—- by Christopher Johnson —-
Typhoon Haiyan affected thousands of air passengers and many Canadians in the Philippines. Canadian political leaders, responding to a public outcry, announced policies to help people affected by one of the worst storms ever recorded, which many scientists link to global warming.
Canadians donated thousands of dollars, and the Canadian military sent DART teams of doctors, nurses and soldiers to the Philippines. Military cargo planes from several countries flew journalists, aid workers and typhoon survivors around the Philippines for free as part of one of the greatest humanitarian efforts in history.
I flew on C130 military cargo planes from the Philippines, the United Kingdom, and Australia, and I also took aerial photographs from a US Marines Osprey helicopter. Like other journalists, I shared my information with military personnel, consular officials, and aid workers trying to assess damages and needs of people on the ground. I also delivered aid supplies directly to victims in Samar, Leyte and Cebu provinces.
However, while air forces from Canada and other countries were heroically saving lives after Typhoon Haiyan, Air Canada employees in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan and Canada were figuring out how to cheat me out of a return flight home to see my family in Canada for Christmas.
Does Air Canada enjoy punishing me for trying to help people in the disaster zone? Does Air Canada have something against uniting families for Christmas?
My family has spent more than $200,000 on Air Canada tickets during my lifetime. I have been in 100 countries myself, and have probably paid for more than 100 flights with Air Canada during my lifetime. I have done hundreds of published travel stories which serve to promote the interests of airlines and the tourism industry. I am a loyal customer, and I often enjoy Air Canada flights between Asia and western Canada.
Yet Air Canada, citing an array of archaic self-serving rules, repeatedly tries to cheat me out of services. Their approach is to try and get me on a “technicality”, in order to rip me off, rather than trying to help me solve problems with travel.
(Compare Air Canada’s attitude with that of United Airlines, which waived rules to allow volunteers from Kelowna to bring a generator to the Philippines. (http://globalnews.ca/news/1046005/1046005/))
I have made reasonable requests of Air Canada to change my return date due to the disaster. Air Canada’s responses and reactions have been unreasonable.
Air Canada still owes me and other passengers for their fiasco of turning a 14-hour flight to Europe on May 23, 2012 into a 40-hour ordeal last year:
Air Canada, ANA, Asiana Airlines and Japan immigration authorities also violated my rights and international law on Dec. 24, 2011 by billing me for an over-priced one-way ticket from Narita to Vancouver and Calgary on Air Canada — purchased under duress and against my will by armed guards who confiscated all of my possessions, including my wallet. This case was covered by the Economist magazine and others:
It is similar to a case raised in the British Parliament. British businessman Simon Robertson claims he was mistreated, robbed and expelled from Japan and forced to travel on KLM against his will and without his passport: (https://globalitemagazine.com/2013/11/10/nightmare-at-narita-british-mp-david-anderson-accuses-japan-of-mistreating-expelled-british-businessman-simon-robertson/)
Canadian media have reported a large number of cases involving passenger disputes with Air Canada. (see links below this article).
Gabor Lukacs, a young Canadian academic, has won a number of cases involving inept airline services. In response to his complaints, Canada’s Transport Agency ruled that Air Canada must increase its compensation to passengers it bumps from overbooked domestic flights. The regulator ordered Air Canada to pay passengers between $200 and $800 cash, or three times that amount in travel vouchers, if they are bumped from flights. The CTA also ordered Air Canada to rewrite its “tariff” rules, a complex set of legalese which most passengers cannot understand when they purchase tickets, often through intermediaries such as Expedia or Kayak.
“Passengers have a fundamental right to be informed about schedule changes that affect their itinerary and ability to travel and to be compensated or refunded in a reasonable fashion,” said agency chairman Geoff Hare on August 29.
The airline said it would comply by a Sept. 18 deadline. “We will be fully compliant with the CTA’s decision and are revising our tariff policy according to the terms of the decision,” said Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur, according to CTV.
