It’s been over 10 years since I started travelling on a regular basis for work. It’s been about the last 4-5 that I have been doing it a lot. It’s to the point now where air travel is a no brainer for me and I have my own little system of getting to and from my destination with very little worry.
I do however read the odd Facebook post where someone decides to go on a tirade about how BAD Air Canada is and that they will never fly with them, blah blah blah. It always goes like this:
Some person going somewhere had to be bumped from a flight, or missed a flight and couldn’t get connected til the next day, or had their bags go missing, or couldn’t get on a standby fly they were hoping for, or were treated badly by someone at the airline. All of these things have happened to me in the last 10 years and here I am, still flying with Air Canada and will continue to do so.
Why? Well, there’s a couple of reasons for that but let’s get one of them out of the way right now.
Unlike other parts of the world, Canada only has a handful of airlines that we can use to fly anywhere, and Air Canada is the biggest and flies to the most locations. So somewhat by default, I fly with Air Canada because the other Canadian carriers either don’t go where I need to go for work, charge WAY more than AC does for the flights I need, or cause me such connection and ticket pain that it’s not worth it.
That last one is the real kicker. For those who don’t know, when you connect from one airline to another (AC to Westjet for example), in some cases, depending on the airline, you are actually issued two completely different tickets: one for airline #1 and another for #2. That means that when I get off my first flight, I have to go to baggage claim, get my bag, re-check it at the second carrier’s desk, go through security again, and get on my plane. If you have a limited amount of time, good luck with that.
Thankfully in most cases, the airlines are able to issue you a single ticket for both airlines, but a LOT of times information from one carrier to another gets lost. This is yet another reason why I have seen bags get lost is because of the connection between carriers.
I HATE having to travel on multiple airlines to get to a single destination when the carriers are not part of the “same network”. It can cause huge headaches, delays, and a massive pain in the ass when you are trying to make changes.
Which brings me to why I won’t fly Westjet or Porter. They are simply not big enough to get me to the places I would typically need to go easily enough.
But that’s not the biggest reason I fly AC. I fly AC because I like the airline, get great service, and have had very few issues. The odd one I have had with the airline I made sure it was taken care of and all was well with the world.
“But Matt, we flew to X and had a flight cancelled and the agent wouldn’t help us. She was rude and told us blah blah blah.”
Ok, so let’s examine what happens when a flight is cancelled. I have been there and done that 100 times and know what you should and shouldn’t do.
First off, there are SO many factors that go into how handling passengers for a cancelled flight that it’s impossible for me to list them all here. But I can tell you that people are treated differently based on a couple of things.
If you have status with the airline, even a lower status, those people tend to have better luck getting service from an agent than someone who doesn’t have status. It’s nothing against those people, but the reality is the frequent flyers keep the airlines in business. If the airlines treat them like crap, they will go out of business in no time flat. That means for AC, if you don’t have Prestige status or higher, they care about you, just not as much as their frequent flyers.
That sounds mean, but it’s business. If you own a successful business, you know all about taking care of your frequent customers so they keep coming back. Simple business 101.
Then it comes down to the class of ticket you have. If you have a Tango class ticket, you might as well spin the roulette wheel and see what happens. This is the lowest class of fare on ANY airline and is why you get “good deals”. They cut the price down so low that people buy the ticket, but those folks are the last to get anything from the airline. Don’t ever expect to get much of anything with a Tango ticket, unless you have status with the airline. That’s just the way it is.
Further to that, change fees, luggage fees, and “extra” fees will always pop up on Tango fares. Sometimes even getting on standby isn’t an option with those fares. That’s why if you want to avoid some of that, a Flex or higher fare is better. Yes, it costs more but it really depends on what you want so REALLY think about it when you buy a ticket.
Now all of that being said, the agents are supposed to treat everyone equally and politely. But let’s face some reality here. A notice comes on that says a flight is cancelled. That means that 100+ people are now irritated and mad about their flight being cancelled and the agent is the first person they are going to talk to. You might get to the agent after he/she has spoken to 25 other people who are just as pissed off as you. Do you think that agent is going to be in a good mood after talking to them? Probably not. They are trying to do their best but everyone of us is human and can only take so much.
If you want my advise, find another gate agent or another customer service desk that is away from the gate/agent that is dealing with everyone else. You will probably have better luck.
Oh, and despite what some agents might tell you, EVERY agent at a gate can make changes. It doesn’t matter if they are working another flight. If you see an agent for your airline at a gate just hanging out, they can help you.
Secondly, for cancelled flights, it is what it is. There’s nothing you can do about it. So screaming and yelling at the agent about having to get home to feed your dog is not going to make it happen any faster. There are literally many instances where the agent simply cannot do anything for you because of all of the other people who are in the same situation you are.
