Ejected from my seat on Air Canada

By | July 14th, 2016

One of the most common air travel complaints is being bumped from a flight before departure. But what if you’re already on the plane? That’s what happened to Gabriel Millan on an Air Canada flight.

Millan’s case and its “resolution” — if it can be called that — raise interesting questions about airline contracts and the different interpretations passengers and airlines give them, such as “minimum connection time” rules. In the event that connecting passengers are delayed on previous flights, these rules allow airlines to give their seats on subsequent flights to standby passengers.

Millan was flying from San Francisco to Chile with a layover in Toronto during the winter. His flight to Toronto was delayed by 22 minutes, but he arrived at the gate for his flight to Chile and boarded. While sitting in his seat, an Air Canada crew member told him that the seat had been given to a standby passenger because he was not expected to make the flight due to minimum connection time standards. Millan was ordered off the airplane by the crew member, who gave Millan a telephone number to call.

An Air Canada agent told Millan that he would be rebooked on the next flight to Chile, 24 hours later. By then it was 10:30 p.m. and Millan needed a hotel room for the night. The Air Canada agent told Millan that he would receive a hotel room — but none were available. The agent told Milan to go to the connections desk, where he would receive assistance, but by the time Millan arrived at the desk nobody was there to assist him.

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Millan called the number given to him by the crew member who removed him from the flight to Chile. The number turned out to be for Air Canada’s reservations line, and the agent who answered told Millan that although he could not get Millan a hotel room, Air Canada would reimburse Millan for the expenses he incurred during the layover. Millan had not packed for the colder climate and had to purchase new clothing.

After Millan submitted his receipts to Air Canada, he was told that Air Canada would only reimburse Millan $100 CAD and offer 25 percent off the cost of his next Air Canada flight as a “gesture of goodwill.”

Millan then tried contacting the Canadian Transportation Agency, which regulates air transportation in Canada, but was told that the agency could not help him.

Millan asked our advocacy team and our forum advocates for assistance in getting the promised reimbursement from Air Canada.

Our forum advocates recommended that Millan directly contact Air Canada’s executives using our company contacts. Unfortunately, Millan was told that the airline’s compensation decision was final.

It shouldn’t be.

Once Millan boarded the flight in Toronto, he was no longer subject to minimum connection time limitations. He should not have been required to yield his seat to a standby passenger.

Air Canada’s conditions of carriage indicate that

Where the Montreal Convention applies, the limits of liability are as follows:

For damage occasioned by delay to your journey, 4,694 Special Drawing Rights (approximately EUR 5,655; US $6,786) per passenger in most cases

And Air Canada’s involuntarily denied boarding policy holds that it will reimburse passengers traveling between Canada and any destination outside of North America who are involuntarily denied boarding up to $400 CAD for a delay of up to four hours and $800 CAD for any delay longer than four hours.

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So Air Canada should reimburse Millan the U.S. equivalent of $800 CAD according to this policy. Its offer of $100 CAD and a discount off a future flight, after removing Millan from a flight he’d already boarded and making a number of promises of assistance to him that it didn’t keep, is ridiculously low. And the chances of Millan ever again flying Air Canada, after being taken off a flight on which he was already seated and given a runaround by Air Canada’s agents, are remote at best.

Unfortunately, Millan has gone up the chain of executives at Air Canada, who aren’t budging. A forum advocate has suggested that Millan sue Air Canada to get his reimbursement. While that may be his best course of action, it will take his case out of our jurisdiction.

Should we take Gabriel Millan's case?

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  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    Throwing someone off a plane that has already boarded because they gave the seat to someone else? Then waste a day of his life hanging round an airport? This is exactly the sort of appalling case that you should be pursuing, and publicizing. Not all the “I bought a non refundable ticket and now want a refund” cases that keep popping up.

  • This is a bad one, and should definitely be pursued. Has this ever happened to a passenger before? The minimum connection time excuse is pure bovine excreta, because minimum connection time absolves an airline only if you didn’t make the connection. This looks to me more like, “A VIP really needed to be on this flight, so tag you’re it.”

    And do I get the impression that Air Canada is the Lufthansa of our continent: high operational standards, but poor customer service?

  • ctporter

    I have been taken off a plane after I had boarded BUT – the big difference in my case is that I was jumping to an earlier flight. Unfortunately the gate agent made a mistake in giving me the seat. There was a passenger that was booked for the seat I was in. I still had my seat on the next flight, I got home as originally planned without delays. I was not wronged in any manner. In this case, the traveller clearly was wronged and deserves much more than what they were given. Please advocate for this one.

