Air Canada refunds ticket and hotel bill — even though it didn’t have to

by Christopher Elliott on September 30, 2009

aircanadaOnce in a blue moon, you come across a hard-luck story with a happy ending that involves an airline doing something nice for a passenger, even though it doesn’t have to. Nancy Pearson’s tale of trying to get to Toronto for a surprise birthday party is one of them.

See, airlines write these dense, often illegible contracts that let them off the hook for just about everything. So when a passenger asks for something, they can point to the fine print and say: “It’s not in there!”

Not this time.

Here’s what happened to Pearson:

On February 11, my son and I drove to Nashville from Memphis, arriving at the airport at 4:30 p.m. Our 6:35 p.m. flight to Toronto was delayed for an hour due to weather so I asked the gate agent if we would make our connection at 11:05 p.m. She assured me that we would be there by 10:15 p.m.

We were not. We taxied 25 minutes after landing, and ran full speed through the airport, arriving at the gate at 11:10 p.m. only to find that our flight was gone. At that time we were issued boarding passes for the 9 a.m. flight leaving the next morning.

I took the boarding passes, put them in my wallet, and before I could turn back around the metal shade was down, the door was locked, and the agent was gone.

We knew at this point were going to miss the surprise birthday party — the purpose of the trip — so we decided to return home and reschedule for a later date. We got to a hotel, which we arranged and paid for, around 12:15 a.m. and I began calling Air Canada immediately.

After being on hold for over one hour I gave up and decided to start calling again the next morning. When I attempted to call, starting at 5 a.m., I could not even get through as the lines were continuously busy. We went back to the airport, changed our ticket, and then waited for 9 1/2 hours to get the flight back to Nashville. We arrived in Nashville 7 p.m. and then drove 200 miles back to Memphis.

Her question: Would Air Canada refund her ticket and hotel expenses?

My answer: If the reason for the delay was weather, probably not. I advised her to check Air Canada’s Transborder Tariff, the legal agreement between her and the airline.

“Do you think they should have at least paid for our hotel and given us some food vouchers for overnight?” she wondered.

“Only if it was a mechanical delay,” I said.

Indeed the contract is clear, stating Air Canada is,

NOT LIABLE WHEN IT CANCELS THE RESERVATION OF A PASSENGER WHENEVER SUCH ACTION IS NECESSARY:

A) TO COMPLY WITH ANY GOVERNMENTAL REGULATION, AND/OR
B) TO COMPLY WITH ANY GOVERNMENTAL REQUEST FOR EMERGENCY TRANSPORTATION IN CONNECTION WITH THE NATIONAL DEFENSE, OR NATURAL DISASTERS, OR
C) WHENEVER SUCH ACTION IS NECESSARY OR ADVISABLE BY REASON OF WEATHER OR OTHER CONDITIONS BEYOND ITS CONTROL (INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION,
ACTS OF GOD, FORCE MAJEURE, LABOUR DISTURBANCES, STRIKES, CIVIL COMMOTIONS, EMBARGOES, WARS, HOSTILITIES OR DISTURBANCES) ACTUAL, THREATENED OR REPORTED

That didn’t stop Pearson from asking. And I was surprised by Air Canada’s response. It issued a full refund of the unused portion of the fare and paid for her hotel.

Pearson believes the reason is that Air Canada calculated its compensation based on the Canadian contract, which is considerably stricter than the Transborder Tariff. “It is far overdue in the States,” she told me.

I’ll say.

(Photo: a_trotskyite/Flickr Creative Commons)

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  • OTC

    So according to this the airlines should be responsible for the weather?

    Really?? That’s just moronic.

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    I was on an Air Canada that left IAH late due to weather and every one on board with connections missed their connecting flights in YYC. When we arrived at the gate at 11:00 PM, they already had our boarding passes and hotel vouchers printed and etc. I wasn’t expecting that since the delay was weather but other passengers said it is the ‘policy’ of WestJet and since WestJet flies into YYC, Air Canada matches that ‘policy’.

    My question are either airlines making money?

  • Jeff Linder

    No, they should not. But in the event weather causes a delay that negates the value of the trip, a refund of any unused airfare (or difference between original leg and newer leg) is completely appropriate.

    I was very surprised about the hotel however, that I would not expect.

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    “But in the event weather causes a delay that negates the value of the trip, a refund of any unused airfare (or difference between original leg and newer leg) is completely appropriate.”
    ————————————————————————————–
    That is why a traveler should buy travel insurance.

  • Frank

    “Do you think they should have at least paid for our hotel and given us some food vouchers for overnight?” she wondered.
    ==================================================

    Years ago, I took great pleasure in saying during a weather delay, “we’ll take good care of you. We’ll put you up for the night.” Unfortunately, the LCC’s (low cost carriers) came along and competed ON PRICE and NOT SERVICE. Eventually, those vouchers disappeared. The FLYING PUBLIC shaped the market place by COST.
    To this day, I still hear passengers whining about not getting a hotel during a weather delay. Sureeeeeeeee, the airline will incur a $200.00 room in NYC when you paid $89.00 dollars on your airfare because of a weather. (NOT)

  • Joel Wechsler

    @Frank This seems like a bit of revisionist history. Blaming the LCCs completely ignores the fact that the legacy carriers sowed the seeds of their own destruction by creating situations where the public was conditioned to think that the fares might always go down. Also ignored is the fact that Jet Blue, which is certainly one of the top LCCs still manages to provide customer service that outshines any of the legacy carriers. (I am a travel agent, not a Jet Blue employee)

  • GMW

    Arizona Road Warrior makes a great point. Airlines would go bankrupt even faster if they were held responsible for Mother Nature. When you travel for a specific purpose, and you absolutely have to get there at a specific time, you allow LOTS of time for weather delays AND if you want to be certain you’re covered, you buy travel insurance. Otherwise, you take whatever comes and try to make the best of it.

  • Frank

    Joel Wechsler October 1, 2009 at 9:46 am
    @Frank This seems like a bit of revisionist history. Blaming the LCCs completely ignores the fact that the legacy carriers sowed the seeds of their own destruction by creating situations where the public was conditioned to think that the fares might always go down. Also ignored is the fact that Jet Blue, which is certainly one of the top LCCs still manages to provide customer service that outshines any of the legacy carriers.
    ======================================================

    That’s interesting, because when you look at their statistics, JETBLUE is at the bottom for ON-TIME stats consistently.
    And continue to strand passengers on tarmac delayed flights even though they, themselves have a pax bill of rights: JetBlue Airways flight 34 from New York JFK to Rochester, NY, 7/26/09 – delayed on tarmac 268 minutes.
    Not only did they strand passengers on flights for up to 10 hours, they couldnt get them on other flights for DAYS. Riots occured at JFK.

    And, @ Joel, please name one LCC that had commentary HOT MEALS in coach? All the legacy carriers did. How bout Frequent flyer programs with international partners to hundreds of worldwide destinations? Or airport clubs?
    and, I didnt blame the LCC’s. It’s the PASSENGER who shaped this industry with their CHEAP MENTALITY.

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