Home Business Aid! Air Canada ruined our trip to Ireland, but they won't take the blame.

Aid! Air Canada ruined our trip to Ireland, but they won't take the blame.

by SuperiorInvest

Last September, my husband and I left our children with their grandparents and left for Ireland. Our $2,132 itinerary took us from Minneapolis to Toronto to Dublin on tickets booked on United Airlines through Expedia but ultimately operated by Air Canada, a United partner. We had boarded our connecting flight in Toronto (and I was already asleep in my seat) when the captain announced that an operator had crashed the plane's bridge into the starboard engine. They gave us hotel vouchers and told us they would rebook us for the next day. Departure time came and went without a word, so we went to the airport and were told to call Air Canada customer service. An agent booked us a flight for that night and we printed boarding passes at a kiosk at the airport. But when we tried to board, we were told that the boarding passes were not valid. Finally, we were offered two options for the next day: fly to Dublin via Newark or return to Minneapolis. We cut our losses and went home after spending the night in a hotel in Toronto. But United reimbursed us only $1,087, barely half of what we paid. Air Canada reimbursed us for the second hotel and other expenses, but we believe the airlines not only owe us a full refund, but also C$400 each ($295 each) under Canadian law for denied boarding. They both refused. Can you help? Michelle, Edina, Minnesota.

I found the 58-page file he sent me along with his story quite convincing. (She also convinced me that you or her husband are lawyers, which turns out to be true.)

I skipped Expedia, since their trip had already started, and contacted United and Air Canada; Since you flew with a partner airline, it's a codeshare agreement. A United spokesperson, Erin Jankowski, quickly sent me a statement noting that the refund she received from United was in line with Air Canada's instructions and she referred all further questions to them.

Air Canada, on the other hand, took almost two weeks to contact me and their response was disappointing.

“Our records indicate that these customers were not denied boarding in Toronto,” wrote Peter Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for the airline. “Instead, it appears that after their original flight to Ireland was cancelled, they opted to return to Minneapolis from Toronto rather than go to Dublin after the delay. “Once that was identified, we rebooked customers on a return flight to Minneapolis.”

No compensation, no information about the $1,045 still missing from your refund, and no explanation as to how you were turned away at the gate for your second flight and still “not denied boarding.”

Air Canada offered you and your husband a credit worth C$1,200 toward a future flight, Mr. Fitzpatrick wrote to me, “to take into account the impact on your travel plans and experience.”

There was no answer to my direct question as to why their boarding passes didn't work the second night. In fact, it is not even clear from Mr. Fitzpatrick's initial statement that Air Canada believed you even attempted to board, despite the boarding passes you included in the file you sent to me and the two airlines.

I responded with more specific questions, based on what I learned after reading about the Canadian Transportation Agency's air passenger protection regulations and speaking with Tom Oommen, director general of the CTA's Analysis and Outreach Division.

“We have what I would call a very comprehensive holistic system of consumer protection for airlines,” he said. For example, when flights are disrupted for reasons within an airline's control and it cannot take passengers to another of its own flights within nine hours, it must book the passenger on any airline, including competitors. with which it does not have agreements, a requirement that the United States does not impose.

Mr. Oommen also noted that if a passenger gets stuck mid-trip and is not satisfied with the options for continuing, the airline must offer to rebook that passenger “on a return flight to their point of origin without charge and refund your money.” full ticket.”

He wouldn't comment specifically on your case, but that's exactly what happened to you. (The only exception to these rules is when the disruption is not under the airline's control, Oommen said, but when a mechanical problem is caused by an airline employee or contractor, “it's hard to make that argument.”)

There are also many circumstances in which Canada requires airlines to compensate passengers ($400 to $2,400) for delays, cancellations and denied boarding within the airline's control. There is an exception when such problems have security implications, which might apply to the first night's engine damage, but not, it seems to me, to the second night's non-working boarding passes. That sounds a lot like denied boarding.

This time, he heard back before I did and sent me several emails from Air Canada, including one that said the airline had approved a cash payment of $400 per traveler. Mr. Fitzpatrick then emailed me to say I would receive a full refund.

You got what you asked for, but of course you would rather have gone to Ireland. And what exactly happened when Air Canada refused to board you in Toronto? Mr. Fitzpatrick told me that United had canceled his ticket before he even got to the gate.

I found that confusing: the boarding pass has an Air Canada ticket number and you hadn't even spoken to United that day. So I contacted Mrs. Jankowski at United again, who investigated the situation further and discovered that “United canceled the tickets after sending messages to the operating airline, Air Canada, informing them that the tickets had not been properly reissued.” to the rescheduled airline. flight.”

Apparently, somewhere in the bowels of both airlines' systems, United invalidated your Air Canada boarding pass and neither airline contacted you. And that's a shame, because Mr. Fitzpatrick later confirmed that the second flight left with empty seats.

When he decided to return home, the Air Canada representative at the airport told him he had to call United. The process to untangle the mess and get him booked on a return flight to Minneapolis required hours and six different United customer service representatives and supervisors.

His experience is a good reason for all of us to avoid codeshares unless they are necessary, such as when an itinerary includes flights operated by different airlines.

All this because he originally booked Air Canada flights as a United codeshare, an option he found on Expedia. When I recently ran a search from Minneapolis to Dublin on Expedia for a week in April, the first two options that came up were the same route via Toronto with no price difference, one booked directly on Air Canada and the other as a codeshare on the United. Assuming you saw the same thing last year, I bet if you had booked the Air Canada option you would have arrived in Ireland, albeit a day late. All the more reason to book directly with just one airline.

There is one final mystery: why didn't Air Canada admit that this was a case of denied boarding and follow the regulations required by the CTA? Yes, your case doesn't exactly fit the agency's official definition, which is written to describe overbooking or plane changes, but if an airline mistakenly cancels a passenger's ticket after they've printed a boarding pass and they detain you at the door, what is that?

I presented this as a theoretical situation to Mr. Oommen of the CTA.

“What you're describing is classic denied boarding,” he said.

That means you could claim an extra $400 each for this second incident and put it toward a new flight to Ireland, say, on Aer Lingus, direct or via Chicago.

If you need advice on the best travel plan gone wrong, email TrippedUp@nytimes.com.

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