The sad ballad of Air Canada

Back in October, when I wrote up the story of our trip to Amsterdam and Sweden getting off to a rocky start when we didn’t notice that Lindsay’s passport expired in 86 days (the cut-off is 90 days) I hinted at the frustration we encountered trying to fix the issue with Air Canada:

We went home, dejected, and resolved to re-plan things. We then spent the next four hours on the phone with Air Canada, switching to (much worse) flights, and getting truly and completely fucked. I won’t dwell on that here. They’re still, two weeks later, being utterly unresponsive assholes.


Clearly I was upset back then. But now, more than fifteen weeks later, they’re still being unresponsive, so I’ve decided to post full story here. What follows below is a chronological history of my interactions with them.

TL;DR version: our screw-up meant we had to change our outbound flight (and we paid that fare difference) but AC’s busted system forced us to change our return flight too for some reason, and then charged us for worse seats on that flight. Almost four months later they’ve done nothing to fix this, despite promises from their agents that they would.


Oct 14, 2018, 9:25 AM: My original complaint, filed the morning after

Subject: Unfair fees and changes due to system problems
Message: Hello/bonjour,

Yesterday my partner and I were turned away at the airport due to one of our passports expiring in less than 90 days. The Air Canada agent we were dealing with assured us there was a note on our file that would allow us to re-book when we had confirmation of passport renewal. Thankfully, we called Air Canada in the evening anyway – to find out that there was no indication of this on our file, and that, had we not called, the value of the flight would have been lost.

After speaking with a phone agent for 20 minutes, we felt optimistic that the situation could be resolved. Given the unfortunate nature of our circumstance (I had surprised my partner on her birthday, not realizing her passport was less than 90 days out, exp. Jan 7) she offered to wave the change fee on the flight and charge only the difference in cost. We were prepared to re-book for Monday night. After putting us on hold for an hour, she hung up on us.

We called Air Canada back, at this point having been on the phone with either the system or an agent for over two hours, and reached someone new. She revealed that the previous agent had made a series of false promises – that not only would we have to pay a change fee, your system would force us to change our return flight if we were to change our outbound flight. Furthermore, we would not be able to keep our premium economy seats on the return flight (a flight we never wished to change in the first place), and would incur a $326.54 cost per ticket to downgrade to economy. This felt entirely unfair, and the agent agreed.

After four hours on the phone with your agents (three of which were spent on hold), I was made to spend $1,200 only to lose two premium economy seats that were already booked. From what we were told, this was not within the agent’s discretion, and was instead forced by the Air Canada system.

Given this incredibly poor and frustrating customer experience, I would expect that:

  1. the $600 in change fees would be refunded directly – the second agent we spoke with gave us a guarantee that this would be refunded by contacting you
  2. the $653.08 fare difference on return flight (which we never wanted to change) would be refunded directly, as this was your system issue – also guaranteed by the second agent we spoke with
  3. upgraded seats on our return flight of October 21, or compensation/credit for the cost difference, as this was also due to your system issues
  4. compensation/credit for the egregious time spent on hold, in addition to the false promises of the desk agent and first contact centre agent, the latter of which also hung up on us after an hour of waiting on hold

The second agent we spoke with last night was very understanding, and was doing everything she could to resolve the system issues resulting in additional fees. She suggested only you would have the authority to right these wrongs, but that there would be ample notes made in the file to indicate what occurred.

Thank you in advance for your assistance. I look forward to your reply.


Oct 14, 2018, 9:27 AM: Auto-response from Air Canada

We appreciate your feedback. You can rest assured that an Air Canada representative will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience as you wait to hear from us.

Please note that this automated message confirms we have received your message and there is no need to re-submit your information. We’re on it!

Your case number is: XXX-XXXXXXXX-XXXXXX


Oct 22, 2018, 6:34 PM: Follow-up #1

It’s been eight days since I sent my message about this series of issues, and I haven’t heard anything. When can I expect a response?


Nov 14, 2018, 1:00 PM: Follow-up #2

It’s now been a full month since I sent this message. Can I expect an answer ANYTIME soon? Absent one, I feel as if I have no further recourse other than to go to the media.


Dec 10, 2018, 8:19 AM: Follow-up #3

It has been TWO MONTHS since I sent this message, with no response. If I do not hear back by Thursday of this week I’m emailing the CBC.


Dec 10, 2018, 11:56 AM: after two months of silence, Air Canada replies within four hours of my mentioning the media

Dear Mr. Dickinson,

Thank you for your email. I apologize for the delay in response as we are experiencing higher than normal claims volumes at this time. We appreciate your understanding and patience. I am pleased to forward your request to our Refunds Department on your behalf. An Air Canada Refunds Representative will review this refund application. Please allow a minimum of 3 weeks for your request to be processed.

Your Claim Id is: XXXXXX

Your Confirmation Number is: XXXXXX

If you wish to check the status of your request, please visit:

We regret your disappointment in the experience but we hope you understand that we have made an honest effort to address the situation. We look forward to the opportunity to welcome you onboard again in the future in hopes of impressing you more favorably.

Customer Relations


Mon, Jan 14, 10:30 PM: Follow-up #4

It’s now been 5 weeks since you said I should expect an answer in 3 weeks, and more than 8 weeks* since I experienced this issue. In my last email I stated I would reach out to the media if this wasn’t resolved quickly. I gave you the benefit of the doubt, only to be disappointed again. If I don’t receive a response and refund this week as per my original message, I will contact the CBC.

