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Air Canada Part 2: Customer Service on $200 Per Year

On my earlier rant, I described how Air Canada made me choose between the right airport, wrong date and wrong airport, right date. I sent an email to their website to complain about how they handled the situation. Here is the email:

From: Sean McAlpine
Sent: 24/01/2011 11:52 AM
Subject : Is San Diego the same as Los Angeles?
Message : We booked the flight to get to San Diego.
In Saskatoon, the jet arrived at the gate at 7:20, instead of boarding at 6:35 am. After boarding, the pilot announced an engine valve problem and he was attempting to fix this by revving the engine. Once this was successful, he announced that we used too much fuel and had to refuel. Once we refueled, we took off at 9:00 am, 2 hours behind schedule.
Once in the air, I asked the flight attendant about our options as we would now miss our connecting flight (AC 580, 8:40 am) out of Vancouver. She contacted customer service in Vancouver, and told us we would have a rep waiting for us.
In Vancouver, the customer service rep handed us tickets to Los Angeles and told us to go on the Internet to book a shuttle to San Diego. He told us that our only alternative was to wait until the next day to fly to San Diego. We had under an hour to get through customs and get to the gate so we took the tickets. Once in Los Angeles, we contacted Air Canada customer service. They arranged a shuttle to the San Diego Airport. I ended up paying the shuttle driver $70 to take us directly to our hotel.
Does giving customers a choice between the wrong city and wrong date amount to acceptable customer service? I think it is a failure of service.
To be clear, the crew of the original flight did everything right. They kept safety as their top priority, got the ball rolling on alternative arrangements and were apologetic about the delay.
The problems I have are in the readiness of the jet and the Vancouver customer service. The jet was 45 minutes late to the gate. This is understandable for an incoming flight but the jet was in the hangar. The engine valve was said to be weather-related but it was -20 C with no snow. If these conditions prevent on-time departures, you shouldn’t operate in the Prairies. Secondly, the customer service agent handed the tickets to Los Angeles and told us to book our own shuttle to San Diego. He showed me his Iphone and said that he couldn’t connect to the shuttle service. I think he wanted to show me that he tried to help. Once I accepted this very time-sensitive alternative, he felt his job was done.
What I would like from Air Canada:
– Reimbursement of the extra $70 I paid to get to my hotel. A travel voucher is unacceptable, because that presumes that I will book with Air Canada.
– An acknowledgment that giving a customer the choice between the wrong city and wrong date is unacceptable customer service.
– If you want, explain why I should consider booking flights with Air Canada in the future.
Thank you,
Sean McAlpine

PS: This is the third time I tried to submit this feedback. A technical issue prevented transmission.

Pretty polite, wasn’t it? In the first blog post, I predicted a $70 travel voucher and some boilerplate niceties about how they value me as a customer. Here’s the reply:

Dear Mr. McAlpine,

Thank you for your e-mail.

We appreciate the time you have taken to contact us and are pleased to address your concerns. On behalf of Air Canada, I offer my sincere apologies for the inconvenience that you and your family experienced, with your delayed flight departing Saskatoon and subsequent missed connection in Vancouver.

While we make every effort to operate our flights as scheduled, regretfully, mechanical delays sometimes occur. In these circumstances, it is very important to ensure that the needs of all affected customers are being met. When handled with courtesy and professionalism, most passengers will accept the inconvenience and understand (as you do), that their safe travel must always be our first priority. Unfortunately, valves can get stuck for a variety of reasons. Moisture build up is common simply by airplane ascending and descending to different elevations.

We realize how important on-time departures are for our customers, and certainly regret the inconvenience you experienced as a result of this delay. As there are instances where avoiding a flight delay is impossible, times shown on tickets are not guaranteed, and do not form part of the contract for carriage on any airline.

You as a good question as many airports in different cites are considered the same airport. Los Angeles alone has four “sister city” airports. San Diego is considered a different city, therefore, we will refund your airfare between Los Angeles and San Diego, though the difference is not likely very much. Your tickets have been sent into Revenue Accounting for review, with any refund going back towards your original form of payment. This process may take a few weeks due to an unexpected backlog.

Unfortunately, we are not able to directly reimburse you the cost of your limousine, as you could have over-night in Vancouver and accepted a booking the next day. We would have provided a hotel due the missed connection being our fault. We regret if all options were not explained but it appears you had to decide quickly, or risk missing the flight to Los Angeles.

As a gesture of goodwill, we are pleased to provide your family with an electronic travel voucher in the amount of $200.00CAD. This transferable voucher may be used toward the base fare when you purchase an Air Canada ticket for travel on Air Canada and is valid until one year from today. This means that it must be applied to new tickets purchased within that time frame, however, travel does not have to commence within the year. Your voucher number is: xxxxxxxxxxxxx.

If booking through our Call Centre, simply provide the number shown above to the agent at the time of booking.

If booking on our website or through a travel agent, please wait until travel has been completed to submit your online request for deferred credit to the original form of payment. Simply visit the EMCO/Travel Voucher Request form at the link below to redeem your travel voucher.

http://www.aircanada.com/en/customercare/emco/index.html

Your travel voucher is fully transferable to the customer of your choice when using the EMCO/Travel Voucher Request form. Please ensure you indicate you are using your voucher as credit towards the purchase of a ticket for another passenger where asked on the online form.

Thank you for choosing Air Canada. We look forward to the opportunity of welcoming you and your family on-board in the future, we trust under more pleasant conditions.

Sincerely,
Jeremy

Once we got to California, my daughter and I were happy to find more reliable transportation.

So it looks like they have exceeded my (low) expectations. Instead of a $70 voucher they offered a $200 voucher plus the difference in the cost of the flights. It looks like Jeremy actually read the email and wrote a response to it. In fact, I feel bad for Jeremy if responding to these types of complaints is his job. The trouble with the response is the same as my whole experience with them: their primary mission is cost control. Jeremy probably did everything in his power to make this right. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he has much power.

My advice to Air Canada: Cost cutting is fine, but not if it affects reliability. If I’m right, Air Canada has cut back on hangar and maintenance hours to reduce labour costs. The valve issue was worsened because the jet was late to the gate. I’m sure that a two-hour delay on my flight cascaded into more delays all day for anybody flying on that jet. Who knows how many other $200 vouchers Jeremy had to issue because of this?
Finally, I have to rescind my offer to give the voucher away. My wife has already promised it to somebody else. Hopefully they will have better luck.

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