It was supposed to be a fun-filled excursion for a group of football fans to see a Buffalo Bills home game.
Instead, it turned into a disaster-filled trip that saw their bus impounded in the U.S., leaving them to find their own way back across the Canada-U.S. border.
What Rob Blackburn wanted and expected for his first-time NFL game experience was an excitement-fuelled two days which included a tailgate party and watching the Bills take on the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 30.
“I was really looking forward to going to the game. It’s $600 for hotel, bus, and the game…hey lets’s do it,” he says.
“Everything was good until the bus showed up.”
Blackburn said he showed up to the IKEA parking lot in Ottawa on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. expecting a luxury coach bus.
“What shows up is a 35-seater—I don’t know—a prom bus, I guess you want to call it. Everyone’s face just kind of dropped.”
Brent Eckford was there too, along with dozens of others who paid between $525 and $699 to Ottawa Sports Tours. The package includes a bus ride from Ottawa, a one-night stay in Niagara Falls, Ont., and a ticket to an NFL game.
“It was actually ruined because of this situation that we dealt with,” says Eckford. “Inside the bus, the TV monitor is missing and the wires are exposed just hanging down and the bathroom wasn’t working, so that was quite a mess.”
From there, the two men say the trip actually got worse. The group would travel six hours, non-stop with no bathroom or air conditioning, and with exhaust fumes filling the cabin, all the way to Niagara Falls.
Blackburn and Eckford say they did not have any problem with the hotel.
On Sunday, the group boarded the bus to the U.S. and headed to Buffalo N.Y. for the pre-game tailgate party which many were looking forward too.
“That was something I was really looking forward to as you’re driving up to the stadium it’s nothing that I’ve ever seen before you just see everyone making food and having a beer and just having a good time,” said Blackburn, a longtime Bills fan. “I was super excited to walk around and speak to the people that have been fans for years.
“We didn’t get a chance to do any of that.”
As the bus pulled into the parking lot, U.S. transport officials noticed its condition and began an inspection. They found a gash in a tire, and no required certificates to drive in America.
Local authorities impounded the bus.
“We were so worried,” said Eckford. “Where is our luggage going to be? Where is this, where is that? We didn’t even have the chance to even enjoy ourselves during the tailgate,” Eckford said.
Another tour bus operator, from Quebec, agreed to let the group store their bags on its bus during the game but not everything fit.
“Needless to say, the drinks were all gone when we got back,” Eckford said. “My coolers were there but a couple of guys that I was on the trip with lost a cooler and a football.
“The game was good, the Bills won. But around halftime it started sinking in: alright how are we getting home?”
Group members contacted the tour company owner, who agreed to have a bus meet them at the Canadian border, but they had to get back across on their own.
“We had to trek about two kilometres from the stadium to the Uber taxi drop off,” says Blackburn. The group then waited for more than three hours for taxis to arrive.
“We waited until about 3 a.m. and the cabs were to be paid for by the company.”
Blackburn said Ottawa Sports Tours paid for some of the cabs, but not all of them. Eckford says, one of his friends had to walk, with luggage in hand, across the Peace Bridge back to Canada – and the waiting bus.
“Yeah so it was an actual coach bus it had a working bathroom and it was kind of what we were expecting when we first made our trek,” says Blackburn. “But it’s in the wrong direction. We wanted to have a fun time on our way down.”
In all, a group of 36 people paid roughly $23,000 for an experience that fell far short of what they expected.
The tour operator did not respond to requests for comment from CTV News. It’s not clear if they have been able to get the bus back from the Buffalo impound lot.
The disappointed football fans say they’re not optimistic about getting their money back.
“They [Ottawa Sports Tours] have another tour scheduled in January and I’m just worried about those who book a trip,” says Eckford.
“I don’t blame Buffalo and it’s always a good time at the game when it works out.”