After months of emails, a Haida Gwaii couple is left wondering why passengers who were booked on the same cancelled Air Canada flight out of Sandspit are being offered different compensation.
On Jan. 31, Mike Racz and Shelley Sansome were scheduled to depart the Sandspit airport for Vancouver, a connecting flight on their way to their vacation destination of Japan.
While waiting at the airport, they started receiving emails from Air Canada, advising them that the scheduled departure time of 2:35 p.m. was changed to 3:30 p.m. due to “aircraft availability.”
As the afternoon progressed, they received four more emails advising them of further delays, all due to aircraft availability, until finally receiving an email at 5:10 p.m. advising them that the flight had been cancelled, this time due to “crew constraints.”
Racz told the Observer he and Sansome returned home stressed about missing their connecting flight to Japan, and immediately filed a claim under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations.
They were able to rebook a flight out of Sandspit the next day and salvage the remainder of their trip. However, they say they lost more than $1,900 all told, having to pay $1,200 to rebook their flight to Japan and taking a hit on $700 in missed hotel reservations, as well as $65 in show tickets they could not use.
Under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations that came into effect in December 2019, passengers are eligible for up to $1,000 in compensation for flight delays and cancellations within an airline’s control that are not safety-related.
When passengers are informed of a delay or cancellation 14 days or less before departure, the regulations set the amount payable by the carrier operating the disrupted flight to the passenger based on the length of the delay upon arrival at the passenger’s destination. For disruptions of nine hours or more, such as the one experienced by Racz and Sansome, large carriers are required to compensate passengers $1,000.
On Feb. 12, Racz and Sansome received an email from Air Canada denying their claim under the regulations, “because the delay was caused by an event outside of [Air Canada’s] control.” The email said the flight was delayed due to “customer processing issues,” a different reason than had been given in the email alerts on the day of the cancelled flight, and also cited the wrong flight date, so Sansome requested an appeal.
On March 15, the couple received another email from Air Canada denying their appeal, again stating the regulations only apply “for situations within [Air Canada’s] control.”
“The delayed impact of a flight may be from a previous scheduled flight. The airplane, flight attendants or pilots may be delayed on a multi-leg journey and these factors can be contributed to the subsequent onward impacted flight according to the regulations,” a customer relations representative said in the email. “We do our best to communicate with customers in the event of a delay or cancellation and provide regular status updates no less than every 30 minutes following the original scheduled departure time until a new takeoff time is confirmed or an alternate travel arrangement booked.
“Sometimes there is no one cause for a disruption, but multiple causes and different messages may be received. When considering the cause of the flight disruption, the primary cause, or most significant contributing factor, determines the obligation for compensation.”
Instead of $1,000, the airline offered a $200 e-coupon as well as a one-time travel discount of 25 per cent off the base fare of their next booking, valid for one year, “as a gesture of goodwill.”
Racz said they did not accept the e-coupon or discount and have filed a complaint with the Canada Transportation Agency, which advised them that all claims are suspended until June 30.
“One, they wrecked my holiday upfront … and then when I came home we had to deal with this,” Racz said of the airline. “We’re still dealing with it two months later.”
Further, he said at least one other passenger on the same cancelled flight out of Sandspit has received $1,000 in compensation from Air Canada.
Ben Davidson told the Observer he was scheduled to travel to Vancouver on Jan. 31, on the same flight as Racz and Sansome, for business meetings that he mostly missed as a result of the cancellation.
“I filled out [a claim] and I was initially denied,” Davidson said, adding that he also received an email from Air Canada on Feb. 12 citing customer processing issues. “They took no responsibility for the cancelling of the flight.”
However, Davidson happened to know and had been in contact with passengers — fellow residents of Haida Gwaii — who were sitting on the delayed plane in Vancouver leading up to his flight cancellation.
“I just responded to that email stating that I knew people on the flight from Vancouver that had to change planes, I think three times, so I just basically called their lie out that I know for a fact that it was issues with your planes.”
He didn’t hear anything for several weeks, then got an email saying his claim had been reviewed and he was being compensated $1,000 under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations. A few weeks after that, he received his cheque.
“I didn’t really believe it until I did receive a cheque for $1,000,” he said. “Hopefully everybody else gets it.”
Racz agreed that Air Canada should be consistent with compensation payments.
“Did they pay half of us and not half of us?” he asked, adding that he thinks there should be more oversight. “They should be handing us that $1,000 when we’re leaving the airport.”
“I had the money to cover the excess expenses, but a lot of people, they don’t have that money to change their ticket, to change their appointments,” he added.
“I feel for those people even more than me.”
Air Canada declined to respond to a media request asking why passengers who were supposed to be on the same cancelled flight have received different compensation.
“Our Customer Relations team will be reviewing this and will be in contact with the customer directly,” a media representative said via email.
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