How Air Canada turned a 14-hour trip into a 40-hour ordeal

AIR CANADA REFUSES TO REFUND PASSENGERS AFTER 40-HOUR TRIP FROM TORONTO TO EUROPE

 

I have been a loyal customer of Air Canada my whole life. I have probably flown on Air Canada more than 100 times over the past 30 years. I have been very tolerant of Air Canada in the past, and I often choose Air Canada over other airlines. But the 40-hour ordeal of May 23-24-25, and during the return from Europe to Toronto June 11, was totally unacceptable, and embarrassing for any proud Canadian. 

 

I feel a full refund is in line with the Canadian Transportation Agency’s decision saying that passengers deserve full refunds in such cases.

 

A US-based airline this month offered to refund passengers after a 14-hour ordeal. European laws require airlines to refund passengers for much less inconvenience.

 

But Air Canada is so far refusing to refund passengers for a 40-hour ordeal between Toronto and Europe. The airline only offered to pay for food at Frankfurt airport — about 10 dollars. 

 

Air Canada, in a written response from “Pamela” at customer relations, acknowledged the delays beginning May 23, but refused to accept responsibility. “Tariff regulations preclude airlines from making payments against claims of a consequential nature.  Hence we must respectfully decline your request for reimbursement of ticket as transportation was carried out.” 

 

“We do appreciate how disturbing delays can be and do all within our power to maintain an on-time operation,” said “Pamela”, who did not give a surname. “All our aircraft are subjected to regular maintenance checks, in addition to pre-departure checks, but there are always malfunctions that will crop up when they are least expected. (see full letter below)

 

In my view, Air Canada, which used to be a premier global airline, has sunk to the levels of Aeroflot and Vietnam Airways in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The May 23-25 ordeal was my worst experience ever with an airline, and not the first bad trip with Air Canada, unfortunately.

 

I purchased a flight on Air Canada in order to do assignments in Europe for media worldwide. On May 23, 2012, I was set to fly from Toronto on AC 876 at 10:10 pm for Frankfurt and then Warsaw. My ticket was ETKT0142052158739, seat 42 A. My connecting flight was supposed to be LH 1350 from Frankfurt at 2 pm on May 24 to Warsaw, seat 21 A, arriving at 3:55 pm on May 24. (I had already paid for separate transportation from Warsaw to northwestern Romania, where I had  assignments to meet up with sources for my stories. I also had paid for hotel accommodations.)

 

After delaying our flight to 11:20, 2 am, 2:30 am, then 3 am, Air Canada finally cancelled the flight, due to what ground staff called a “fuel leakage”. (One employee joked that it was “just a minor problem that could have landed us in the Atlantic.”) 

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The ground staff, who are on the front lines and not making the decisions behind the scenes, were trying to be helpful, but they were overwhelmed. Only three employees at first had to deal overnight with perhaps 100 (or more) bewildered passengers, all with connections messed up out of Frankfurt. Passengers complained because AC only gave us pretzels, biscuits, juice and pop — instead of a proper meal — while we waited about 7 hours at the airport. Some passengers got into shouting matches with AC ground staff. There was confusion, leading many passengers to get lost in the airport in the middle of the night. Pearson airport officials were not friendly or helpful either.  

 

Air Canada called in a few more people after 3 am. Instead of letting us sit down while they handed out vouchers for hotels, we had to stand in line about 2 hours between 3 am and 5 am — when we should have been sleeping — to get vouchers, one by one, at the counter “because of our accounting process,” they said. 

 

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I stood in a line between 3 am and 5 am, waiting for a hotel voucher. Due to lack of proper ground transport, I stood outside waiting for a bus at least 30 minutes; others waited longer. I couldn’t check into a hotel until around 6 am, and had to check out at 11 am, or else pay extra fees for “late check-out.” Even the hotel staff complained about Air Canada’s terrible service, saying that Air Canada is doing this to passengers “all the time.” At one hotel, staff told guests that they should call Air Canada on their own and demand the airline pay extra to let them get a proper sleep. 

 

Our rescheduled flight, at 5:45 pm the next evening, was also unacceptable. Ground staff in Toronto couldn’t get me a connecting flight out of Frankfurt; they told me to try and arrange it on the ground in Frankfurt the next day (which would turn out to be another nightmare). On Thursday afternoon in Toronto, dozens of sleep-deprived passengers still couldn’t get information or new boarding passes to their destinations. 

