Air Canada = Epic Fail

We often travel within Western Canada, which means we have 2 airline options – Air Canada and WestJet. Up until now, we’ve had decent enough experience with both airlines (although we’ve noted WestJet staff are always rather happy, which we like), so we usually just pick who to fly with based on price and flight times.

Well, everything changed this past weekend. We discovered the absolute horribleness of Air Canada.

We booked flights 4 months ago for a weekend in Victoria, British Columbia. We planned the timing with our 4th pregnancy, because we hoped to be telling our family in BC about the pregnancy. We would be staying with a doctor, so if we did have any complications we’d have some of the best care around. Once we lost the baby, we decided to still go away for the weekend, because we really needed a few days away to try and relax.

So, anyways, here’s our delightful Air Canada experience. We went online to check in for the flight 2 hours after the 24 hour advanced check-in opened. It turned out all the seats were gone except one. So, I was able to check in, but my husband was not given a seat. We called Air Canada, rather upset.

We sat on hold for 2.5 hours!! I do not classify this as acceptable.

We found out that we would have to show up at the airport and go to the gate at boarding time to find out if my husband would get a seat. Interestingly, they required that I still fly without him and he would get a seat on the next available flight! So, I’d take our weekend couple getaway, to see his brother, all on my own (seriously, this is just not what we paid for – his brother is nice, but not quite what we were all expecting and definitely not what we paid for and definitely not stress free)! At most, they would give my husband a credit for his flight if they couldn’t get him on another one the following day! Needless to say, we were unhappy. We were told to show up at the airport incredibly early (4 hours was the suggested timeframe, domestic flights is typically 1 hour), in hopes of being there before anyone else on our flight in this situation, but it wouldn’t be addressed until we were at the gate. The very nice gentleman, filed an ‘escalation’ report, in which a more senior person would call us back to discuss the situation when available. This could be before the flight the next day, or not. It would depend on how busy they are and he couldn’t give us any clear indications of the timeline.

The next day, we didn’t hear from anyone, so about 7 hours before the flight, I decided to call Air Canada again and see if I could talk to someone who could actually help. Well, another hour on hold, someone finally answered. They hung up on us. It may have been an accident, but still. So, once again, not acceptable customer service and our frustration is just increasing….

Eventually, about 5 hours before the flight, as we are heading to the airport, we did get a call in regards to our escalation report. My husband spoke with him, because I was so upset it wasn’t a good idea for me to give him a piece of my mind. He nicely promised that if my husband couldn’t get on the flight, then at least they’d make an exception and refund us both our seats. So, they would completely ruin our weekend, but they’d be incredibly generous and give us our money back rather than a credit (sense the sarcasm). And, if we did actually get to Victoria, they would book us seats for our return flight home, so we wouldn’t get caught in this situation again. Again, generous.

I should note that in the end, we both got onto the plane. Someone cancelled their flight, so there was enough room for him and the other individual that was in the same situation.

So, what did we learn through this experience?

First, Air Canada oversells there flights.

Second, the cheapest seats with Air Canada, known as Tango, do not guarantee you a seat. When you are paying, you have to pay the extra fees to reserve a seat (note if my memory serves me correctly, that booking seats for 2 people would have upped the airfare by $160 or nearly 20% of the original price). If you do this, then you are more likely to get a seat, but still not guaranteed. This is explained in the fine print, but is not made obvious while you are booking your flight or choosing to pay for advanced seat selection.

Third, they are not willing to compensate there customers for frustration and time lost caused by their insane policies. We sat on hold for over 3.5 hours, spent over 1 hour on the phone, and had to arrive at the airport 4 hours early for a domestic flight in hopes of getting my husband a seat, we had to reorganize the dog sitter to accommodate the early arrival time at the airport, etc. We booked the evening flight so that we could work a full day, instead my husband took an unplanned afternoon off to hang out at the airport. We simply got the “should have read the fine print” response.

Fourth, somehow Air Canada is able to operate a multi-billion dollar corporation with the absolute worst customer service I have ever experienced.

So what do we recommend to other travelers within Canada?

If you wish to avoid this situation the best solution is to fly WestJet and never ever fly Air Canada. WestJet never overbooks there flights = situation avoided!! Oh, and as an added bonus, WestJet staff are always much friendlier.

All I can say is Air Canada = epic fail. You have lost 2 customers because we expect that when we purchase something, we will actually get it!

And, WestJet, you have just gained 2 loyal customers! Looking forward to our next flight with you!

6 Comments on “Air Canada = Epic Fail

  1. Ugh, tell me about it. I flew AC to and from Houston a couple weeks ago. Delayed getting in, and the didn’t put our luggage on the plane coming home (along with about 50% of the other passengers). And the when we got it back it was busted. I’m a travel agent, so I’ve heard it all but air canada is one of the worst, in my opinion.


    • Since we’ve been telling people about our experience all we hear is bad experiences. AC definitely doesn’t understand the importance of good customer service. We are definitely convinced that if given an alternative we will never fly with them again.


  2. That is insane! I don’t even know how they can legally get away with overbooking like that! Seriously, there have to be better regulations for this! I live in the US now so I mostly fly with United because my husband and I have a great air miles plans through them, but when I do book outside of United and we’re visiting my family in Canada, it’s always Westjet. They have direct flights from LA(us) to Edmonton(my family), Air Canada usually doesn’t, and you are absolutely right, their staff are so friendly! And as far as I know, they’re still one of the only airlines left to not charge for your first checked bag. I’m so sorry you had such an awful experience, but happy you were able to still get away! I hope the rest of your weekend is much better!


  3. Oh, and United isn’t great either, but at least you can book your seats at the time of booking and when they overbook, they offer flight vouchers to anyone who can take a later time which usually solves the problem. I think my husband and I ran into a problem where didn’t have seats once and they were very accommodating. What Air Canada did is just wrong!


    • AC would have offered a voucher for a different flight for my husband because he didnt have a seat, but not for me because i did. One of the things that most surprised us about AC was that they were going to split us up. You’d think they’d at least keep people who book together on the same flight!


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