The CTA, a federal agency responsible for dispute resolution and economic regulation in the Canadian transport industry, earlier ruled on May 13 that Air Canada’s policy violates both international conventions and Canadian law and must be changed within 90 days.
Yet Air Canada continued to deliver problematic service. Air Canada received bad press in October when a dog got loose at a San Francisco airport, and an Air Canada employee, Peter Fitzpatrick, reacted in a callous fashion showing contempt for journalists. The greyhound dog, named Larry, was later found killed by a car near the airport, according to its owner.
The CTA ruled that Air Canada must fully inform passengers about rules. Air Canada has never done this in my cases.
Despite CTA rulings and negative press coverage meant to reform the airline, Air Canada still refuses to refund many passengers or treat them with respect and decency. Searches for Air Canada on Twitter find hundreds of angry customers complaining about various problems with Air Canada, which some call “the worst airline ever”.
There are even websites dedicated to complaints about Air Canada:
In my latest problem with Air Canada, I paid about $1233 for a roundtrip ticket from Calgary to Tokyo and back. Air Canada has only flown me one way so far. I honoured my part of the deal; I paid Air Canada on time in full. Air Canada has not honoured it’s part of the deal: to fly me back to Calgary.
Air Canada staff repeatedly cite their “rules” as justification for effectively robbing me. I do not agree with their rules, and I did not knowingly consent to them. These rules do nothing to serve me or other customers.
I did not spend $1233 on a one-way ticket from Calgary to Tokyo. I paid for a round-trip ticket. But Air Canada staff in Tokyo maintained that their “rules” forbid me to use the return portion of my ticket. They have never provided me with any verifiable evidence of their rules, or my consent to them when I made my purchase. My boarding passes and tickets say nothing about these rules. It’s not clearly written on the tickets or boarding passes, and I did not have knowledge of them.
Air Canada has no moral authority to claim adherence to “rules” when it routinely forces paying customers to endure delays and cancellations, lost baggage (and dogs) and other problems which have made Air Canada a national embarrassment. The Air Canada corporation is using the name of a proud country on its airplanes. Thus Canadians expect the corporation to avoid doing things that tarnish the name of the country.
Air Canada seems to gain nothing by selling tickets and concocting rules that alienate customers. According to press reports, Canadian courts have repeatedly ruled in favor of passengers, and the governments of Canada and elsewhere have also repeatedly told Air Canada to behave properly.
Yet Air Canada employees continue to reject reasonable requests by passengers.
Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines on Nov. 8, killing more than 7500 people and damaging more than 4 million homes, made it impossible for me to fly to Canada in November 2013.
It was almost impossible to contact Air Canada while I was working in disaster zones such as Guiuan, which had no electricity, internet, phone lines, hospitals, sanitation or stable supplies of food, drinking water and shelter.
Philippine Airlines, which understands the reality on the ground, allowed me to change my return date from Cebu to Tokyo without a penalty, in adherence to government policy forbidding companies to take advantage of people affected by the disaster. Instead of December 3 as scheduled, I flew from Cebu to Tokyo on Dec. 15, without a problem at Cebu airport.
Air Canada, however, has shown no compassion or basic understanding of my situation or the reality of working in a disaster zone.
I repeatedly called Air Canada’s local number in Manila (0284-4626) at my own expense in November whenever I could find rare, patchy cell-phone service in Guiuan, Tacloban and other devastated areas. Ground staff often said they could not help me unless I could tell them my booking code or ticket number; my name or passport number, which should be in their computer system, was not enough. So, I had to call my home in Tokyo to get this information, at my own expense of time, energy and money while working amid mass graves in a disaster zone.
Calling the Manila office again in November, I spoke with Kay about my ticket number: lETKT0142528012945.
She said she would do her best to help me get back to Canada, due to Typhoon Haiyan. She asked for proof that I’m a journalist. I told her about the difficulties of getting online in the disaster zone, and asked her to wait.
On Dec. 4, traumatized and fatigued, I spent valuable time and energy gathering the materials to send her screenshots and links to my reports from the disaster zone in the Philippines.