 

Once aboard the rescheduled flight on May 24, we sat in a hot, stuffy plane on the runway for what seemed like at least 30 minutes or perhaps an hour or more. Flight crew didn’t serve us drinks, or tell us what was wrong. Eventually they told us they couldn’t get auxiliary power working. They told us to “open the air vents”, but we couldn’t find any. When passengers expressed their disgust, flight attendants told us “you should write to the CEO of Air Canada.” Finally, as the engines came on, pumping in cooler air, the plane took off, and a few European passengers jeered in ridicule.

 

The promises of Air Canada staff in Toronto proved false once on the ground in Frankfurt. There was more confusion, disorganization, hostile treatment in Frankfurt. Only a single overwhelmed woman, a stalwart German lady refusing to bend strict rules, dealt with a long line of bedraggled customers. Many of us missed connections. Though space was available, AC ground staff refused to put us in business class. 

 

For 3 hours in Frankfurt, I went through 8 people at four desks until finally, a kind young German woman at the Lufthansa desk, feeling sorry for a disoriented Canadian, arranged me a ticket to Budapest via Vienna (since I had already missed everything out of Warsaw). In my case, I spent the entire day in crowded airports in Frankfurt and Vienna, eating over-priced food and drinks, until I got into Budapest late at night, more than 40 hours after what I thought would be a 14-hour trip. 

 

As a result, I lost money on pre-paid hotels and transportation in Europe, and missed pre-arranged meetings in Romania, and missed out on delivery and sales of work — which also affects my professional reputation.  

 

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Others had worse losses and ordeals. 

 

Blanka Kowalczyk, a Judge in Poznan, Poland, said she believed in Air Canada’s reputation enough to fly with her husband Marcin Susek and their two-year old daughter to visit relatives in Vancouver. But their return trip from Vancouver to Poland turned into a three-day ordeal showing the worst side of Air Canada service. “It was crazy, everything went wrong,” she said while waiting in line in Frankfurt. “We all spent too much time at airports, standing in line, waiting for information and new boarding passes.”

 

In Toronto, disorganized and overwhelmed staff gave her conflicting information about her baby stroller, meaning she had to hold her infant for hours while standing in line-ups, she said. Confused, beleaguered staff in Toronto and Frankfurt couldn’t figure out new connections, she said, and they refused to upgrade them to business class, citing strict adherence to rules.

 

“They talk about rules, but they are the ones who are breaking the rules,” she said. “In Europe, people know that you can get money if the airline is late and messes up your schedule. But maybe in Canada people don’t know that. If people complain, Air Canada would have to organize better.” 

 

Mrs. Kowalczyk and other passengers said they are considering taking legal action against Air Canada’s alleged mistreatment of passengers. 

 

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The April Fishes, a band from San Francisco known for playing international festivals, started their journey Wednesday morning May 23 in San Francisco, and had to reroute through London in the hope of arriving in Bucharest, Romania on time for their Friday night concert. Due to disorganization in Toronto and London, they missed their concert in Bucharest, causing the Romanian promoter to lose a large amount of money owed to hundreds of ticket holders. “We thought it would be cool to save 50 bucks by flying through Toronto,” said cellist Misha Khalikulov. “We’ve played here before and love Toronto. But there’s no excuse for this type of service.”

 

A band from India, accompanying Indian vocalist Subhamita Banerjee, also missed out upon work engagements in Calcutta. Others missed flights to places such as Pakistan and Iran. 

 

Kelly Chen, a student from Toronto, missed at least the first day of her much-anticipated three-day stay in Istanbul, Turkey, where she had already paid for a hotel. Johanna Kunz and her friend, returning from a holiday in Los Angeles, had to miss work near Frankfurt, causing problems for her co-workers and employers. A wedding party feared they would miss a ceremony in Germany. 

 

Passengers listed a litany of problems with Air Canada.

 

–Since it was “a mechanical problem”, they should have canceled the flight earlier, instead of telling us the 10:10 pm flight would be delayed until 11:20, 2 am, 2:30 am, and 3 am. 

 

–They should have provided proper warm meals instead of juice, soft drinks, and packages of pretzels and biscuits. “Normally in Europe, when the delay is four hours, they should give us a warm meal,” said Mrs. Kowalczyk. “Instead, Air Canada gave us crackers and Coca-Cola. That isn’t even food.”