I cannot stress how important it is for people to realize that the agent is not the one responsible for a cancelled flight or a missing bag. It’s not their fault so screaming at them and making them feel like a bag of assholes is not going to help the situation. In fact, I would bet those are the times the agent specifically sticks you with the worst possible flight because you were the one harassing them.
I have stood at gate 26 at Pearson Airport and listen to a woman scream at an agent insisting she had a right to be on the next flight and the agent stayed quite calm and told her there was no room and there was nothing she could do. The woman stomped away calling the agent names and was furious. Uhm, hello, if the plane holds 50 people, do you think we should kick one of those passengers off so your highness can get on the flight instead? Seriously, wtf is wrong with people like this?
And also, flights get cancelled for a lot of reasons and many of them annoy the hell out of us but we can’t control it. Flights get cancelled because of weather, mechanical failure, crew unavailability and many other reasons. I’ve had a flight cancelled over a frozen toilet. A colleague had his flight cancelled because the flight attendant didn’t have the demo seat belt to do the safety demonstration. I’ve had a flight cancelled because it was delayed too long and the crew couldn’t fly any more that day. Shit happens so instead of bitching about it, try and find a way to deal with it.
So now let me tell you what I do when I know a flight has been cancelled. Even though I have status with the airline, and I have a special # I can call for help, I don’t even deal with the airline. Instead, I call my travel agent.
Travel agent? Why wouldn’t you just book the trip yourself. Well, I have done this in the past. And sometimes it’s ok. But if you want the security of knowing you can get help when you need it, the travel agent is your saviour. Let me tell you a story.
I was once waiting for a flight to London. Standing at the gate it got delayed, and then delayed again. Now I have a couple of apps on my phone which tells me when a flight gets cancelled. My phone beeped and told me my flight had been cancelled, but it didn’t come up on the board yet and the announcement hadn’t been made. So when I saw the message about it being cancelled, I got out of the line, walked over to a quiet area, and called the emergency number for my travel agent. I got a person right away and asked for help. Told them my flight was cancelled and I needed options. The person on the phone did a quick search and got me a seat on the next flight and sent me the confirmation. As I was on the phone, they announced my older flight had been cancelled and people rushed to the agent.
A couple of minutes later, my phone beeped with my new confirmation and I walked over to the new gate. I never dealt with a line, or anyone who was pissed about the cancellation. All of the people in the line for the agent had to wait and get rebooked. I called my agent and had it done in minutes. HUGE difference.
The travel agent has helped and saved me more times than I can count. Yes, you will pay a service charge for them to book your travel, but that also buys you some comfort when things go sour. Totally worth it.
I’ve also seen people get mad because they were bumped from a flight and someone else took their seat. I can’t say that I’ve ever had that happen, but yet again, there are some legit reasons for this. There are instances where the flight crew for another flight needs to get from one place to another and so they get on a flight as passengers and the airline bumps several people to the next flight to accommodate them. In those situations, if those crew members don’t get where they are going, it creates a cascading set of delays and cancellations which affect hundreds maybe even thousands of passengers depending on where it is.
Yes it sucks, but imagine being on the other end when they cancel your flight because there’s no crew, and you can’t get out of wherever you are for a couple of days. I’d rather take the flight bump at the start then be stuck somewhere.
Now, I’ll also tell you about something I have read about but never had the opportunity to try. EVERY airline has what’s known as the “Conditions of Carriage” which basically dictate the terms you and the airline are agreeing to when you buy a ticket. I have heard that as a passenger, you are within your right to request a copy of the conditions from any agent at any gate and they have to give them to you. It’s the law. If you can obtain a copy of the conditions and read them, in many cases there is a line in the conditions that basically says the airline MUST book you on the next available flight, regardless of airline.
So if for example you are flying Westjet and they cancel and rebook you for the next day, but there’s an AC flight leaving in 3 hours and it has seats, they can book you on it. The catch has something to do with the wording around “extreme inconvenience” or something like that. The airlines default to booking you on the next flight THEY have available and give you hotel/meal vouchers to offset the trouble. But if you push hard enough, and can find the paperwork and show it to them, you may be able to get on another airline at no charge. I have heard of some people snagging the PDFs of these conditions and having them with them when they travel.
I have no idea if that is true or not, but I did read the terms on AC before and did find a line similar to what I mention above.
That brings me to those of you who insist that AC is a shithole of an airline and to avoid at all costs. Well, sorry you feel that way but if they really were that bad, they wouldn’t stay in business. Plenty of people fly with them all the time, myself included, so you may have had an unfortunate set of circumstances that gave you that opinion of them. But in the end, they have been fantastic for me to deal with and would fly with them anywhere in the world.
I will also mention that there are plenty of people who SWEAR by Rogers yet I can’t stand them as a company. But plenty of people still use their services. Others say Bell is a horrible company and you should stay away from them. I’ve been a Bell customer for years and never had any real issues.
Everyone’s story is unique so just because you’ve had a crappy (or good) experience with a company does not mean everything about them is bad (or good).