Customer Service Hell Blog

Monday, April 23, 2001

Air Canada Horror Stories: #1

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Run For Your Life: "No Speech For You!"

Air Canada Customer Solutions
PO Box 64239, Thorncliffe Outlet
5512 4th Street NW

Re: Denied boarding on AC165, April 23, 2001

Dear Sir / Madam:

My colleague and I purchased tickets for flights leaving from Edmonton to Toronto on April 19, and returning on April 23. The flight on April 19 was rather uneventful, though we were disappointed at the unavailability of advanced seating selection. We ended up in seats at the very back of the plane (25 A&B on an Airbus 320).

For the return flight home we arrived at the airport in Toronto at noon, 90 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time of 13:30. We were again told that advanced seating was unavailable, and that we would be given a seat at the departure desk. We immediately proceeded to the departure desk. When I presented my boarding pass to the Air Canada attendant at the desk he told me to “Sit and wait until your name is called. We will start assigning seats about 20 minutes before departure time”. When I inquired as to how he would know our names and whether we should leave our boarding passes with him he simply raised his hand to my face in a “stop” gesture and told me “We’ll just call you”.

We sat patiently for the next hour. About 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time the desk attendant finally did start calling names. He was calling out one or two names every couple of minutes. Meanwhile, the line-up in front of him was growing, and people were constantly handing him boarding passes. I travel frequently, and I could tell something was unusual. I again stepped up to ask for some information, and again I was greeted with a hand in my face, gesturing a “stop”. I returned to my seat and kept on waiting.

At about 13:30, right on time, we watched in amazement as the plane pulled away from the loading ramp. There was still about 18 people left standing at the boarding counter. When I asked for an explanation, I was simply told that the plane had been over sold. The gentleman at the boarding desk told us we would be compensated and then he handed off his duties to the ladies waiting to relieve him.

I was completely astounded at the callousness of the Air Canada staff. No efforts were made to keep us informed of events as they were unfolding. I travel often, and I know that overbooking occurs. I was in absolutely no hurry to get home, and if I had been informed I would have likely volunteered for a transfer to the next flight, and the opportunity to fly in business class or something equivalent.

Disgusted with what had just happened, I walked away from the counter. It’s at this point that I started an impassioned speech to the 18 or so travelers left stranded behind. I never addressed myself to anyone at Air Canada. I simply made a loud speech denouncing my displeasure with the whole situation. I received a round of applause (and some business cards) and then I returned to the place where my travelling companion was standing. I was standing quietly when all of a sudden I was surrounded by personnel from Air Canada who seemed to have appeared from out of nowhere. One told me that I could not make a speech like I had. I heard another person inform the group that they had called security. One lady, who appeared to be a manager, just grabbed my boarding pass right out of my shirt pocket and walked away. She told me I wasn’t going to fly with Air Canada today. I was shocked. I am a 33-year-old professional engineer, and I have never witnessed anything like this in my whole life. I was being treated like a criminal for voicing my disapproval of Air Canada’s business practices. A security officer finally arrived, and the manager who grabbed my boarding pass told him she did not feel secure with me around. She asked that the officer escort us back to the main Air Canada counter.

At the counter the lady confirmed that my ticket was non-refundable, told me I was not allowed to fly on Air Canada and left with no other explanation. Because I was escorted out of the boarding area, and no longer had a pass, I had no way to communicate with my traveling companion. I was left on my own to figure out a way to get back home.

The security officer was very pleasant and confused as to why he had been called. He gave me some options for flying home and pointed me in the direction of the Canada3000 desk. I made it to the desk in about 5 minutes and was able to immediately obtain a standby seat on the 14:40 flight 367 to Edmonton. The ticket on Canada3000 cost me a total of $234.33. The irony of the whole event is that I made it back to Edmonton before my traveling companion, who managed to get on the next Air Canada flight.

This whole incident is totally disgusting and unacceptable. I have several issues:

1) The reservation system is a joke. When I called to book my flight on April 12th I reserved three seats (one subsequently cancelled) and each was quoted a different fare. We ultimately paid two different fares for two seats reserved at the same time, on the same plane. None of the passengers had a pre-assigned seat number. 2) Flight availability is also a joke. We only needed to be in Toronto for one day, but we could not get return flights on the 20, 21 or 22 so we had to stay several extra nights. 3) All Air Canada personnel appear overworked and apathetic. Most could use a lesson or two in customer relations. 4) Why are flights so overbooked? I found out from my companion that 15 people missed our flight. Most of those were transferred to the next flight and about 20 people on that flight subsequently had to be “bumped”. When I arrive in Edmonton I noticed about 80 unclaimed bags at the carousel that belonged to people who missed the flight. 5) The Air Canada manager made a unilateral decision to revoke my ticket, without introducing herself, without presenting her credentials, without even asking what (if any) the problem was. I wasn’t even talking to Air Canada personnel, I was just addressing fellow travelers. 6) Air Canada has several operational problems, and rather than solve them, chooses to ban customers that complain. 7) When I had choices in the past I only flew with Air Canada as a last resort. Under the current air travel monopoly, I no longer have the right to exercise that option. 8) The more I spend for an item, the less service I get. My bank, my air carrier and my car dealer offer the worse service of all. At the other extreme is my barber, who for $10.00 a month offers a great hair cut and pleasant conversation. He even throws in a free hair cut at Christmas.

I sincerely hope that Air Canada will refund my additional expense, which consists of $234.33 (copy of ticket attached) spent with Canada3000. If this is not resolved to my satisfaction I will forward my complaint to the Air Canada Ombudsman. Failing that I will forward my complaint to Transport Canada’s Travel Commissioner. If that fails I still have my local Member of Parliament, the president of my company, our corporate travel group and even the press. I am also considering legal action.

It’s unfortunate but not surprising that I have to write this letter. I find that I have to complain much more often these days.


Martin Belanger, P.Eng.

Update: Mr.Belanger writes: In the end I got a $300 voucher, which I will never use. I also got a cleverly written letter implying that we should agree to disagree, and that any actions otherwise would be costly (i.e. my lawyer vs. theirs). I Haven't flown with them since.


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