  • The OP couldn’t have boarded without a valid boarding pass. They scan them electronically, right? That means that the pass hadn’t been canceled. If it hadn’t been canceled then Air Canada can’t claim they gave away his seat due to minimum connection times. They also would have already rebooked him on an alternate flight with hotel arrangements. They wouldn’t give him a number to call.
    There’s so many holes in Air Canada’s arguments. I’d also contact the DOT as the first flight originated in the states. The OP may be able to get relief that way.

  • vmacd

    Wow, and here I thought Canadians were supposed to be nice.

  • Michael__K

    You would think either the boarding pass wouldn’t scan, or they wouldn’t be able to take away his seat after it was scanned, but I’ve witnessed other boarding snafus which suggest to me that the systems airlines use don’t necessarily have all these checks.

    To the extent a US agency would have any jurisdiction it would be the DOT. Which has the authority to fine airlines for deceptive practices, but cannot adjudicate individual complaints or help passengers get compensation.

    The Canadian Transportation Agency does mediate or adjudicate certain kinds of complaints, including Denied Boarding. In this case, it appears the passenger met the airline’s gate arrival deadline, so I would think, per their posted criteria he should qualify. It would be helpful to understand WHY they told him otherwise.


  • sirwired

    That must have been one heck of a deal to decide to go through Canada to get from California to South America… When flying abroad, I’ve seen flights through AC that might save me a couple hundred, and I always turn them down.

    I agree that once you board the plane, any question over whether or not you showed up on time should become moot, and you should be due the same bumping compensation as anybody else.

    But, in any case, the DOT won’t help, since it’s not a flight to/from the US. If AC won’t budge, and the advocacy team can’t help, then Small Claims would seem to be the next logical step, but I don’t know if the mere fact that AC flies to SFO is enough to sue them over conduct in the US since it’s a foreign company, and the conduct in question had nothing to do with the US.

  • purplekat99

    I rarely vote yes for things here (most are total eye rolls of stupidity of the OP, in my opinion) but to be kicked off the plane for someone else when already seated?! NIGHTMARE! Just another reason why I will never fly Air Canada.

  • DChamp56

    San Francisco to Chile through Canada??? Seriously?

  • Lindabator

    actually just the opposite. perhaps they had called his name several times, he did not report to the desk, and they gave away his seat – can happen. I would like a bit more info here!

  • Jeff W.

    I can certainly understand if Air Canada did not expect him to make the connection. However, the time deny him boarding was when he tried to board. Not once he is seated. He made the connection — whether his checked luggage, if any, is a probably a different story.

    Air Canada low balled him. Advocate.

  • deemery

    I voted ‘yes’, this is truly appalling! It would probably cost him way too much money to get to Toronto to sue. I’m also very surprised Canadian Transport refused to help. Maybe he should contact the Canadian Embassy over that.

    I was considering a transatlantic flight using Air Canada, but now I’m strongly reconsidering that option.

  • Chris Johnson

    How obnoxious! I’d expect better from Air Canada, I never hear any complaints about them. Millan should also take his story to the press.

  • Actually he reported rushing to make the connection, getting on, and then being pulled off again. That’s what I have never heard happen before.

  • MarkKelling

    It’s not like he simply walked on the plane and took a seat. He had a boarding pass, it must have been scanned by the gate agent, he boarded. Besides, they should have known he was running late because it is the same airline for both segments.

    I am tending to agree with the other poster who stated if must have been some VIP that needed to be on the flight and so was assigned the seat even though the OP had boarded.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Wow! Air Canada should be ashamed of themselves. I’d love to see an executive of Air Canada respond in this forum to explain how this happened, how they lowballed this passenger the compensation due, and why anyone should choose their airline over Spirit, if their customer service is this bad.

  • If they let him on with an invalid boarding pass then that is a bigger issue. It means that there is a security hole the size of a crater. At that point Homeland security should be concerned about letting Air Canada flights into US airspace. Either he had a valid boarding pass and denied boarding or they have a security breach. Either way, Air Canada is clearly in the wrong on how this was handled.

  • Travelnut

    If a delay of only 22 minutes minutes caused the pax to miss the minimum connection time, it’s on Air Canada due to their booking too tight of an itinerary. (assuming he didn’t book thru an OTA) And for sure, the original passenger who had been scanned in and was already sitting in the seat would seem to trump a standby. Alan might have a point that he might have been bumped for someone with status. Advocate!


