After a several-month-long ordeal, Canada’s largest airline has offered to reimburse a Halifax senior for the money he paid out-of-pocket after he and his wife were turned away from their plane ride, but only after a passenger rights advocate and The Chronicle Herald got involved.
On Oct. 13, Gordon Brown arrived at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport with his wife, ready to embark on a trip which had been planned months in advance through a travel agency. They were to fly from Halifax to Barcelona with a stopover in Montreal.
After being unable to check into their flight to Montreal, AC669, the Browns spoke with an Air Canada agent at the airport on the day they were supposed to leave.
Brown said the agent told them they were not registered for flight AC669, even though the couple had confirmed their seat numbers the day before, just a few hours before they attempted to check in.
“We were devastated when we found out we weren’t going to be flying with Air Canada for the first leg of that flight,” said Brown.
“We were travelling with friends, we had the same reservation as them, and their flight was okay.”
He said he contacted his travel agent, who said the flight had been overbooked.
With a full itinerary planned and a connection in Montreal to make, Brown bought a pair of tickets to Montreal through WestJet, which cost him $1,012.28.
Following their trip, Brown opened up a complaint with Air Canada seeking reimbursement for the WestJet flight.
In a series of emails back and forth with representatives from the company between December 2018 and March 2019, Air Canada claimed the issue was not due to overbooking and reiterated that the couple had not been booked for flight AC669.
The airline initially refused to refund the WestJet tickets, instead offering Brown a $200 “goodwill e-coupon” for a future Air Canada flight and a $116.96 refund for the first leg of the trip.
But Air Canada’s own records cast doubt on the company’s claims.
Last week, Gabor Lukacs, founder and coordinator of the advocacy group Air Passenger Rights, provided The Chronicle Herald with a number of documents from Air Canada obtained under the Personal Information and Electronic Documents Act.
Among the documents was a seat confirmation email from Air Canada showing that the Browns’ seats for flight AC669 had indeed been confirmed for October 13. There was also an electronic ticket that showed their original flight booking.
Another electronic ticket from the day of the trip showed the Browns’ flight information with flight AC669 missing. Underneath the information for the remaining flights, it said there had been a schedule change due to overbooking.
“It’s not simply a question of, ‘sorry, we overbooked the flight.’ It’s rather going out of its way to conceal the fact that the flight was oversold,” said Lukacs.
On Friday, Brown said Air Canada reached out to him to offer reimbursement for the WestJet tickets, along with $400 per person (for a total of $800) in compensation, and a $200 e-coupon.
This development came just a few hours after The Chronicle Herald contacted the company for a statement. At the time, it said that it would not be commenting on the matter.
“We are still looking into these passengers’ complaint and will be responding directly to them,” said spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur in an email. She did not respond to Lukacs’ claims that the company had acted fraudulently.
In accordance with Air Canada’s domestic tariff rules, if the company has to bump people due to an oversold flight, it should have first asked volunteers to relinquish their seats before denying boarding to passengers. Air Canada should have also tried to help those denied boarding find an alternate way to their destination.
Given this, Lukacs said Air Canada should be offering the Browns a minimum of $800 per person, as well as an additional $1,000 “for the fraud that Air Canada committed after the passengers were back in Canada and sought compensation.”
He said if the company does not comply, he will take the issue to small claims court, adding that nobody at the company has admitted accountability for the matter.
In the meantime, Brown said he was glad the situation is moving forward, though he said he was disappointed that it only came after Lukacs’ and The Chronicle Herald’s involvement.
Air Passenger Rights has pursued a number court challenges against airlines on behalf of passengers in recent years.
Lukacs, its founder, has also provided consultation on passenger rights for Flair Airlines, independent from Air Passenger Rights.