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Air Canada – Why do we let our country’s name go on such a poor airline?

Warning – rant enclosed!
I just got back from a family vacation in San Diego. We spent a week going to the Zoo, Lego Land, Disneyland and Sea World. The experience was full of fun and we made a lot of great memories. This blog is about the trip there, and how our national airline treated us as customers. First, the facts:

  • The initial plan was to fly from Saskatoon to Vancouver, then clear customs and fly to San Diego.
  • In Saskatoon, the jet arrived at the gate at 7:20 am, 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 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.
  • When I got back, I decided to send a complaint. After I typed in the feedback on their website, I hit send. Guess what? I received a “Sorry, we couldn’t complete your request” response. I then retyped it (saving it in Word) and resent it. After the third try, it finally got through. The automated email reply said they would get back to me within 10 business days.

Me with a couple of friends I made on vacation.

In my complaint I asked for 3 things:

  • 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 in the future.
  • An acknowledgment that giving a customer the choice between the wrong city and wrong date is unacceptable customer service.
  • If they wished, they could explain why I should consider booking flights with Air Canada in the future.

I think that the root cause of this mess is Air Canada’s strategy of cutting costs at the peril of customer satisfaction. The jet was in the hangar. The only reason for not getting it to the gate on time is not enough bodies or time to get the jet ready for it’s first flight of the day.  When WestJet has run into problems, they book customers on competitors’ flights to get them where they are going.  This seems to be verboten at Air Canada. When I suggested that to the customer service agent, he looked at me like I was speaking a different language.
All of my hard feelings could have been averted with a simple acknowledgment of the trouble they caused. So far, no apology has been offered.
After this and other experiences with this airline, I infer that their company motto is “Nothing, not even common sense, will keep us from implementing cost cutting.” Compare that to WestJet’s apparent motto of “We will compete on price, but we’ll get you where you are going.” Or “We act like you have a choice in airlines.”
To be fair to Air Canada, they have not responded to my complaint. When they do, I’ll share it on this blog. My prediction is they will send me a $70 travel voucher along with a paragraph or two to explain their commitment to…blah blah blah. If that is the case I will send the voucher to the first person to send me a self-addressed, stamped envelope to our mail address.
Misery loves company. If you would like to share your airline horror stories in the comments, I’d like to read them. In the mean time, WestJet, please expand your route schedule so I don’t have to deal with these clowns anymore.

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