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I get more complaints about airline travel than other topics these days.
Many people are upset with Air Canada, a former monopoly that hasn’t quite mastered the art of customer service.
Mohammad Siddiquee, a University of New Brunswick finance professor, flew to a Montreal conference last May. He tried to get his expenses reimbursed, but the university needed a receipt.
He contacted Air Canada twice at its website, specifically at a page that handles requests for receipts.
“I didn’t hear anything,” he said in August. “The system says it should take five business days. It’s more than 15 business days since I asked for the document for the first time.”
Contacting airline customer service staff, which he did several times, didn’t work either. No one could help with his request.
Air Canada sent Siddiquee’s receipt one day after I forwarded his email. As a value investing expert, this professor should write a paper about how companies can raise their value by treating customers respectfully.
Mike Gannon’s June 1 flight from Toronto to Seattle, via Vancouver, was messed up in several ways.
He tried to check in online in the 24 hours before departure, but was denied service. Only at the Toronto airport did he learn that he’d be subjected to an extra random security check on his second flight.
“Why not explain this online?” he asks. “I kept trying multiple combos of middle name, just initial, Nexus, passport, etc. Huge time waster.”
At the airport, he was also told his flight was cancelled, although it was said to be on time when he left home. Again, no explanation was given.
This meant he lost the premium seat he’d paid for when he changed to a flight that left two hours later. And when he landed in Vancouver, he got an email from Air Canada saying the flight to Seattle was cancelled.
He tracked down a Vancouver airport agent, who said his original flight to Seattle – not the one for which he was holding a boarding card – had been cancelled.
“This narrative is a unique form of Air Canada harassment and from only one journey,” he told CEO Calin Rovinescu in an email with the subject line, “Air Canada is picking on me.”
He waited two months for a response before writing to me. Within a week, Air Canada had offered him a 20 per cent credit on a future flight and a refund for the premium seat.
“Airlines have some of the most sophisticated computer applications in business,” Gannon argues. “So, when a cancellation occurs, why don’t they automatically refund any additional fees paid for premium seats? It is up to the passenger to make a claim for refunds on services they may not have received.”
Sari Gold was given a seat next to a very large passenger on a flight from Las Vegas to Toronto in July.
“He encroached over halfway into my seat,” she says. “I could only sit ‘side saddle’ with my legs in the aisle. Worst of all, he flew without using a seatbelt.
“Before takeoff, I went to ask the flight attendant for a different seat. I’ve had three back surgeries and am fused at 11 levels in my spine. There wasn’t any way I could sit like that for over five hours.”
She was eventually moved to the last row with a non-reclining seat. Because of turbulence, she was buckled in for most of the flight. Later, she asked customer service for compensation.
“I paid for one seat and so did my seat mate. He had the benefit of two, while I either had half of a seat or a non-reclining one, both bad options for me.”
After 31 days of waiting, Gold contacted me. Shortly after, Air Canada offered a $ 100 discount on a future flight and an assurance it would look into the issue.
What would the airline do to ensure that all passengers were belted in?
“I received a terse reply that they would not be answering any further questions on this topic. I’ve been blown off,” she told me.
Cheryl and Zvi Gaster, who also suffer from back problems, find they can no longer heave their suitcases into the overhead bins. They don’t ask for help, feeling it’s unsafe for the flight attendants to provide it.
“We are left with no alternative but to check our bags. This comes with a cost of $ 25 for the first bag and $ 35 for the second bag, plus tax,” Cheryl said.
“I believe this is discrimination based on disability and age. In addition, we happen to be short people, making the exertion and stretch that much more demanding.”
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said it was considerate of these passengers to be so thoughtful of the crew. But it wasn’t necessary.
“I can assure you that our flight attendants are more than happy to help customers who require assistance during the boarding process,” he told me when I asked for a comment.
“This might be an opportunity to remind passengers that for their own safety, they should not overload their bags and risk causing themselves unnecessary strain by attempting to pack more into their carry-on baggage than they can comfortably carry.”
Air Canada’s customer service is glacially slow, often failing to meet its already long deadlines for a response. You must be persistent and creative in trying to escalate complaints to a higher level.
Ellen Roseman appears in Smart Money. You can reach her at email@example.com .