An Open Letter to Calin Rovinescu, CEO of Air Canada
Greetings. My trip — – June 26 to July 14, 2017 — from Medellin where I live to visit my 83-year old mother in Canada was one from hell.
First of all, there was a delay from Bogota to Toronto of six hours – which turned into nine. I asked for a complimentary pass to the lounge. Since I’m a writer, I need space to work and an area where I can concentrate.
The woman I was talking with couldn’t make a call, so she asked her supervisor who couldn’t do it either. The Air Canada staff in Colombia seem to have the collective decision-making power of an ameba.
Giving me a pass to the lounge would have cost Air Canada a bit of food and drink, but I would have been a happy flyer. Instead I was given a voucher for 25,000 – about $12 CAD – for lunch. There is no way you are going to get fat on that at airport restaurants.
Vouchers for dinner were not available. Instead they showed up with junk food that I would never normally eat. It tasted about the same going down as it did coming up.
On the return flight, I ended up with a window seat. I always want aisle seats and had done so when I booked the ticket on January 24th, 2017. The ticket was changed three times. More annoyance.
It was a full flight so I ended up stuck with the window. Consequently, I went 33 hours with no sleep. It took me about three days to recover when I got back to Medellin.
I contacted customer service a number of times. Eventually, they sent me a code to claim a discount. The offer of a 15 percent discount on my next flight simply doesn’t cover the problems I encountered with Air Canada.
I originally wrote this letter to Michael Stein from customer service, but it was merely a no-reply email address with the discount code.
When I called again and all the agent could advise was that I contact customer services, I decided that it was time to by-pass them and go directly to the top. Since customer service couldn’t give me anything more than a no-response option, I decided to turn this into an open letter.
I think a reasonable reimbursement would be a return ticket from Medellin to Saskatoon, a complimentary upgrade to business class or 25 lounge vouchers.
Cut and copied below is an article I wrote for The Travel Itch about my experience with Air Canada in 2012.
Thank-you for your attention to this matter and I look forward to hearing from you.
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Stuck with Air Canada:
62 Hours from BOG to YXE
By Jody Hanson
If you are on the Air Canada flight to Toronto, come with me. Tim Bridges, a passenger, took it upon himself to go through the airport and muster the passengers of the cancelled flight 963 from Bogota to Toronto.
The benign chaos reminded me of living in Nigeria. The first indication of a flight being delayed or cancelled was the airline staff quietly going into hiding, as nobody wanted to cop the flack. But this was Colombia and if it hadn’t been for Tim taking charge, people may well have been stuck in the airport overnight, afraid to leave in case the flight was finally called. The frustration was that there were no Air Canada representatives to be found, no announcements and no attempt to locate the stranded.
To backtrack, when I left the hotel at 10:30 a.m. there was no message from Orbitz – an online booking site that sends messages – of a delay. When I checked in at the airport half an hour later, however, an agent at Air Canada announced that the 14:00 flight had been postponed until 17:30 and handed me a lunch voucher. I wished she hadn’t.
The Presto restaurant is best described as disgusting, and about the only thing on offer is hamburgers. I was hungry, so I ate one. Bad decision. Almost as soon as the somewhat-off grease hit my stomach it made an upward rebound. And when food tastes the same coming up as it does going down you know it is truly revolting. It wasn’t that there was a shortage of restaurants at the airport; the issue was that Air Canada opted for the most el cheapo one available.
When I got to the Star Alliance lounge and checked my email I found six messages from Orbitz, each stating that the flight had been further postponed. The final projection was for 22:13, a mere eight hour and 13 minute delay. Still contact of any kind from representatives of Air Canada.
I used Skype and talked with Linda at the Air Canada help desk in Toronto. She informed me that the airline was awaiting inbound equipment. Neither of us could figure out what that meant. I inquired about the flight at the lounge desk and the staff replied there was no word from Air Canada and they weren’t answering their phone. Eventually I went to the desk with the “flight cancelled” message on the laptop screen. Shortly after, Oscar – finally an Air Canada representative who was helpful – appeared and we were taken to the Holiday Inn at about 20:00, six hours after the flight should have left.
Nothing makes people bond faster than a common unpleasant experience. Rumours about what had happened abounded. The leading contender was that the flight had left for Bogota, but a passenger had gone ballistic so the plane had returned to Toronto. The runner-up was that it was mechanical problems, and trailing in third place was that there had been a storm. The mute representatives from Air Canada would not offer an explanation. Did they know or does Air Canada management regard reasons for delays as corporate secrets?
Landed with a couple of hundred – or so it seemed – unexpected guests, the staff at the Holiday Inn were overwhelmed and kicked into a go-slow mode. After procuring a room and having a fast shower to wash away the grime of the airport, there was only one sane and reasonable thing to do: Go to the bar and drink Scotch.
Our flight was rescheduled for the following afternoon at 14:00, 24-hours after we were to have departed. The line-up was ridiculous and the check-in speed next door to dead stop. The bumped passengers and the ones booked on the flight for the day milled around. Boarding cards were replaced and we eventually ended up in the waiting area, hoping the plane would actually leave.
And we all had a story. Danielle Gutstein reported that the night before she had been told to wait here for food vouchers for dinner. Then the representative from Air Canada disappeared and didn’t return for three hours. And when she was spotted – given away by her uniform – she made a studious attempt to avoid the passengers clamoring for her attention. Another passenger and her fiancé had come in from Lima to catch a connecting flight and never wanted to stop in Colombia, as they had heard it was too dangerous. They ended up with an extra passport stamp they hadn’t counted on.
The scheduled-for 14:00 plane didn’t leave Bogota until 15:10. Even though my math skills are questionable, it didn’t take rocket science to figure out that with an hour and a half to make my connection to Saskatoon, it wasn’t going to happen. Consequently, I had to spend a night in Toronto. And totally reprehensible was the Air Canada selected hotel didn’t even have a bar for some soothing Scotch.
The Air Canada representative in Toronto booked me on the 16:10 flight to Saskatoon. The next morning I checked online and discovered I could have been on the 11:00 or the 13:00. However, by the time I got through to a representative – it took 27 minutes – it was dodgy to make the 11:00. And I would be wait-listed on the 13:00 with no guarantee I wouldn’t get to spend an additional three fun-filled hours at the Lester B. International. Pass and opt for a late check-out.
When I finally emerged from the plane in Saskatoon I’d chalked up 62 hours from the time I’d arrived at the airport in Bogota. It was difficult, but I managed to restrain myself and not kiss the ground like John Paul II.
About the only good thing I have to say about the trip is that at least my bags arrived, although both of them were damaged. As an aside, I’ve quit counting the number of times Air Canada has lost my luggage.
Given my consistently annoying experiences with the airline, the obvious solution is to avoid Air Canada. Alas, when you live overseas, book your tickets online and have to get to central Canada to visit your ageing parents it isn’t much of a travel option as the train takes too long.
So let’s just hope that passengers like Tim Bridges continue to do Air Canada’s job.
Jody Hanson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel junkie currently living in Buenos Aires. She has visited 98 countries, lived in eight and holds passports for three.