Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Travel woes & why Air Canada SUCKS!

Before I get into my main topic, let me give a little bit of background:

I was scheduled to leave Narita Airport at 17:20 on December 22nd. Unfortunately, it started snowing on December 21st in/around Towada and didn't stop. So the local Towada-Misawa train that I planned to take wasn't running.

Canceled train #1. Taxi #1.

Luckily I arrived a good 20 minutes early for the expected train departure time, so when the station offered to send the people who needed to get to Misawa Station by taxi (at the same price as the regular train fare), I was there to take them up on the offer! I made it to Misawa Station in time to catch the train to Hachinohe, but the train wasn't running from Misawa Station because the snowfall had caused some tree branches or something to fall on the tracks. As a result, I had to take a taxi from Misawa Station to the Hachinohe JR Station. Unfortunately I was too shy to ask other people if they were interested in sharing a cab, so I ended up going by myself and paying for it--a little over 7000 yen, plus 200 yen for the toll road fee!

Canceled train #2. Taxi #2.

Thankfully I had no difficulty getting my Shinkansen and Narita Express tickets changed at Hachinohe Station. In fact, when I told them I'd had to take a taxi from Misawa, they refunded the train ticket from Misawa to Hachinohe (it was only 500 yen, but it was something, anyway)!

From there on it was smooth riding to Narita Airport. As it turned out, though, the flight was delayed five hours, so the one hour delay in getting to the airport ended up not making a difference at all.

Once I got to Vancouver, though, that was another story altogether. So the short version is that I bought a Tokyo-Toronto ticket with a stop in Vancouver. This usually means that you get off the plane so they can clean it and then get back on the plane with the same seat, etc. For some reason, though, they decided to boot all of the Toronto bound passengers off at Vancouver and stick us all on different flights on STANDBY. The staff at the domestic transfer gate were even confused as to why this had happened. In trying to figure out what was going on, one staff member even asked someone (presumably higher up in the Air Canada chain), "How can you justify NOT putting these people back on the plane when it's still there and going to Toronto?"

Unfortunately she didn't have the power to put us all back on the plane, so we all ended up going on standby at various times. Since there had been snowstorms across Canada in the preceeding days, several flights had been canceled before we arrived and HUNDREDS of people were on standby. I ended up spending an entire day/night in Vancouver airport and, as a result, ended up missing seeing Dirty Dancing (I was supposed to arrive on the night of the 22nd and then watch the show on the 23rd) with my brother.

And all because Air Canada decided to hijack our seats for some reason. See, I would've understood if I'd missed a connecting flight or if a connecting flight had been canceled, but it WASN'T a connection. I had a confirmed seat all the way from Tokyo to Toronto, so there's no reason why I (along with everyone else on that flight) should have been put on standby.

This is the complaint email I sent to Air Canada:
I am writing to file a complaint against the gross mismanagement of ticketing for flight AC002, which was scheduled to leave from Tokyo at 17:20, December 22nd and to arrive in Toronto at 18:25. Although the flight itinerary from booking confirmations as well as boarding passes were issued up to Toronto, when the flight stopped at Vancouver, instead of getting back onto flight AC2 or receiving a boarding pass for the next connecting flight, passengers Toronto-bound were put on STANDBY for various flights scheduled to leave several hours later.

As a result, I and at least thirty fellow AC002 passengers were forced to spend the entire day and night at the Vancouver airport, with no meal vouchers, hotel accommodations, or even explanations given. Thankfully, due to the much appreciated efforts of the Vancouver Air Canada staff, most of us, I believe, were able to catch flights to Toronto on December 23rd. While I was grateful to be home in time for Christmas Eve however, I was angry to have missed the Dirty Dancing musical that I was supposed to watch with my brother at 8pm on December 23rd.