    It appears Air Canada cleared the standby list well in advance of what is normally done. The OP was checked in and had a boarding pass so the airline should have waited until most passengers had boarded before confirming people on the standby list. That seems to be usual procedure unless a plane is not fully booked. And a boarding pass that has already been changed or cancelled should not and usually will not scan for boarding. This is clearly a major error on the part of Air Canada and they owe this passenger more than they are offering.

  • MarkKelling

    What, exactly, is he asking for? It is not clear in the article.

    Is he asking for full reimbursement for the clothing he bought and other expenses for meals and lodging that occurred because he was held over a day? If so, maybe he needs to change his request and demand the denied boarding compensation due.

    There must be something else going on that has not been detailed in the article. I find it difficult to believe that due to a 22 minute flight delay he was suddenly in an impossible connection time as defined by the airline. Most flights I have been on in the past year were more late than that and I have never been denied my seat on the connection. Was this just the initial delay in departing SFO and the flight arrived much later than the 22 minutes it was delayed on takeoff? Many airlines appear to loose interest in getting a plane to its destination on time once it is late departing. That 22 minute late departure could have turned into an hour or more delay into Toronto and he really was too late to officially catch his flight out.

    But even so, he got on his connecting flight. This means his boarding pass was valid at the time he showed it to the gate agent. Could it be that his checked luggage would not make the flight and AC bumped him because of that? To me, that is the only reason possible to remove a person already in their seat on a plane.

  • James

    If the original flight was 22 minutes late, and that was enough to be in the “minimum connection time” window, then it sounds like it may actually have been among the faster connections. Time in the air vs time in the airport, bith are pretty bad,

    I’ve had a similarly bizarre connection, flying from Cairo to Nairobi. The fastest connection was Amsterdam.

  • Michael__K

    Passengers board all the time with boarding passes for the same seat as someone else. It’s annoying and inconvenient and avoidable but I don’t see the security issue. Everyone goes through security screening and shows ID and everyone has tickets and reservations in their name.

  • Michael__K

    We’ve seen other similar cases in the forums.

    If the Minimum Connection Time is 30 minutes and your scheduled layover is 35 minutes and your flight is 10 minutes late (which is not even considered “late” by DOT criteria) then you no longer have a “legal” connection and the airline reserves the right to give away your seat.

    And if the flight is oversold, carriers can take advantage of this to avoid IDB compensation even if the connecting passengers reach the gate in time.

  • Michael__K

    It appears Air Canada cleared the standby list well in advance of what is normally done.

    More likely, the flight was overbooked and the seat was re-assigned to a passenger who could not originally get a confirmed seat.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    It wouldn’t have to be truly “invalid.” I don’t know the specifics of how the airline systems work but I have seen cases many times before when the same codes could be in play in a computer system attached to multiple different users or accounts.

    Easy to imagine their system could have the same bar code for Seat XYZ on the flight no matter what. They decide to give the seat away and reprint the boarding pass for the new person but the only difference is the name on the pass with the bar code remaining unchanged. Thus the original boarding pass would scan just fine. The only way to catch it would have been manually comparing the name on the passes to what was the latest entered in the system.

  • MarkKelling

    The bar code is unique to each passenger. That’s why when TSA scans it, they get your name on their reader. So if two people get assigned the same seat on the same flight, their bar codes on the boarding passes are still unique. I have been on many flights where the airline was trying to fill every seat and people ended up assigned to the same seat. It is usually easily worked out between the passengers or with the help of the gate agents and everyone has a seat.

    More likely what happened is that there are multiple parts to the whole reservation system and the parts take time to talk to each other updating current reservation information. The gate agent put someone into the seat using the part of the system available at the gate issuing a new boarding pass immediately and the boarding pass bar code the OP had was not invalidated (different part of the system?) before he got to the gate.

    Still not right since he made the flight.

  • AAGK

    I don’t get it either. I understand that the cancellation may have been automatic, etc but he made it on the plane. They should’ve just made the standby passenger, well, continue to stand by. Perhaps the standby was an elite?

  • Don Spilky

    No other comments needed on this thread #DropMic

  • Noah Kimmel

    that is my biggest misunderstanding – if they gave his seat away, how would he have boarded? If he already boarded, how did they give his seat away? Either situation should trigger alerts on the gate agents computer pretty easily.

  • EvilEmpryss

    They let him on the plane and his butt was in the seat he paid for. The standby person should have been made to wait.

