How much does an airline have to do to get you to your destination on time if the flight is postponed? Jacqui DeGeus learns the answer the hard way.
Question: We booked flights for our family of six on Air Canada from Minneapolis to Nassau, Bahamas. We were to make a connection in Toronto.
Our flight departed Minneapolis 2 hours 15 minutes late, due to maintenance needed on the aircraft while in Toronto earlier that morning. This delay caused our family to miss the connecting flight from Toronto to Nassau.
Air Canada personnel in Toronto airport tried to help us rebook flights to Nassau. They could not accommodate our party of six on any flights over the next two days, because they were oversold.
We worked with a manager on the ground at Toronto; her name was Camille. She tried to come up with alternatives to get our family to our final destination, which was Long Island, Bahamas. Camille was unable to put us on any partner airline. The airline couldn’t even get us back to Minneapolis.
Camille finally informed me the only way to do this was she could get us to another U.S. city and that I would have to buy tickets on another airline to get to the Bahamas.
Camille arranged for our family to fly to Orlando on Air Canada, but to make matters worse, the airline “misplaced” our bags. We were detained in Customs and not allowed to leave Toronto that night. We were put on another flight, the next morning, because they found our bags.
I purchased tickets on Bahamas Air to fly from Orlando to Nassau, Bahamas. Camille and Air Canada said that we would be reimbursed for our personal expenses.
I would like to receive reimbursement for both our airline expense on Bahamas Air as well as hotel expense on Nassau. The mechanical delay by Air Canada not only caused us to miss our connection in Toronto but also our flight from Nassau to Long Island, Bahamas, so I had to purchase a hotel on Nassau for the night. — Jacqui DeGeus, Cottage Grove, Minn.
Answer: I’m sorry to hear of your troubles, which cost you a full day of your vacation.
It’s fair to say you really did get stuck at the Toronto airport. You spent approximately six hours in the airport, standing in lines and being shipped from one person to another, until you met Camille. As you mentioned, she tried her very best to help you.
Between the two of you, you managed to arrange flights so it must have been really disappointing to find out that your bags were misplaced. Still, at least you knew that you would get your expenses back because Camille had promised you that, right?
When you first wrote to the airline, you had told them about your expenses and lost vacation day:
I don’t know how to put a price tag on that lost day. I really feel that if Air Canada would want to do the right thing, it would not only reimburse us for our personal expenses incurred, but also provide vouchers for future travel.
Unfortunately, you didn’t get the promise to refund your expenses in writing, and Air Canada responded by offering a discount of 25 percent off the base fare on your next booking.
To say you weren’t happy with that is an understatement.
I’m thanking you for a response however, I am quite disgusted that Air Canada just offered us 25 percent off.
As a family, we took time and much expense to have a vacation to celebrate my daughter’s graduation, and the entire trip was actually dampened by the amount of stress and significant extra unplanned expense from rebooking our own flights, and paying for very expensive unplanned meals and hotel in Nassau.
You then outlined what compensation you were seeking:
“I expect a full refund for all of our expenses incurred, from your company, not 25 percent off another flight.”
Because you put so many complaints in your original letter, it became too long and “muddied the waters.” Thus, your valid complaint was overlooked and all you received was that “insulting” 25-percent-off offer.
We always advise that when you write to any company you keep the letter short and to the point with the basic facts. In my view, bullet points help, because they keep sentences short.
In your case, however, even a short letter wouldn’t have helped you get compensation for lost vacation time. As Air Canada pointed out to you:
Due to the nature of airline operations, schedules could not be guaranteed. Schedules do not form part of the contract of travel. Flight cancellations and delays are an inescapable reality for all airlines and we are unable to provide compensation for the consequences that frequently result from a disruption in our service.
Airlines are not required to provide compensation for lost vacation time and if they were, British Airways would be facing a substantial bill following the worldwide cancellations in May.
When you first contacted us, it appeared that you had been refunded a small amount for the canceled segment. You were surprised how little that amount was, but, as our advocate explained, airline math is funny, and a refund for half of a one-way ticket is never half of the amount paid.
When we looked at the case in more detail, in fact you had been refunded the taxes for the unused segment, and nothing more — so we contacted Air Canada on your behalf.
The airline agreed to refund you an additional amount, which covered the cost of the tickets to get your family from Orlando to Nassau. The airline reiterated that it was not responsible for any other expenses.
You asked us if that was fair. Given that the airline had also given you a hotel voucher for the night stay when you were stuck in Toronto, we said yes; at least by airline standards.
So you thanked us for our help and left it at that.