(I’ve been a journalist working worldwide since the 1980s for a number of organizations, including CTV, CBC, DW-TV, CNN.com, Washington Times, Toronto Star and many others. Please see some of my coverage of Leyte, Samar and Cebu here: www.globalitemagazine.com, www.ctv.ca, www.dw.de, and others such as http://www.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1045048 and http://www.ctvnews.ca/search-results/search-ctv-news-7.137?q=christopher+johnson+cebu)
On December 13, several weeks after my initial requests, I received this rejection letter by email, signed by initials not names as per common business practices worldwide:
Hi Mr Johnson,
Thank you for providing us all your documents. We forward and sent it to our HKG office to make an appeal for your concerns. But we regret they didn’t approved your request. They stand by the rules of ticket fare which valid for 3 months.There was none action happened base on the history of booking.
You may contact directly your issuing agent for any changes or refund of your ticket.
Hoping for your understanding on this matter.
Thank you and best regards,
After I corrected their mistakes and told them about promises made by Air Canada reps in Japan and Manila, Air Canada employees sent me this follow-up letter from firstname.lastname@example.org on Dec. 13:
Hi Mr Johnson,
As per ticket history, Air Canada Tokyo cancelled your original booking dated 23DEC 2012 your return flight back to Calgary and was advised to you by agent last 13DEC 2012 that your ticket is 3 months valid.
Apparently you didn’t decide on what date to rebook because you might stay longer in Narita,in so there was no change of date and it was leave open-dated. Changes should have been made prior to NOV 20, 2013 so that it can be use to maximize into 1year valid. There was none action about it.
You may ask from Air Canada Tokyo office to waive or give authority to change your ticket, so that we could help you to rebook your ticket.
Appreciated your understanding on this matter.
Thank you and best regards,
They sent me another email on Dec. 18. This time, they tried to evade responsibility and pass off my problem to the “travel agency”:
Hi Mr Johnson,
We regret we really can’t change your ticket. That was the advised of our Regional office.
If you wish to refund your ticket you must contact your travel agency, whom you purchased your ticket.
It’s the travel agency can process your refund and can make arrangement of changing dates.
All the best!
Thank you and best regards,
Back home in Tokyo, I made several calls to Air Canada reps in Japan, who were dismissive, rude and inflexible. I asked to speak to the supervisor, named Aki, who had faxed me earlier in the year saying I could change my return dates. One agent refused to pass me to her supervisor. Another agent said that their supervisor “Aki” was on holiday until Jan. 6 — the busiest travel season of the year, when hundreds of passengers need supervisors to solve problems such as delays, cancellations, weather disruptions, lost baggage and other issues. This clearly shows Air Canada’s attitude toward customer service.
Finally, the acting supervisor Mari Hirata returned my call. She listened patiently to my case, but responded that she could not “extend” the ticket. “Unfortunately the ticket has expired already. If you wish to go back to Canada, you need another ticket purchase,” she said. “I cannot make a correction.”
I suggested that I send her an email, which she could then forward to superiors in Canada. “We don’t receive emails from customers directly,” she said.
The following day, another Air Canada rep in Tokyo called me on a Saturday morning, saying that Air Canada ticketing staff in Canada had rejected my request.
What is the result of this?
I cannot fly home for Christmas to see family members who also travel on Air Canada. Instead, I suddenly have time on my hands to research and write this article and mull legal action against Air Canada.
Air Canada, meanwhile, gains nothing.
Air Canada loses another loyal customer, who might spend another $100,000 on Air Canada flights in the second half of his life.
It loses customers who read this article and realize they might find better service elsewhere. It loses all the time and energy that various employees spent trying to figure out how to reject my requests, rather than finding me a seat on a flight.
The seat, which should have been mine, will surely remain empty on the flight from Tokyo to Calgary.
My one consolation? At least Air Canada, this time, can’t lose my bags or pets, or cause me to wait hours for delays or cancellations, or take advantage of me if I get detained at an airport.
Here are some links to stories about Air Canada: