MIAMI – In this period of COVID-19-chaos, almost all airlines have waived fees for cancelation or change of reservation. This move was to encourage people around the world to book tickets without worrying too much about how the situation would evolve later.
The more respected the airline, the more confident its passengers. However, even a name such as Air Canada (AC) proved just how slippery the outcome of these procedures can be in this chaotic time. What follows is the report of how not to handle reservations and customer relations.
The story begins when my family decided to spend the summer 2020 holidays in Hawaii. That was on March 4, just a few days before the pandemic erupted in Europe and spread wild across other continents.
A Revised Itinerary
On that day, I made a reservation for two adults and a child from my hometown Milan to Los Angeles and back via Toronto on AC. Days of travel were scheduled on July 23 and August 11, respectively.
It was a long but rather convenient trip given the discounted Premium Economy fare we found on the airline’s website and the single stop in Toronto. This was an itinerary that I had already traveled twice in the last three years, happy with the comfort onboard AC’s aircraft and the punctuality of its flights.
Six weeks later and with a full-on worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, on April 16, I received an email communicating a “revised itinerary” that put the three of us on a flight from Munich (MUC) to LAX via Toronto on July 23 and then on a LAX-YYZ-MUC flight on August 11.
Given the fact that I live in Milan and I had made a reservation from there, I called the AC customer service in Italy. The airline replied it was sorry and that the system had automatically changed the itinerary after the MXP-YYZ and YYZ-MXP non-stop flights had been canceled.
A Change in Aircraft
The three of us now had to fly from Milan to Rome on the morning of July 23, and then to Toronto and Los Angeles. – two stops instead of one. Looking at this new itinerary, I decided to select the Premium Economy cabin seat. AC had scheduled the service from Rome on a Boeing 777-300 instead of the 787-8 from Milan.
OK? Not exactly. Being an aviation writer and enthusiast and seeing how disruptions were changing the schedules of many airlines, on June 4, I visited AC’s website to discover that the Boeing 777-300ER initially planned for the FCO-YYZ flight had been changed with a much smaller Boeing 787-8.
So I wrote again to the airline’s Italian customer service asking how we were seated on the new aircraft (a thing that I consider important, given the COVID situation). After the automatic reply, “We will contact you ASAP,” I never received an answer in my inbox.
The Surprise Voucher
The last chapter of this unfortunate story happened on June 24. Knowing that the Governor of Hawaii had prolonged the quarantine for incoming visitors to the islands until at least July 31, my family and I decided to change our Summer holiday plans entirely.
I called AC’s Italian customer service again to inform them that we were no longer traveling on July 23/August 11 and to ask for a voucher corresponding to what we had paid for the flights. The sooner, the better, also for the airline and its plans, I thought.
To my great surprise, before I even asked for something, the agent asked me if and when I was going to use my voucher. – Which voucher? I replied. – The one we issued on June 19, the customer service agent said.
I told him that I had not canceled the itinerary yet, that I had requested no voucher, and worse, that I had received no communication in any form saying that my reservation had been canceled and that a voucher had been issued.
What If I Had Not Called?
What if I had decided not to go to Hawaii but instead take my family holidays in California or the western US and not called to cancel the flight?
If that had happened, my wife, my son, and I would have arrived at Milan Linate Airport (LIN) on June 23 with our luggage only to discover that there were no seats on the plane for us and that our holidays were ruined.
To make matters worse, on July 23, some of the hotel reservations that I had made would have passed the free cancelation date, which would have caused us a loss of several hundred euros.
As you have probably guessed, I sent this story to AC’s customer relations, including director Michael Tremblay. And guess what? I am still waiting for their explanations and excuses.
Article by Matteo Legnani
Featured image: Air Canada Boeing 777-300. Photo: Stephen Mason.