A woman who was visiting family in Vancouver over Christmas paid more than $11,000 to buy seats on a new flight home because she couldn’t get through to Air Canada’s call centre to reschedule her original tickets.
Kavita Hundal lives in Singapore and comes to Vancouver every winter during her son’s school break to visit her mother and two sisters who live in Canada. It’s usually a pleasant trip, but a snowstorm coupled with Air Canada not answering calls made it much more expensive than she’d planned.
“It’s an unnecessary waste when I already had tickets. All I needed was a flight change, right? Which they could have easily accommodated,” she told Daily Hive.
The sisters and their mother decided to take a side trip this year, visiting New Orleans in December. But Delta cancelled their flight from New Orleans to Vancouver on December 25 because of a winter storm.
That cancellation meant Hundal and her son would miss their trans-Pacific flight home to Singapore with Air Canada on December 27. Hundal reached out to Air Canada to rebook, but despite trying to get in touch with an agent in both Canada and Singapore, she was unable to make contact or reschedule her flight.
“I called the Air Canada contact number, which is supposed to run 24 hours, and it was congested. No one was taking any calls, and it went directly to the automated service.”
For three days, Hundal tried without success to get through to the call centre. She reached out via social media, and while someone on the other end confirmed her desired flight on the 29th was available, they couldn’t process payment over Messenger.
Hundal also tried to change her flight on Air Canada’s website, but the button to make itinerary changes was greyed out — and she wasn’t sure why.
A spokesperson from Air Canada confirmed that online changes are sometimes not available when an itinerary involves more than one airline. Air Canada relies on partner airlines to make trips to Singapore because the carrier doesn’t fly there directly.
“Depending on the airlines that make up a customer’s itinerary in more complex routings such as this, customers may need to contact us by telephone rather than make changes online if a partner airline is involved,” an unnamed staff member from Air Canada’s media relations department told Daily Hive.
Storms pummelled multiple parts of Canada over the busy Christmas travel period this year, and there were widespread reports of impenetrable call centres at both Air Canada and WestJet.
“This person was travelling at a time of severe industry disruption due to adverse weather across the country and our call centres were quite busy assisting customers during this period,” Air Canada said.
Hundal works as a teacher in Singapore, and it was imperative that she and her son make it back home by January 4. After trying with no success to change her Air Canada flight, she ended up purchasing new tickets for a Turkish Airlines direct flight on January 29 at $5,550 apiece.
She said she’s lucky she made it home but wonders what someone might do if they didn’t have a high enough credit limit. She also banked on her travel insurance covering the disruption, but that hasn’t been the case.
The only money she’s received back so far is a $2,000 voucher from Air Canada for her original Vancouver to Singapore ticket that she didn’t use — and only after emailing a director-level staff member at Air Canada directly.
If she’d been able to get through to Air Canada, the cost of rescheduling her flight would have been much cheaper than getting a new one. On the first day she checked, there were business class seats available on her desired December 29 Air Canada flight for $1,750 additional per person.
“If your systems didn’t fail I could have called your call centre and made payment,” Hundal said. “Because for three days, 24th, 25th, 26th, [I couldn’t get through]. Someone wants to make payment for a fare difference, shouldn’t something be done?”
In all, Hundal is out an unplanned $21,000 from the trip because of the new fare she paid to return to Singapore, plus the $6,100 for two new tickets from New Orleans to Vancouver, plus extra nights of accommodation.
“Nothing that would justify” Air Canada ghosting customer: Air passenger right activist
To air passenger rights activist Gábor Lukács, Air Canada not answering the phone is unacceptable — and he believes the airline may be liable for additional damages.
“The right to change a ticket cannot be illusory. And that’s what they are trying to turn it into,” he told Daily Hive.
Rule 85 of Air Canada’s international tariff, the contract between customer and carrier, says the airline will change the flight at the passenger’s request subject to the payment of applicable fees.
“So if she’s willing and available to pay the fare difference, there’s nothing that would justify Air Canada not fulfilling their end of the bargain,” Lukács said. “If they contractually agree to allow changes they cannot just say, ‘Yes, you can make a change but sorry, our phones are off. Tough luck.”
Of course, Air Canada won’t pay anything additional of its own volition. Lukács said Hundal will likely need to sue the airline to see any additional payout — and they could be sued in Canada or Singapore, where the contract was created.
“It’s really an enforcement problem,” Lukács said. “There are no meaningful consequences for airlines that engage in this type of behaviour.”