  • Annie M

    Yes you should take it. The forums did all they could to help him – this is a case that should be advocated by Elliott.

  • joycexyz

    How can someone who has shown a boarding pass that was obviously accepted be kicked off in favor of a stand-by? If they assumed he wouldn’t make the flight, the boarding pass would not have been valid. Am I wrong? In any event, the airline’s treatment of him is shameful. Isn’t there a Canadian equivalent of the FAA that will take his complaint?

  • joycexyz

    You’re probably right. As annoying as that is, why can’t they just be honest about it? I guess honesty is not a part of the corporate vocabulary.

  • cscasi

    If they had called his name several times, he did not answer and they gave his seat away; then how is it that he was allowed to board? When they scan his boarding pass it would reject if his seat had been given away to someone else. Something is “fishy” here. I would be curious to see the actual time it was the gate agent issued the boarding pass to the other person.
    I know with some airlines, if you have not checked in at least 20 minutes before flight, they can and do give your seat away. But, if he was checked in because he was enroute on another flight, I would think they might position a standby to take his seat, if he did not show up 5 minutes before the door closed. But, this is Air Canada and I have had issues with it before and it seldom provides a good response for whatever is done.

  • cscasi

    Because they would have to admit they made an error and that because of it they should have given the displaced passenger all sorts of compensation. But, the airlines just seem to shrug things off because they have so many passengers, they could care less about one or two here and there.

  • cscasi

    Right, Just have to tell the standby, the original passenger showed up and we have to give him his seat. You will have to wait for the next flight. That is the right thing to do; not what transpired with Millan.

  • Here’s some feedback on what Canadians think of this airline:

  • Maxwell Smart

    have travelled as a standby passenger & never heard of a confirmed passenger kicked off for a standby passenger, but have heard of the other way around. Something sounds dodgy. Was the standby passenger airline staff ?

  • jsn55

    Go, go, go! This is an amazing example of not giving a fig for your passengers, unless they’re ‘special’. What happened to Gabriel is almost incomprehensible.

  • Éamon deValera

    In Canada licensed paralegals can represent you in small claims cases. For more information see this link http://www.lsuc.on.ca/with.aspx?id=2147484473

  • NBradley

    This is not uncommon on transit through Toronto to miss transfers. The airport is absolutely a nightmare for transit passengers. We have twice missed our plane while travelling from Bermuda to Vancouver. The second time I literally ran from one end of the airport to the other (I’m 69) to arrive at the gate and be told that we can’t board because they didn’t figure we would make the connection. The problem is that transit passengers are forced to leave the secure area and get in long lineups to be screened again. Rather than just have a screening for transiting passengers only. By the way, the first time, we had 2 1/2 hours to transit and still missed flight. Now we make sure we have at least 3 hours to transfer. I advise everyone to avoid Toronto if they have to make a connection when coming from US or other countries.

  • AAGK

    I wouldn’t use that route to get to South America if it was free. I don’t get it.

  • Good to know. Air Canada goes onto my Do Not Fly list.

  • Dan Keller

    The situation is even worse than what happened to Mr. Millan. A colleague and I were on an American Airlines flight some years ago from Philadelphia to LA, via Dallas. We stopped in Dallas, some people got off, some got on, and one of the new passengers had a boarding pass for the seat I was already in from PHL. The flight attendant told me to go talk to the gate agent, but I refused because I knew they would shut the door and take off without me. But then the gate agent, Mr. Gobi Ramachandran, appeared on the plane and told me to move to a different seat, “Or I will have you forcibly removed from the plane.”
    I asked him if he could seat the new passenger in the seat he wanted me to move to since my stuff was in the overhead bin and under the seat in front of me and I was flying next to a colleague and we were talking about our upcoming convention in LA. But Mr. R repeated his threat. So I got up to move, and he repeated his threat again. I told him I was getting my stuff, and “I’m trying to be a good boy.” You had better not go up against one of these airline martinets unless you want to be charged with interfering with a flight crew.
    I moved to another seat. After the flight, I wrote to AA (customer service, VP of customer relations, and the CEO), asking what their policy was in that situation. All I got in response was a note telling me that they put 15,000 miles in my frequent flier account. I let all my miles expire and never flew on AA again until they merged with USAir, when I had no choice since USAir was a major carrier in my home town of Philadelphia.

  • BubbaJoe123

    It’s only about 1400 miles more than the shortest possible trip (via IAH).

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