Thursday, September 25, 2014

Air Canada Grievance: Results Still Up in the Air

I think a lot of people are aware of my Air Canada gripes as of late.  It's a long story that I haven't really felt like talking about, so I decided to just post it on my blog.  Here is my original message I sent on September 3rd, which shall now become an open letter to Air Canada:

On August 16th, my husband and I had such a string of horrible experiences with our return Air Canada flight that I’m not even sure where to begin.  We flew from Windsor to Toronto (7748) and then Toronto to Hong Kong (015).  This was my first time flying with Air Canada and to say I’m not impressed would be putting it lightly. 

First, you will note that we already have a 20% discount credit on our file because shortly after our flight was booked, the price dropped significantly (over $1000 CDN per person) and we were refused compensation, as per standard practice.  That discount was offered as a gesture of goodwill and we appreciate it. 

Shortly before our July 10th flight, we decided to use the online booking management tool to book ourselves into the Maple Leaf Lounge during our long layover in Vancouver.  Somehow, that booking ended up on our return flight in Toronto, where we only had a 2.5 hour layover and would have no use for the lounge.  No one in Hong Kong could help me so I contacted the booking office in Canada.  I spent nearly an hour total on the phone (long distance from Hong Kong) before being told I’d have to ask in Vancouver but it shouldn’t be a problem to make the switch.  Upon arrival in Vancouver, we were ushered from person to person before finally being brought to a courtesy phone to call the same number I’d already called from Hong Kong.  Nearly 4 hours after landing, we finally found ourselves in the Maple Leaf Lounge. 

Weeks later, we checked in at the Windsor airport for our return flight and were told we could not be provided with seat numbers for our pre-paid preferred exit row seats for the long haul and we would have to ask when we got to Toronto.  We always book exit row seats when we travel because my husband is 6’3’’ so he does not have enough room for his legs in a standard seat.  15+ hours is a long time to fly without adequate legroom.  Also, I suffer from claustrophobia and very strongly prefer to be near a window. 

When we approached the customer service booth in Toronto, we dealt with a very curt woman named Donna.  She informed us that we had cancelled our booking that morning in Windsor.  We insisted that we didn’t so she called someone to check.  While on the phone, she then told us that we’d cancelled our return flight on July 11th.  After another minute on the phone, she informed us that our seats had been cancelled on Air Canada’s end and it wasn’t our fault, but she still offered no apologies or viable solutions.  She said our seats had already been sold again and there was nothing she could do.  Donna then told us that our options were to take two standby seats (in the middle rows, where my husband simply won’t fit and I would have felt anxious) or stay overnight in Toronto (making me miss my first day back at work).  We asked about the flight leaving later that day and transferring through Vancouver but she refused to even look at that one for us.  We debated going the next day but she wouldn’t even put us up for the night in a Toronto hotel since technically, at this point, we were just flying on standby and Air Canada had no obligation to us.

I was feeling very frustrated and started crying (it is of note that the lady at the customer service counter beside us was also crying).  Donna simply looked at me and told me I was “clearly mentally unfit to fly” and that I should just stay in Toronto.  That was a highly inappropriate thing to say.  She then ushered us away from her desk by handing us the standby tickets and saying, “This is it.  These are your options. Deal with it.”

We proceeded to the gate with our seats in the standard middle rows, hoping someone there could figure out our problem.  When we arrived at the gate (less than 5 minutes later), we went to the desk and found there were new tickets issued for us with our original seats on them.  Our flight was then delayed nearly an hour as someone had already taken our “standby” baggage off the flight, as per Donna’s request, and it had to be put on again.  (And when we received our bags in Hong Kong, they all had standby tags on them.)  At this point, we chalked it all up to Donna’s incompetency.
As it turned out, our booking truly had been cancelled or severely tampered with.  I am a strict vegetarian and therefore booked the vegetarian meal on the flight.  All the other vegetarian passengers received their vegetarian meals prior to the regular food service.  When I asked about mine, they didn’t have me on record, I assume because of the “cancellation”.  Yet, all the way from Hong Kong to Windsor, I had been served my vegetarian meals with no problem and it is printed clearly on my itinerary.  The cabin crew was very kind and did their best to accommodate me, but this basically meant I spent 15+ hours subsisting on a carrot stick, a piece of broccoli, a few pieces of pepper and a bun for the first meal, nothing for the second meal, and a croissant and fruit cup for the last meal. 

