Friday, June 30, 2006

Air Canada doesn't give a damn - I, too, will fly WestJet.

Lately, the shared animosity between Air Canada and myself has finally come to a head. I say 'shared' because as of a few years ago, I think Air Canada set out to intentionally start to piss me off, and hasn't let up since. At first it was small things, but the cumulative experience of Air Canada treating me as a sucker has finally gotten to me.

And it's not just me. The very level-headed Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson has written an article entitled 'Air Canada doesn't give a damn. I'll fly WestJet'. In the interest of fairness, Montie Brewer the CEO of Air Canada wrote a response, entitled 'Air Canada does give a damn' but, of course he would.

(Note, if you're not a Globe and Mail subscriber - use this link to Google News to view the articles)

A little bit of background is in order. Before very recently taking a new job, I used to travel most of the time for work. I've visited more than a dozen countries and at least twice as many US states while traveling for the company. I know more than any sane man should about airlines, airports, and hotels. Walter Kirn's novel 'Up in the Air' reads more like a biography than a novel to me.

Now, Air Canada is no better and no worse than most North American airlines when it comes to general customer service/delays etc. However, given that I have accumulated in the multiple hundreds of thousands of Aeroplan miles over the years - their active distaste for customer loyalty and service is appalling. Every Canadian has experienced the wrath of their old and bitter, seniority-entrenched workforce. In five years, I have only once experienced truly excellent service from them, and unfortunately that's balanced against dozens of negative experiences.

Lately trying to use Aeroplan points has become a Kafka-esque exercise in frustration. Trying to use points at the cheapest level becomes a 3 or 4 layover sojourn across the country which surely uses more fuel than actual face value of the ticket, but is designed to make you give up and spend more points to only have to stop over once or twice (for a destination that is served by 4+ direct flights/day). For my last flight I used points to fly Executive class, and even then I had a layover in both directions.

My biggest complaint is 'upgrade certificates'. Air Canada sent me a thick stack of these for 'making status', then promptly told me to go f*** myself anytime I tried to actually use one. Seems my company has a policy of always flying on the cheapest flight, and these are ineligible for using certificates. Helpfully, the last time I tried to use one, the agent also told me that those cheaper flights (you may know them as 'Tango') don't even collect Aeroplan points, nor can you get food on the plane. So it turns out that this new policy pretty much means that I won't make 'status' next year because of this. So despite my very prolific flying with them over more than half a decade, Air Canada now feels I'm not good enough to garner any return incentive without paying at least double for my flights. Even colleagues at 'Elite' levels still have the same issue.

However, the last straw came this morning. I had booked a flight to Vancouver, and the Air Canada website popped up 'for an extra $30 you can upgrade to Tango Plus' which includes such benefits as 'upgrade to Executive Class with certificate'. Fantastic, I thought - I've got a book full of the damned things, I'll pay the extra money and finally get a chance to use one of them.

I called Air Canada, and guess what - I can't use my certificates.

You need to use Special System Wide Upgrade Certificates, the agent said. No problem - I've got some of those. No, you've got System Wide Upgrade Certificates - you need a Special System Wide Upgrade Certificate. Well, pardon me for confusing the two. Your website should've made clear that I need to use the aeronautical equivalent of Willy Wonka's golden ticket, instead of just saying 'you can use upgrade certificates' when you got me to shell out that extra money.

There is a word for that tactic - it's called 'bait and switch'. Enjoy that extra $30 bucks, you cheap bastards, because it will be your last. I'll be flying to Europe a few times on my points (it's hard to make you do multiple layovers over the Atlantic), then we're through.

WestJet - you've gained a new customer.


Jason Prini said...

When Magda and I flew back from Europe a few years ago, we were on a half full airplane, and our seat's headphone jacks were broken. We asked to be moved to other seats so we could watch the movies on the 9 hour flight. We were refused.

I will never fly Air Canada again.

Anonymous said...

Having gained Elite status on Air Canada for five years running, I made a conscious decision to never pay for another flight on AC if I could help it. It's now been six months since I've payed anything but the fees on running off my Aeroplan points for free flights.

Mark said...

Well, this is just the last straw - if I was to write about every incident leading up to this, I would have a small novel.

Danny, what made you finally decide to quit the bad habit that is Air Canada?

Anonymous said...

You're gonna love this:

Anonymous said...

In May of 2005, Air Canada made up a lie to protect their image and their employeee, a flight attendant, who was so rude I couldn't believe my ears when he blasted a colleague I was travelling with on a flight from Kamloops to Vancouver because he had brought a can of beer on board and was drinking from it. We were both in a good mood, but totally sober, and settling in for the short flight while discussing the conference we had just been to. My buddy offered me a can of beer which I gratefully accepted. There was no one else in the row of seats besides my friend and I so we unfortunately had no other witnesses to what was about to happen.

