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.


Cover photo by Derek Law, used under Creative Commons

“A sophisticated and welcoming destination for those après work.”

So, I met my friend Bina for a drink last night. She also wanted to try this new Speakeasy 21 place near where we live, but it was stupid-rammed. We went elsewhere. It was cold out, so we ducked into the nearest place. Unfortunately for us the nearest place was the Suits bar in the Trump Tower. Yes, that Trump Tower. Neither of us had been before; I’d only tried Stock, the upstairs restaurant/hooker pavilion.

So we sit down and order a glass of wine from one the lady server, who corrects my (correct) pronunciation of Bachelder. We also order a charcuterie board, which arrives a while later. It’s a very nice array of meats and mustards and vegetables flourishes, so we ask what each of the meats are just to be sure. The gentleman server tells us he doesn’t know what they are, but says he’ll find out. A little odd, but no matter. He’s back in a minute and…doesn’t really have any more information. He points at the prosciutto and tells us it’s prosciutto. He points at a different meat and says that’s also prosciutto. He points at what’s clearly chorizo and says it’s salami. And he doesn’t know what the fourth one is. (It’s salami). We figure it’s his first day and thank him anyway and he’s off. So, more than a little odd, but whatever. It’s all tasty.

At some point I finish my glass of Chardonnay and want to move on to a red. When the gentleman server returns and asks if I’d like more wine, I say I’d like a glass of the Tempranillo — I remember there being one on the by-the-glass list. No problem, says he, and he heads back to the bar. A few minutes later the lady server stops at our table and, before I even register what’s happening, pours another Bachelder Chardonnay in my glass. By the time we process what’s just happened the lady server’s moved on to another table. We wait for her to finish with them, then point out that I’d asked for a glass of Tempranillo. She’s surprised by this and begins to explain how she thinks our signals got crossed, but then stops and smartly says, “No matter, I’ll take care of it.” Great. She’s off and I’m getting thirsty from all this cured meat.

A few minutes later the gentleman server comes by and delivers my glass of wine. Except…it’s white. It’s another glass of white. To his credit, at least it’s not another Bachelder Chardonnay, but it’s sure as shit not Tempranillo. We can’t even hold it together at this point; we both start laughing. I stop the server before he gets too far, and tell him it’s still not right. I offer to point out the specific glass on the menu if he’d like, but he says he’s got it. Okay then. He walks away. Bina can’t stop laughing.

Finally, the lady server comes over — at least 10 minutes after I’d originally ordered my second glass — and with a pained “Third time’s the charm!” delivers a glass of what appears to be Tempranillo.  At that point I didn’t even care; if it was red I was calling it a victory. Bina ordered another glass of exactly the same wine; she was having none of my adventure. We finished the board and ordered the bill. The lady server apologized as we split the $100 tab for our bits of meat and four glasses of wine. That’s right, four glasses –the thrice-ordered Tempranillo was not comped. I still tipped her; none of the mishegas was her fault. But I wished there was an option to delegate 100% of the tip to one server and one server only.

So, the moral of the story: never, ever set foot in the Trump Tower.

I got home from those drinks around the same time as Nellie, and we decided to get some dinner at Carisma. We’ve had great experiences both times we’ve been there, and I was hoping to wash the stink of #TrumpFail off me. Happily, Carisma came through in the clutch: our starters (shrimp pasta and burrata) and mains (steak and lamb) were amazing, the wine guru (who recognizes us now…score!) brought us a killer 2005 La Spinetta Pin Barbera/Nebbiolo, and the service was like a precision drill team. And that’s how it’s done.

Thanks for saving our evening, Carisma.


Cover photo by Derek Law, used under Creative Commons

"Our culture's secular version of being born again."

Here are a couple of excerpts from the book I’m reading right now, Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges (amazon | indigo | kobo). I’m about 60 pages in and I’m wavering between “He’s overreacting, it’s not that bad.” and “He’s right, we’re fucked.”

Those captivated by the cult of celebrity do not examine voting records or compare verbal claims with written and published facts and reports. The reality of their world is whatever the latest cable news show, political leader, advertiser, or loan officer says is reality. The illiterate, the semiliterate, and those who live as though they are illiterate are effectively cut off from the past. They live in an eternal present. They do not understand the predatory loan deals that drive them into foreclosure and bankruptcy. They cannot decipher the fine print on the credit card agreements that plunge them into unmanageable debt. They repeat thought-terminating clichés and slogans. They are hostage to the constant jingle and manipulation of a consumer culture. They seek refuge in familiar brands and labels. They eat at fast-food restaurants not only because it is cheap, but also because they can order from pictures rather than from a menu.