I understand that the large snowfall combined with the Christmas season caused a lot of difficulties with the flight scheduling. However, this entire ordeal is inexcusable given that all of us had confirmed seat tickets to Toronto on a flight that—as far as we were informed—did go out Toronto. The reason most of us (AC002 passengers) were forced to spend the night at the airport is because passengers with confirmed seats are given priority, while passengers who had cancelled or missed flights went on standby. So why is it that all of the (confirmed seat) Toronto-bound AC002 passengers were not given priority for the flight for which we had paid? In essence, Air Canada hijacked our seats.

In the past year and a half, I have flown between Tokyo and Toronto on Air Canada three times prior to this incident. In fact, I have even recommended Air Canada to friends in Japan interested in visiting Canada and vice-versa. I believe that Air Canada owes the Toronto-bound passengers of the December 22nd AC002 flight a full explanation and apology, not to mention remuneration. (Given the situation, I believe that the AC002 passengers should have received meal vouchers and hotel accommodations at the very least.)

Until I receive what I feel is a satisfactory response to this complaint, I can only believe that this incident reflects Air Canada’s complete and utter disregard for customers and customer satisfaction. Moreover, I intend to dissuade friends in Canada and Japan from using Air Canada and will personally look into other airlines for the Toronto-Tokyo and other various flights I have planned for the future.

Thank you for your time, and I hope to receive a response to my complaint in the near future.

And this is the completely unsatisfactory reply I received from Air Canada:

Thank you for choosing Air Canada and for taking the time to write to us. We know that the holidays are a special time of year and that travel during this period carries special meaning as families and friends unite.

As you know, Mother Nature was not very cooperative this year and we experienced severe weather conditions all across Canada. While trying to transport more than 100,000 passengers each day, we did our best to operate as many flights as possible. Nevertheless, we recognize we disappointed many customers and, for that, we offer our sincere regret and our heartfelt apologies.

Customers have told us that we could have done much better in taking care of their needs while they were in our care. Our employees, both the frontline and behind the scenes, worked very hard but we certainly agree that we could and should have provided better customer service. We would like to let you know that we are reviewing the feedback received by our customers and employees to look for ways to improve our service when our operation is challenged.

Although we normally do not offer compensation or reimbursement of expenses for the situation you mentioned, as a gesture of goodwill and concern we are pleased to offer you a one time saving of 25% off of the base fare on a future booking on It is our hope that you will take advantage of this offer and fly with us again to one of our many worldwide destinations.

Simply make your booking between January 13, 2009 and January 12, 2010. All travel must be completed by January 12, 2010.

To receive your 25% discount, enter the one time use Promotion Code ******** in the Promotion Code box on when you make your booking. This offer is available on a new booking only and applies to a maximum of four passengers, provided all passengers are booked at the same time, for the same dates and destinations.

The 25% discount applies exclusively on Air Canada published fares and cannot be combined with any other discount or used for a Flight Passes or Multi-city purchase. Please note the fare displayed on the Select Flights screen will reflect the 25% discount rounded to the nearest dollar.

If you have any unused transportation on your Air Canada ticket, please contact our Refund Services Department with your ticket number or travel details at

Thank you again for contacting us and all the best for 2009!

Customer Relations

And the follow up message I sent:

Thank you for your response, but I would still like to know what exactly happened. I could understand if our flight had been canceled due to the weather, but that wasn't the case. I'm angry because, as far as I know, the plane that all of us were supposed to be on went to Toronto with other passengers in OUR SEATS. And I think I have a right to know WHY that happened and what action is being taken to prevent that from happening again.

So again, WHY did flight AC002 drop its passengers off in Vancouver and fly onto Toronto with others in our places?

(Note that it's considerably shorter and the tone is more irate.)

You know
, I'm usually a "whatever" and shrug it off kind of person, but I feel strongly enough about the injustice of what happened to all of us that I'm not going to let go of the issue until I receive what I feel is a satisfactory response to my complaint from Air Canada. If I don't get a satisfactory reply to my follow-up message, I'm going to file a complaint through the Canadian Transport Agency. If that fails, I'll look into taking legal action against Air Canada.

It's a matter of principle: I refuse to allow Air Canada to blame the weather for an act of mismanagement/incompetence.