I am afraid of United Airlines.
For that matter, I am afraid of most airlines. I feel that they always have the upper hand.
It may have a “flying while brown” element to it.
Though, I must admit that these days I am a little bit more convinced about the randomness of the “additional screening” process at airports. When an eighty-year-old grandmother gets pulled aside for “explosive trace detection swab,” I know the system is not randomly picking me every time.
My concerns about flying have little to do with security screening. It has got to do with the unilateral decisions that airlines seem to be able to make with total disregard to passengers.
We live in a capitalistic society. I won’t complain about the airline’s ability to capitalize on market demand by charging passengers exorbitant fares when they can.
So, when I paid Air Canada over C$1200 for a return flight in economy class from Toronto to Philadelphia for a business trip, I was not overly worried. After all, it was the NFL draft week in Philadelphia. I was booked for a night at the Ritz Carlton. I was looking forward to it.
To put things in perspective, I can generally fly to New York LaGuardia, which is about the same flying distance, for less than $300. For that matter, I can fly to London Heathrow and back for under a thousand dollars.
Once again, my issue is not about the fare. It is more about what I get for the fare.
Should there not be some expectation of performance on the airlines’ part? What can I take for granted for the high fare that I paid? At a minimum, a confirmed seat on the return flight?
As I found out, high fares don’t guarantee you much.
I arrived at the Philadelphia airport to catch my return flight to Toronto, only to find out that the flight was delayed – the incoming flight had not arrived.
As someone who flies often, I have a couple of theories on routine messages that I get from airlines.
If the airline staff tells you that the incoming flight on which you are planning to depart is delayed, I hear “your flight may be cancelled.”
When the airline’s online application tells you that they are unable to allocate you seats online, I interpret it as “the flight is oversold, you may be bumped.”
After about a two-hour wait, my worst fears came true, my flight was cancelled.
Air Canada did not have a flight later that day. They were not going to try to rebook passengers in another airline going to Toronto. The cancellation was attributed to “traffic congestion” at the destination airport – Toronto Pearson.
As the stranded passengers milled around, the lady at the airline counter made it clear.
“There are no vouchers, nor are we offering hotel rooms.” “And, we are unable to rebook you at this time. You will get a communication from the airline at some point regarding your rebooked flight,” she went on to add.
At some point?
For those of us who were not satisfied with her message, she handed out the number for Air Canada’s Customer Service department.
The call to Customer Service was short.
The automated message made it clear that due to the high volume of calls, they were unable to handle my call nor take a message.
The message redirected me to their website.
“Thank you and goodbye,” there was no attempt at niceties as the system hung up on me.
The website was not much help.
After having taken me halfway through an online form to rebook my flight, it let me know that I had to call Customer Service for resolution. The same Customer Service that hung up on me.
— Dax Nair (@DaxNair) April 27, 2017
I was in a bit of a quandary.
There was no way of knowing when I will get rebooked. If I went back into the city and had to come back to the airport for an early morning flight, that would not be efficient. So I decided to stay at the hotel attached to the airport.
The cheapest room at the hotel set me back C$475 for the night. Around 11:00 PM, I got my rebooking info. I was booked on a flight leaving at 6:30 PM the next day.
For me, that was not an option.
I had to back in Toronto for some in-person meetings that I could not miss. So I decided to take a chance and buy the only available business class ticket for a 9:00 AM flight back to Toronto.
The return flight cost me another C$1350.
I still had to cancel my rebooked return flight.
After waiting for an hour on the line, I reached an agent. She informed me that I could cancel my rebooked flight, but she could not credit me the cancelled fare right away due to complex calculations that she was unable to make.
I had spent $3025 thus far on my flights and related issues.
I still had to eat.
Fortunately, I was on a business trip!
What if I wasn’t? What if I was travelling with family and children? How much money would I have had to shell out to get home?
What happened to the concept of reservation, and the guarantees that come with it?
What if other services adopted the airline model?
Imagine getting to your vacation destination to find out that the hotel had overbooked and decided to bump you!
What if your Doctor could bump you?
What if your child could get bumped from his or her college admission?
Where do you draw the line?