This struck me as itself ignoring history, as surely the population has grown, by and large, more literate over the past few centuries. However, Hedges also makes the point that the medium has changed from the days when education and debate was written, and therefore targeted at the literate. Now, with television being the primary news delivery/debate medium, the content is being targeted at the illiterate:

In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we neither seek nor want honesty or reality. Reality is complicated. Reality is boring. We are incapable or unwilling to handle its confusion. We asked to be indulged and comforted by clichés, stereotypes, and inspirational messages that tell us we can be whoever we seek to be, that we live in the greatest country on earth, that we are endowed with superior moral and physical qualities, and that our future will always be glorious and prosperous, either because of our own attributes or our national character or because we are blessed by God. In this world, all that matters is the consistency of our belief systems. The ability to amplify lies, to repeat them and have surrogates repeat them in endless loops of news cycles, gives lies and mythical narratives the aura of uncontested truth. We become trapped in the linguistic prison of incessant repetition. We are fed words and phrases like war on terror or pro-life or change, and within these narrow parameters, all complex thought, ambiguity, and self-criticism vanish.

Anyway, like I said I’m still on the fence about whether this book is full of histrionics or insight. I’ll let you know when I get to the end. Or you can just wait for the movie to come out.

You are who I hate

There is a special layer of hell reserved for people so vain and ridiculous that they ignore whatever sporting event they’re supposed to be watching, stand up and flap their arms at a camera they know must be pointed at them. I curse these people every time I watch a hockey game on TV. It’s usually a guy (but not always, as we’ll see) and he’s usually yelling into a cell phone. As annoyed as I get for being distracted from the game by some idiot fame whore, I can only imagine how it feels to sit beside or behind a douche of that magnitude. But fine, it’s one of 41 home games, and you scored great tickets from some scalper, and you can’t wait to show off to your buddy how close you are to the ice for the game you’re not even watching, so you call him and make him watch as you prove your dickishness to the world. Whatever.

But to do this at the Olympics? Something that happens every four years, and you’re one of the privileged few who’ll get to witness it? And — maybe worst of all — at a medal ceremony while the fucking flag is being raised?!!!!??!?

It’s kind of tough to make out the fuckass in this picture, but go ahead and watch the clip on YouTube. You’ll see her waving her be-bangled arms in the air like she just don’t care about the momentous outpouring of national pride happening right be-fucking-hind her. For Christ’s sake, if you can’t process what a special occasion this is and how lucky you are to be in the arena, then at least be respectful of the national goddamn anthem, you pathetic, oblivious slab of narcissism.

"All is lost, you can't go home"

Two tragedies caught my attention last week. One was massive and horrible in scale, the other rather more private.

I tend to associate songs with feelings or memories, often for no particular reason. This past week, while absorbing scenes of destruction in Haiti following the massive earthquake, a friend emailed me news of the passing of musician Jay Reatard. Of course the two events don’t compare in scale — Reatard (whose real name was Jimmie Lee Lindsey Jr.) was one man, a fairly obscure musician — but on reading the news of his death his songs swam into my head the same way those photos of Haitian ruins imprinted on my brain (especially this one) and Reatard’s “There Is No Sun” became, in my mind, the sad soundtrack of the Haitian disaster.

That night, on my commute home, my mp3 player randomly started playing Reatard’s “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” and it shook me a little. Eerie enough to hear Reatard singing “All is lost, there is no hope for me” over and over again on the day of his death, but positively chilling to think of all those for whom those lines were so true, lying trapped beneath rubble or searching for family amidst the ruins.

There’s no logical tie between Jay Reatard and the disaster in Haiti, but they’re now inextricably linked in my mind. Reading the stories, watching the news, donating to the Red Cross, even hating Pat Robertson…for me, Watch Me Fall is now the score to it all.

It'd be easier to illustrate this to Joe Camel if he had five fingers

This Economist daily chart last week shocked me:

I should point out, though, that it wasn’t so much the chart that freaked me out. Percentages can be deceiving as there’re two numbers involved, and in this case the denominator — total deaths in a country — is going to vary wildly between countries. African countries may have more smoking deaths than North America, and may even have more smoking deaths per capita than North America, but there are myriad other causes of death in those countries which mute the relative impact of smoking.

In my mind the most shocking part of the Economist’s post was in the preamble: “Nearly one in five deaths in rich countries is caused by smoking, according to new data released this week by the World Health Organisation.”  I found that hard to believe, but a quick Google search turned up some supporting evidence.

One in five…one in five. According to the list of leading causes of death in Canada in 1997, that’s twice as many deaths as accidents, diabetes, suicide, liver disease, cirrhosis and HIV account for put together. How tobacco companies haven’t been sued — or prosecuted — into oblivion yet is beyond me.

Seeing that list does put things in perspective though. No warfare in the top 15. No genocide or famine either. No earthquakes, typhoons or tsunamis. Instead, safe from the list of things that kill the rest of the world, we voluntarily stick cancer-causing chemicals in our mouths. Unbelievable.

It's the little touches that matter(ed)

Today I received a nice customer service letter from Scotiabank:


Nice, right? Checking to see if I’d like to get a lower rate, or if I’m thinking about moving. That’s a pretty good customer experience. Especially since I’m not one of their customers anymore.

It’s true, my mortgage was with Scotia, but I moved it to another bank. Eight months ago. So, that’s a big old marketing database/process fail.

On further inspection, I have a hard time believing I am, in fact, a “valued customer” when a) they don’t know I left them eight months ago and b) they called me “Valued Customer” instead of my name. Mail merge, guys. Try it on.