 

–Officials with flags should have led us to the carousel to collect baggage, instead of letting passengers get lost on their own in an empty airport at 3 am. 

 

–AC ground staff should have let all of us sit down while they sorted out hotel vouchers, instead of making about a hundred people, including mothers with children, stand for 2 hours until 5 am just to get a hotel voucher.

 

–They should have called in and flagged down hotel shuttles, instead of letting people wait outside for 30 minutes or more in the middle of the night. 

 

–They should have an arrangement with hotels to allow delayed passengers to sleep past 11 am check-out times. 

 

–They should provide vouchers for food at the airport or elsewhere.

 

–They should never make passengers wait in such long lines in the middle of the night. 

 

Our ordeal was not an isolated incident. Air Canada has mistreated thousands of passengers lately, and endangered the lives of many. (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/story/2012/03/23/ns-air-canada-stop…

 

Four days after our ordeal, an Air Canada Boeing 777 experienced an engine failure shortly after departing from Pearson International Airport in Toronto on May 28, scattering debris over Mississauga that damaged vehicles on the ground in the Mississauga area. Fortunately, that plane, flight AC 001 destined for Japan with 318 passengers on board, returned safely to Toronto airport, and nobody was injured.

According to a report in the Toronto Star, Jason Flick, 42, was on board when the engine died.

 

“It was definitely a surprise,” said Flick. He said pilots landed the Boeing 777 at Pearson International Airport at 3:53 p.m. after being in the air for about an hour and a half. 

 

A representative from Air Canada said they are investigating the cause of the engine failure. “Aircrafts are designed to fly with one engine and our pilots are trained to fly in such occurrences,” Peter Fitzpatrick, a spokesperson from Air Canada, told The Star. 

 

Peel Regional Police answered calls at 2:31 p.m. from residents near Kennedy Rd. and Courtneypark Drive who said pieces of metal falling from the sky damaged their cars, the Star reported. Jonathan Bergen said he was inside the Petro-Canada station at Derry and Kennedy Rds. at around 2 p.m. when a woman ran in to say she heard a big noise and someone’s car was damaged. To his dismay, it was Bergen’s own dark grey 2005 Nissan Altima. “The whole windshield was kind of the Spiderman look with a hole in it,” said Bergen, gesturing to his back windshield, which was completely smashed in. Bergen said three other cars were damaged — one on the front and two with dents in the roof.

 

The Star noted eye-witness accounts including passengers reporting no noise coming from the engine and one bystander who saw smoke and fire coming from the plane’s right engine. “I could see fire in the back part of the engine and I went ‘Well that’s not supposed to happen,’” said David Unger, who works two blocks from the airport and was on break when he heard an exceptionally loud take-off Monday.

Transportation Safety Board officials later confirmed that the fallen metal debris was from inside the turbine engine of the Air Canada plane rerouted to Pearson after engine failure. 

“This is a pretty rare occurrence,” said Don Enns, the boards Ontario regional manager, according to the Star.

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A few days after that incident, Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason was stuck on a plane with 130 passengers for more than three hours as it sat on the tarmac at the Ottawa airport. He live-tweeted the ordeal, which involved bad smells, nervous passengers, and three flight attendants who walked off the aircraft. (http://vancouver.openfile.ca/blog/vancouver/2012/globe-and-mail-journalist-pl…

 

“Most bizarre announcement ever on our flight: pilots say plane is fine to go, but 3 flight attendants didn’t feel comfortable and walked off,” Mason tweeted.

“Pilot says flight attendants were not comfortable with smell coming from air filters. He says it’s normal and the plane is safe. Jeezuz.” 

“We can’t even get a free drink for this ordeal because we have no flight attendants to dispense them. Cruel.” 

“Has any news agency out there phoned AirCan to find out what the hell’s going on? #AC139 

“Pilot is explaining the smell on plane, like “dirty socks.” Says it’s equivalent to one you get when you change bag in a vacuum cleaner.” 

“AirCan needs to clean this mess up publicly when all said and done. An investigation needs to be launched into why FAs walked off. #AC139

The flight, AC139, was supposed to leave Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport at 1 p.m., and arrive at Vancouver International Airport shortly after 6 p.m., or 3 p.m. Vancouver time.

