should they themselves be providing some form of transportation to help alleviate the pressure on the ferry that's already in place? As for this couple who were so badly impacted by the ferry debacle, I feel badly for them. It might all have been prevented had the ferry crew shown some creativity and taken the initiative to work around the rules just once.

    • Carl P
      August 30, 2013 - 08:47

      Very good point. Seems to be a huge disconnect between investing in the island and being at the mercy of an antiquated ferry service. A true recipe for disaster. And very unfair for the residents who are already dealing with wait times. Throw in all those visitors and...

  • david
    August 27, 2013 - 10:29

    Obviously another fake letter.....just like Gene Poole. Nothing like this ever happens in Newfoundland. Ever. Hey, I know !! --- Let's take digs at Toronto, where they're from. That will keep any introspection from setting in.

  • saelcove
    August 27, 2013 - 10:15

    From the centre of the universe

  • Sarah
    August 27, 2013 - 09:58

    I can't believe they didn't just let them on the ferry... Pretty sure that the other passengers wouldn't have minded. It's a shame when the weather or mechanical breakdowns cause delays, but something like this?

  • Derrick
    August 27, 2013 - 07:58

    What a horrible thing to happen on a vacation. Agree that more time buffer is needed when planning around our ferries but then again, thats something we as residents know of since we've lived with it all our lives. I know that we could be doing a much bettet job of communicating this to potential visitors. Our government really needs to get moving on a solution. Not good for tourism...

  • Steve
    August 27, 2013 - 07:28

    I agree that with the promotion that Fogo Island is getting these days that they need to find a way to increase the number of runs on the ferry in the summer. That being said, this couple simply cut things a little too close in their planning. It appears from their letter that the difference between leaving at 1:45 and 4PM was enough to make this miss their flight. When dealing with ferries, any number of issues, from weather to mechanical, can delay a crossing, so you really need to build in additional time when planning such a trip.