There has been a steady reduction in duplication and simplification of the processes used by pilots for flying. In general I support such cost cutting measures. Progress cannot be made however without being careful to make sure the systems that replace the old systems function as designed. This is not the case and I saw a number of such examples on a recent trip to one of my favourite "Canadian" fly-ins in Geneseo, N.Y.
I got weather and filed a flight plan - great service - no worries. On arriving at Geneseo there was a customs officer working her tail off - great service, no issues. This was quick but even then there was a guy going around writing down registrations because many Canadians had not yet closed their flight plans. The reason was simple " no phones " in these days of cell phones there is no such thing as a pay phone.
Why not just use a cell phone? The Canadian cell phone I borrowed didn't work on the 1-800-WX-Brief number. Why, because the call originated from a Canadian number - So plan B - call from a land line ? I tried but there was a long line of people trying to do so. Someone gave me a direct number and I got (as many others did) "while this is not our job, I will do it." Everyone who called the number talked to a different office - all over the U.S. With the flight planned closed late, but closed - I am now there, time for fun and socializing.
Now it is time to come home - the weather looks bad so I will call to get an opinion. I had to use a land line - it was not good as it was a portable and called the WX Brief and got a selection based on a voice selection process - it sort of worked but the volume was too low on the call and I gave up and recalled. This time the voice selection didn't work well but I got a briefer in some remote location. He immediately started to take information as if I was filing. I stopped him and he tried to give me weather but he had no local knowledge and was relying on me knowing all the local locations that report weather.
I got him, with help, to the Hamilton, Ontario forecast and he at a high rate of speed read the particulars and quickly added "VFR not recommended." He really couldn't tell me why as there was good ceilings and visibility and only light rain. There was strong gusty wind but he didn't know what I was flying. I got off the phone not knowing what to do except to know the weather briefing I got was not satisfactory. I tried to get our flight service in Canada using a Canadian cell phone but our 866 WX-Brief didn't work even from a Canadian number (I guess it knew I was in the U.S.).
So into a Canadian flight supplement - is there an alternative number to call London FSS? - none listed - I tried hard but not for hours and could find no alternative numbers. I tried NAV Canada customer service number both the 800 numbers and the direct line - no joy - I felt like I was on the back side of the moon! So Brian tried another approach - I got the direct number to the Hamilton Tower (listed as emergency only) and they gave me local weather and a direct number for London FSS, they were very helpful and pleasant.
I called from a Canadian cell phone to London FSS and it worked. The first question I got was; How did you get this number? I told the briefer and she was more than happy to help me and told me that Nav Canada is changing and there will be new numbers for such an eventuality - she gave me the page number in the Flight Supplement and everything I asked for. For the average pilot this means in six months to three years we will be in good shape, if you can find it in the new Flight Supplement , this will not be a problem for me because I know now it is in there somewhere and I won't stop until I find it.
Long and short - I stayed an extra night and had a great time. It is now Sunday morning the weather looks bad but is improving. I have to get out by 10:00 as the airport closes for the air show. I call CanPass on the 888 number from a cell phone and it doesn't work! I know better from a previous experience to try to find a direct number. I go to a land line (better than the day before) and things work out good with both CanPass and the call to U.S. FSS. I don't even bother to get a weather briefing. The guy I am talking to is in Florida. Nice guy and he takes care of my flight plan.
So how do I open? he has no clue - puts me on hold for 10 minutes - by the time he gets back to me I have found out the frequency of Buffalo FSS and I pass the phone to my traveling companion in another airplane. A third pilot is worried about the airport closing and leaves the phone line up and decides to fly east into the bad weather without a briefing or a flight plan. The three of us depart with about 5 minutes to spare.
We should have universal 800 numbers usable in either country.
I guess I have learned from this - the lesson is not to bother U.S. FSS unless you have to. This is not the right conclusion and I will be the first to admit it but sadly I am a victim of human nature too. May be this is what the accountants want in the first place.