Instead, the flight took off at 4:18 p.m., more than 3-hours behind schedule. 

Isabelle Arthur, Air Canada’s manager of media relations, told a Toronto-area newspaper that Mason’s flight delay was due to a report of an unpleasant odor in the cabin, typically associated with oil in the ventilation system which does not impact the safe operation of a flight. (http://www.mississauga.com/article/1363390–air-canada-plane-makes-emergency-…

 

According to a Canadian press report, in the Vancouver Sun and other news outlets:

The decision by the Canadian Transportation Agency affects Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat. 

It says passengers should be allowed to opt for a full refund and a free trip home if a cancellation or overbooking throws a wrench into their travel plans. Until now, airlines have had discretion over whether to grant a refund or rebook passengers. The agency also says that in certain cases carriers must rebook passengers on the first available flight — even if that flight is with a competing airline.

The rulings are in response to complaints filed by Gabor Lukacs, a Halifax resident, who has taken on the airline industry several times.

In a news release Thursday, the agency noted that in the past, when refunds were warranted, passengers were only reimbursed for the unused portion of their tickets.

The ruling makes it clear that passengers will be able to choose whether they are rebooked or get a full refund. If they no longer want to follow through with their travel plans because of a delay or cancellation, they are entitled to be flown home free of charge — within a “reasonable time frame” — and receive a full refund on their ticket.

The new regulations do not apply to disruptions caused by bad weather or security issues.

The agency noted that WestJet and Air Transat have made changes to their policies that meet most of the updated passenger rights. It is directing Air Canada to change its rules on overbooking, cancelling, delaying and rerouting flights. Air Canada has until Aug. 12 to comply.

The three airlines have 30 days to appeal the new rules.

Lukacs, 29, who used to teach at the University of Manitoba, has developed a reputation as a crusader for the rights of airline passengers.

In 2011, upon a complaint from Lukacs, the transportation agency declared Air Canada’s international baggage liability for lost or damaged luggage unreasonable and ordered the airline to replace it.

The policy said Air Canada couldn’t be held liable for valuables such as money and jewelry in checked baggage on certain itineraries.

Lukacs also scored a victory against WestJet when the transportation agency ruled the airline’s $250 limit for luggage compensation was too low and ordered it raised to $1,800 — the amount dictated by relevant international regulations.

The airline appealed, but the Federal Court of Appeal rejected the challenge.

(http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Airlines+policies+dont+reflect+rules+Nexus+travellers/6868382/story.html#ixzz1zWzuYfpc)

 

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Email response received on July 16 from support@help-aircanada.ca, refusing refund:

 

Dear Mr. Johnson,

 

Thank you for your email from which we were sorry to learn that your were among our passengers whose travel plans were disrupted due to the delay of our flight from 876 on 23 May 2012.

 

We do appreciate how disturbing delays can be and do all within our power to maintain an on-time operation. All our aircraft are subjected to regular maintenance checks, in addition to pre-departure checks, but there are always malfunctions that will crop up when they are least expected.   This applies to all things mechanical and affects all airlines, Air Canada is no exception. We must stress however, that the safety of our passengers and crew always supersedes all other factors and we would never do anything to jeopardize this.

 

Tariff regulations preclude airlines from making payments against claims of a consequential nature.  Hence we must respectfully decline  your request for reimbursement of ticket as transportation was carried out.  However, if you have any receipts for meal expenses that you incurred in Frankfurt airport and we will be pleased to consider them for re-imbursement.  You can send Original receipts to:

 

 

Air Canada Customer Relations

PO Box 64239

RPO Thorncliffe

Calgary, AB T2K 6J7

 

Our records indicate that you received a travel discount code of 30%.

 

At this time, we feel that a lengthy explanation of the problems associated with the operation of this flight will be of very little value. Customer feedback is a critical component in improving customer service, and we appreciate you taking the time to contact us.

 

Please be assured your comments have been documented and will be forwarded to the appropriate managers for their internal review.

 

Thank you for taking the time to express your views and our apologies are reiterated.  The knowledge we gain from our passengers’ impressions is most valuable and plays an important role in the future evaluation of our product and service.  We do hope that you will give us another opportunity of welcoming you back on board when all aspects of your flight will be both pleasant and trouble-free.

 

 

Sincerely,

Pamela

Customer Relations

 

 

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