air canada

I am beginning to hate airlines. Wait, that’s incorrect. I don’t hate airlines. I just don’t trust them anymore. I wish that I didn’t have to rely on them, but in this day and age I can’t ignore them. Sadly, as a Canadian, I don’t really have a lot of choice.

Why the rant?

Once again, my wife and I are sitting on tenterhooks, unsure if the Airline will come through and deliver on a service we have paid for – in full.

As a member of a blended family, with children living in different Canadian cities, we have relied on our national airline to bring our family together for Christmas, for summer holidays and for special occasions.  The money we have paid to our national carrier (and at times to the major Western competitor) has no doubt contributed greatly to both airlines’ bottom line.

And it seems that no matter how many ways we are disappointed by the pricing structure – the hidden fees and surcharges and taxes – the lack of flexible flights, the cramped seats, the yucky food, the aloof and sometimes rude customer service, the Airline always seems to find a way to fall short of my already jaded expectations.

Today our girls were to fly back home to Calgary…YOW to YYZ to YYC.  Each had a full fare ticket at a cost of almost $1000 each – booked and paid for in November 2012.

Last night, we checked in online, chose adjoining seats and the plan was to print boarding passes at the airport kiosk.   This morning we headed to the Ottawa Airport from Kingston – almost a good two-hour drive. We had a nice afternoon in Bytown and after a nice lunch at the Market, we were off to the airport. I found a great parking spot – bonus! – and we were off to the check in area. Luckily there were no issues with the queues, and all of us were in good spirits.

Then…the National Carrier’s “Hammer of Disappointment” hit us hard. The first leg from YOW to YYZ – no issues with that. But from YYZ to YYC…uh, umm…”Sorry ladies, I have to issue you standby passes and your seats will be confirmed half an hour before take-off.”

Excuse us…I thought I heard the Employee say that the seats would be confirmed half an hour before take-off?  Isn’t that when everyone is supposed to board? What if there are no seats?  What if they are stuck en-route?

After a number of questions – all answered with vagaries, round-about-isms, and veiled references to the Customer Contract (all paralysing 12 lengthy, font 8 paragraphs worth) – there were no satisfying answers. The Toronto-Calgary flight was overbooked. The girls now had standby tickets. There were two Calgary-bound flights from Toronto tonight…both fully sold out. If the girls did not make it out of Toronto tonight, they would get meal vouchers, hotel vouchers and taxi vouchers…and a night in Toronto alone.  The fact that one’s boyfriend had driven from Edmonton to Calgary to visit over the remaining Christmas Holidays, and that the other had work tomorrow are irrelevant.  Our National Airline would do the very, very best it could. They would probably be home by 4 January.

Dog poop.

I understand that the business case is to overbook…and to take chances.  But really, with this questionable actuarial bean-counter business practice (which I believe some are arguing could be fraudulent – see http://www.moneyville.ca/article/1227876–airlines-told-to-offer-full-refunds-when-flights-overbooked) who takes the chance…the Airline or the Customer? The Airline gets its money regardless. And as for the Customer, yes, it is in the fine print – caveat emptor – tickets are not a guarantee of service…

But…

angry flyerWhy do they surprise me (rather, shock me…) and let me think that I am on the flight when I book and pay for a ticket, when I check in online and when I head to the airport.  Why  should my first notice that I am being bent over, that I am not guaranteed a seat, be at the baggage drop off desk at the airport? They have my e-mail and phone number. Text me. Call me. Bad news does not get better with time. I would rather know early than when I am helpless and held hostage in a departure lounge.

Better yet, why doesn’t anyone who books a spot after the flight is fully sold be told that their ticket is a standby ticket.  Too much common sense I guess…could hurt the bottom line, I suppose.

And what about transparency? I am a person. I have feelings. I deserve the truth. Do not couch it in airline speak of “changing platforms”, “dead-head priorities”, “unexpected maintenance”, “missed connections”, “strong headwinds”, “unforeseen circumstances”. I can handle the truth.  And if the Customer Service Representative is entering information about my booking or possible connections, why can’t I see the computer monitor? Is it because it is simply useless clicking on the keyboard, or that I might make an informed decision, that I might notice some snarky amplifying commentary to enhance my flying experience – i.e. “seat this customer in a middle seat between the loud-talker and the arm-rest stealer, near the broken toilet, in the seat with the malfunctioning entertainment console or earphone jack, and make sure you tell him that there are no more meals available…”

I can forgive a lot of perceived transgressions if I am treated with honesty, dignity and respect. I know flights are overbooked. I bumpedknow that most times everybody gets on. I just want to know why our girls were bumped to standby when they had full-fare tickets and printed boarded passes. Did we buy the wrong ticket, were they too cheap, or have caveats that we missed? Did we check in too late to have a valid seat? (Doubtful as we checked in our luggage 2 hours before departure).  Are we the unlucky winners of a random selection? Do the seats we chose the night before not exist on the new aircraft? There has to be some logic – all I wanted to know is why.  The truth would allow me to understand that we were not feel unjustly treated. With the truth, while I may be upset, I wouldn’t feel insulted and belittled – like a child who is sent away because they cannot handle the truth.

The National Carrier does not have a monopoly…other carriers  can challenge on select routes. But as the National Carrier shouldn’t it be in the service of all its citizens – whether they are Super Elites or just plain Economy Classers. The Carrier should remember that it provides a service and in the end it is in the “People business”, not just the money business. No people, no business, no money.

It should remember that people not only use it to exercise their livelihood, but more importantly to be with family and to live life. They seem to regard us as Units – commodities to be moved from Point A to Point B, like cargo. They  have it wrong.

We are more than units. We are Fathers and Mothers, Uncles and Aunts, Sons and Daughters, Husbands and Wives. We are Significant Others and Partners and Friends. We have expectations, commitments and hopes…and in the blink of an eye, they can be dashed by poor weather, by a missing bolt, an overbooked flight.

True, the catalyst may be out of the airline’s control – volcanoes, storms, breakdowns and most despicably, “oversells” happen – but how the Airline responds and treats the People that are affected by the unforeseens should reflect the character of the national flag it represents.

And as it stands, I don’t think that our National Carrier is quite doing that, eh?

Angry_Beaver

Agree?

(Post-Script. The girls are now on a flight home, only six hours of angst and confusion. I do have an e-mail in to both the President and Senior VP Customer Service of our National Carrier, expressing my dismay. I will let you know how it goes…)

Later,

ASF

Advertisements