We have received a refund for the Maple Leaf Lounge on July 11th, which is good because we were robbed of nearly half our time in there.  We also got a refund for our preferred seating on August 16th, as standby passengers don’t have to pay the extra fees.

We do, however, feel we deserve more, for the emotional turmoil this experience put us through, the delay because of the way in which our bags were handled, the lack of food on the plane, and the rude, unprofessional attitude of Donna.

We would appreciate at least an additional 20% added on to our current discount code, totaling 40%, and the deadline extended until January 2016, so we can visit our families again within a realistic timeframe.  Otherwise, we really can’t use the discount at all, as it currently expires in June 2015 and we won’t be able to take a trip home before this point.  We are young newlyweds working in Hong Kong, away from our families, and we are usually able to fly home once every 2 years to see our parents in Windsor because it is too expensive to go more often than that. This would allow us to go next summer or next Christmas and give Air Canada a second try.
After recieving nothing but an automated email message and 40 long distance minutes worth of an on hold recording stating something to the effect of, "Your call is important to us.  We are the number one airline in North America" (um, that's not saying much), I wrote this on their Facebook page:
I lodged a complaint (and it was a big one) on September 3rd and was told it would take 15 business days for a response. That turnaround in and of itself is not an appropriate response time when dealing with distressed customers, but based on my Air Canada experiences, I understand you likely have MANY complaints to deal with. I tried to be patient, but now those 15 business days have come and gone and I've heard no word from Air Canada. I just want to know when my email will be answered because the compensation I'm expecting from this has become a bit of a time-sensitive issue. I tried to call the only number listed on your website. After being on hold for over 40 minutes, long distance, I was informed that it was the wrong number to call for such matters. However, the man on the phone couldn't seem to give me any other number to call and said I'd have to email.
So, if I have this right, the only way to find out when my email will be answered is to email again with a new 15 day queue? First, this is just a blatently inefficient way to communicate and second, do you see the ridiculous paradox in communication this would create if people have to email a new message to see when their first one will be answered?
I'm hoping that whoever moderates the Facebook group can just kindly inbox me so I can give you my booking reference to enable a check of exactly when I should expect my response email. That's realy all I want. Well, that, and I'd like to somehow get back the 15 horrible hours I spent aboard my last Air Canada flight.

I got a very quick response from a social media liaison and my email was finally answered within a few hours.  The social media Air Canada people rock!  However, the email I recieved was an unhelpful cut-and-paste:

We value our customers and work to meet or exceed their expectations every day.  Our employees are expected to perform their duties in a courteous, friendly and efficient manner with a full appreciation of our customers’ needs.  Air Canada recognizes the value of customer satisfaction and we continually monitor and address the performance levels you should expect to receive from us.Your email is a clear indication of your disappointment and we apologize for the poor impression we have created.  Please be assured that although we have not addressed your concerns in detail, I am pleased to bring your valuable comments to the attention of our senior management team.

And then I recieved an additional 20% discount coupon for only one person (there are two of us involved in this mess) with an expiry date that makes it impossible for me to use it.  Last correspondence from me to them:

I appreciate you responding to my complaint, but, as I stated in my original message, I already have a 20% promo code from a previous incident.  Truthfully, based on my own horrible experiences and things I have read by other mistreated customers, I'm hesitant to travel with Air Canada once more in the next year, let alone twice.  Also, it is very expensive, even with the discount, and making two trips to Canada from Hong Kong (where I currently live) is not really possible within the next year.  Since I now have two 20% promotion codes that I can't use, would it be possible to combine them into one 40% promotion code instead?  This would afford my husband and I the opportunity to go home for Christmas for the first time in 6 years and that is a promotion code we could truly use.

I am now impatiently awaiting results.

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