[* note that my math was wrong here. It was more like 13 weeks.]


Jan 27, 2019, 10:57 AM: Follow-up #5

Unfortunately you’ve left me no choice. As it’s been 15 weeks since my initial email with no remedy, I emailed the CBC’s Go Public team this morning.


So, to recap, I asked for four things:

  1. Refund of the change fees. Granted, this was our fault, and technically Air Canada didn’t have to pay it. I fully expected to, but the first Air Canada agent I spoke to said she’d waive the fee. And the second agent guaranteed Air Canada customer care would refund it. They have not.
  2. Refund of the change fees. Maybe the most frustrating part of all this was being forced to pay a fare difference to downgrade to a return flight we did not want, for reasons that were — by the agent’s own admission — 100% the fault of the Air Canada system. Again, the second agent promised the customer care team would refund this. They have not.
  3. Upgraded return flight. I was hopelessly naive when I hoped they would remedy something within a week, as nearly four months later they still have not. And not to be too whiny about it, but the return flight in Economy (versus Premium Economy, which we’d booked) was rough. I described it thus: “Our flight home was pretty brutal. We were sitting in Economy because Air Canada fucking sucks, and everyone around us — elbowers, pocket stuffers, leaners-back, knee-bashers all — annoyed the bejeezus out of us.”
  4. Compensation/credit. I figured they’d give us future flight credit, or Aeroplan points…just, something to make up for the egregious time spent on hold, being hung up on by the first agent, the extra flight leg to Amsterdam, the overall poor experience, carrying the credit charge for this long, etc. But no…they have not.

Do better, Air Canada.


Feb 4, 2019, 1:35 PM: Finally, a response. BUT!

So, Air Canada replied today. It has done little to change my mood.

Dear Mr. Dickinson,

Thank you for your correspondence, regarding the travel … on board Air Canada.

We know our customers expect to arrive on time and enjoy a comfortable flight, while also being provided exceptional customer service during all interactions with us. I am sorry to learn of the inconvenience you faced on this travel.

I am [redacted], and I have reviewed your travel in detail, for further response. I will be advising on the collection of the change fees, and the adcol, as well as, the reason behind it. Also, while I am unable to offer a refund for the charges, I will be offering goodwill compensation.

A review of your travel shows, that your companion and yourself were booked for October 13th, 2018, to travel from Toronto to Amsterdam. These tickets were purchased on August 19th, 2018. At the time of purchase, the fare rules are provided and only once the passengers agree to them, a transaction is completed.

While we can issue the ticket as requested, Air Canada does not verify the validity of travel documents, as these are the responsibility of the passenger.

I regret that you did not confirm the validity of the travel documents of your companion, and the requirements of the arrival country.

Our conditions of carriage and applicable tariffs state “The passenger shall comply with all laws, regulations, orders, demands, or travel requirements of countries to be flown from, into or over, and with all rules, regulations, and instructions of carrier.” “No liability shall attach to carrier if carrier in good faith determines that what it understands to be applicable law, government regulation, demand, order or requirement, requires that it refuse and it does refuse to carry a passenger.”

We sympathize with your situation, however, if a passenger is refused travel due to invalid travel documents, the usual fare rules apply.

Upon review of your ticket, I can see that the collection of change fees and adcol were in accordance with your purchased ticket’s fare rules. In accordance with the fare rules, and to remain fair and consistent with all our customers, we are unable to offer any refund.

While I am unable to undo the experience you both had, as a gesture of exceptional goodwill, I am happy to offer a CAD 600.00 eCoupon for each of you. For ease of use, I have combined it into one CAD 1200.00 eCoupon. Redemption details are below.

Once again, Mr.Dickinson, please accept our sincere apologies for the inconvenience experienced. Although we did not leave you with a favorable impression on this occasion, we truly hope for another opportunity to provide you with a much more positive travel experience in the future.

So, first of all, I had to google “adcol” to find out that it means “additional collection”. Such is the extent to which AC will go to avoid saying “fees”.

Also, it’s infuriating that their answer was to lecture me about not verifying the passport info before I left. I know that was the root issue. I acknowledged that. I never would have asked for reversal of that change fee (sorry…adcol) if the agent hadn’t offered to waive it. But she did.

Second, their response does nothing to address the fact that THEIR system issue forced a change to our return flight, for which I was charged $653 to sit in worse seats on a longer flight.

Honestly, I would have been happier with a $653 refund and an acknowledgment of their screw-up than I am with this $1200 credit.

I haven’t decided yet whether to push back on them, but honestly, I doubt I’ll have the energy. It took four months just to get ANY answer from them, and I can’t imagine starting that process again. So, well done Air Canada: your relentlessly abysmal customer service has beaten down yet another victim.


One thought on “The sad ballad of Air Canada

  1. Horrible experience. Air Canada sucks. Nothing more to say. I am sure we all have had more than one bad experience with them. For example, my wife and I were flying together. After we check in we realize they bumped my wife to standby, but not me. Didn’t even tell us, and when we went back to to the same check in agent, were basically told to screw off. To this day, it still blows mind why she would bump only one of us, and then not even have the courtesy to tell us. Luckily we found someone else to help us, and it was sorted.

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