Air Canada to fliers: Don’t volunteer to get bumped

Their “expense policy” could leave you high and dry

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It’s a dilemma most of us have grappled with before: Minutes before boarding a flight, an airline attendant crackles over the speaker to say the flight is overbooked and ask that if a passenger would be willing to wait for a later flight. Hmmm, you think, maybe…

Stop that thought right there—at least when you’re flying Air Canada, CBC reports.

In an article released this morning, the Mother Corp delves into the frustrating journey of Chris Johnson, a 57-year-old colonel in the Royal Canadian Air Force who opted to forgo a flight when mechanical troubles left staff scrambling to find replacement seats for stranded passengers. He was told to hang around the baggage area for his hotel and meal vouchers.

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They never came. Instead, he was told to book a hotel himself and file a claim later.

When he tried to submit his claim—for $531.56—Air Canada told him that their policy is to reimburse up to $100 for accommodation, $7 for breakfast, $10 for lunch and $15 for dinner. Had he been a “premium” customer, Johnson might have fared a little better, but not by much: The article revealed that more-esteemed customers can be compensated up to $150 for hotel stays. After some exchanges with Air Canada officials, they upped their compensation to $222, leaving Johnson to pay $309 out of pocket.

Turns out that this so-called policy is against the law. The Montreal Convention is a law that dictates airlines should be compensating passengers with costs up to $9,000 for issues that are considered to be within the airline’s control and not something like inclement weather.

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When pushed on this disparity after Johnson took his case to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), Air Canada argued that their “Expense Policy” wasn’t a policy at all, just an internal guideline, and therefore the Montreal Convention is not applicable. And besides, they said, the electronic pump failure that caused the flight delay in the first place was “uncontrollable,” exempting the company from any fault. What Johnson was arguing for, according to an Air Canada representative, was simply the amount the airline would be willing to pay as “goodwill” in these situations. As the complaint moved up the chain at the CTA, Air Canada eventually offered to fully reimburse Johnson purely on “goodwill.” He refused their money on the basis that the airline was still not following the law.

It seems that it’s up to the airline whether they follow CTA compensation rules, regardless of whether you’ve been bumped or volunteer. Check the tariffs of the carrier you’re flying with so you’re prepared and know your rights.

Have you ever received insufficient reimbursement for an airline delay? Have any tips to avoid unfortunate situations? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

11 comments on “Air Canada to fliers: Don’t volunteer to get bumped

  1. Proving once again why I despise Air Canada. Aside from the rudest service I ever experienced on an airline approx. 10 years ago, they apparently get to pick and choose what laws to follow. The disgrace of all of this is having our country’s name associated with this god-awful company that should have gone bankrupt years back.

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  2. A few years ago, I had a medical situation that required me to return to Vancouver from Toronto. There was only one Business Class seat available at a cost of about $1,900/. I agreed to pay, but went to the Toronto airport, hoping to standby for an earlier flight. I was successful and the agent told me that the economy seat would cost about $700. She suggested that I use the existing $1900 ticket, and I would be given a refund or credit for the balance.

    Several weeks later, I received an email offering a credit of about $170. There was no phone number or address on the email – just an email address. I responded and asked for a phone number that I could call the gentleman, or if he could call me. I received an answer immediately, saying that the full fare economy class ticket cost $1700, so the refund of $170 was all that I would receive.

    I called Air Canada reservations, as well as WestJet and both told me that the maximum fare used on that route was about $700. After a long discussion with the Air Canada agent, I asked where the $1700 fare came from, and she told me that this was a very old fare that no one used. It was a fare that had existed and been used about 10 years before, and she was not sure why it existed. A booking done at the airport met all of the rules required for the $700 fare. I did check on line for day of departure flights and could not find any economy fares above $700. So I called a Vice President of Air Canada that I knew. He thought that this was foolish, and promised to look into it for me.

    About 2 weeks later, I received another email from the same man in refunds telling me essentially to give up the battle. I would get $150 back and no more.

    At the end of that year, I was awarded Super Elite Status from Air Canada, but after a few months, I found that their rules were so burdensome, that I actually returned the cards, and took most of my travel to others.

    I have to say, that I have been very well treated and find great service improvements in service at all levels, except, of course, rouge, which I now avoid at all cost. The people are terrific, but the rules that apply are so restrictive that common sense cannot be applied.

    I travel as much as I ever did in the past, but use Air Canada only as a second or last choice. Sad, because the front line people have been wonderful.

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  3. While on hold for an indeterminate amount of time you are forced to listen to how many international awards for service this airline has garnered. I have had some the worst treatment at the hands of A/C employees, with one even turning her name tag around backwards so we wouldn’t see her name and report her. Is anyone surprised by this. They are a hateful organization with absolutely no idea who they serve, just ask their unions?

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  4. Conservatives and Bloc have defeated several NDP bills aimed at protecting air passenger rights.
    That should be part of this story.

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  5. $531 for a one night stay? Seems he was trying to take advantage of the situation. I don’t blame Air Canada for rejecting the claim.

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    • Not quite buddy! Have you ever tried to find a cheap hotel room at the last minute after 11 PM in Toronto? I had to sleep at the airport since the cheapest room available tonight was over $1000 and AC would only pay up to $100 per passenger. Thank you Air Canada!

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  6. I’ve stayed back twice they lost my bags both times. Work clothes. Was told to buy all new clothes and would be compensated and one time was given an $800 dollar credit and went to use it and it was cancelled. Went to the same person at the same airport to find out why and was told to email the customer service and never got a reply. Seems like at some point a grievance should be filed legally.

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  7. It seems like everybody loves to hate Air Canada. I am not defending them, but try flying outside of Canada and you will realize how great AC is. US carriers are horrible (apart from SouthWest) and for all of those haters, you should appreciate what we have here.

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    • I can’t disagree that service overall on many US carriers for North American flights are pretty bad and mostly worse than AC.
      However, AC needs to be more transparent with certain costs and compensation if it wants to take a leap in customer service. AC should not rely on convoluted contract language intermixed with policy and negotiations that doesn’t easily provide a clear picture for the consumer.

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  8. It’s not just air Canada. I was on a holiday to Thailand. Delta caused me to miss a connection because of a 2 1/2 hour delay, caused stricly by a Delta crew scheduling mixup. Totally delta’s fault. They put me up in a hotel but i had to fight with them for a $15.00 meal voucher. No compensation was offered for the inconvenience, the missed day ofmy holiday or the bottle of duty free scotch i could not bring back through security the next day.

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  9. My policy with airlines is to not volunteer for anything. They charge you for everything, so why should you help them out?
    On one AC flight the plane arrived late, then after 2 hours the flight was canceled because of mechanical problems. This is now 12:30am on a Saturday night and they didn’t know what to do (“we have to call air canada”). By 3am the last family was given their hotel voucher and they could sleep for all of 6 hours before they were forced to check out of their hotel room. Others that booked on their own were only going to be reimbursed $100 CAD where the average hotel price was $300 per night.

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