The lone male attendant on this small plane noticed my friend drinking the beer and proceded to humiliate and brow beat him for daring to consume his beer. "Don't you know you're breaking the law?" he barked. My colleague did not protest; he simply gave the attendant the beer.

When the attendant returned to our row of seats after disposing my buddy's can, I gave the attendant mine (which he had not noticed, his back having been turned towards me). Instead of thanking me for my cooperation, the attendant admonished me! Now it was my turn to get lectured about "breaking the law" drinking the beer, etc. I mean this guy spoke like a drill sargeant, not an employee to a customer. I told the jerk I was going to report him for his unprofessional conduct, taking down his name. Well that was my big mistake! I thought I was doing my duty as a passenger reporting a rude and very aggressive employee (who could easily have caused this to escalate into something worse had I not been compliant).

Realizing he was now in trouble, he informs the pilot he has an "unruly" passenger on this flight (me) to cover his butt. Note that neither I nor my colleague never once raised our voices even. We followed all the attendant's directives. I was fully cooperative.

What happened next? Yes, you guessed it.... I was greeted by a team of RCMP when I deplaned in Vancouver 20 minutes later and interrogated right there on the tarmac. Unfortunately my buddy who passed me the beer had already entered the airport and was out of sight. I remained cool and cooperative with the RCMP. The officer who heard me out then went to speak with Air Canada staff and returned to tell me he had a different version of the events. At this point one rookie cop accused me of lying, and so it went for at least 20 minutes. It was unbelievable. I was treated like a criminal. I was not charged with anything, but told that I was fortunate Air Canada was not going to put me on a "no fly list."

When I wrote to make my complaint (which now had been escalated by the attendant's false report to the pilot who contacted ground crew who contacted the RCMP) to CEO Montey Brewer at Air Canada, he simply referred my letter without replying to Air Canada's so-called Customer Advocay Department. What a farce! Bev Johnson with "Customer Advocacy" bought the attendant's fabrication that I had insisted on drinking beer on board this flight and was persisting to have more which justified their action! They claimed they investigated the affair but I was not even contacted by Air Canada about the event, not by phone or in writing! Of course I replied to het, but nothing futher was done, no apology, no compensation, nothing....

I consulted a lawyer, but unless you can outlast this mega corporation financially, it's senseless to pursue them for tort in court. They will just drag it out and use all the money they need to screw anyone who attempts to seek justice.

Obviously I will never fly this airline if I have a choice. I welcome stories of others about any negative encouters they have had with this airline and encourage them to go public. I think our only recourse to get anything that resembles justice is to expose how they treat their customers and how they will stop at nothing to maintain their position. I would urge folks not to fly with Air Canada.

Until it happens to you, you just can't believe to what extent they will go to to make up lies to cover their gross unprofessional conduct. You can't believe their total disdain for their customers and their frightening power in the post 9-11, up-tight, security world.


Anonymous said...

I have recently had problems with Air Canada switching my flight from a direct Vancouver-Montreal to one with a connection in Toronto. I checked carefully & found no mention of this until my check in.

Just recently I booked a flight from Kelowna to Toronto with an arrival time of 5pm. They just switched it on me to an arrival time of 10pm. Now they want an extra $100 if I want to make my 5pm arrival time on a non-direct flight!

I will not be flying Air Canada again either

Anonymous said...

I was physically assaulted by Air Canada staff when trying to check-in with my wife on our honeymoon last year. The first flight was to be a quick jump to Toronto from Ottawa with a required 30min check-in interval. We arrived 60min early and the line was about 15min long. AC pulled people from behind us in line to take to the front but we were still 35min before the flight when we reached the counter. They refused to take our bags and grabbed me by the shoulders dragging me out of the check-out area. We ended up taking Air Transat direct to Europe from Ottawa and the staff on that airline treated us with smiles and respect. We will never spend money on Air Canada again.

Anonymous said...

My fiancé and I booked our honeymoon to Antigua 4 months in advance, with Air Canada Vacations through Aeroplan, in order to take advantage of their book early deals and make sure we got the flight and hotel room we wanted.

Just 3 weeks ago (our wedding is July 18) they told us "sorry but your flight has been cancelled you can go in September or go somewhere else and pay more money to us" We booked somewhere else, obviously, only to find out that we could of booked Antigua but on the following Saturday. We called ACV to change and they told me that I would now have to pay the 50% cancellation fee??? I was able to convince them that this was not our fault but theirs and they agreed to change but we had to pay more money again.

How is it that if I cancel I have to pay 50% penalty but if they do then I have to pay again? This is the best case company for the worst customer service ever awards.

After our honeymoon we will be using Westjet from here on in and my fiancé and I will be handing them our points cards and elite memberships and telling them where they can stick them.

Anonymous said...

Air Canada denied us access to wheel chair assistance, we specifically booked it. I eventually found airport staff to help us get a cart lift to the next gate. I am legally disabled and can't walk the distance.

Will never fly aircanada again.