Feds urge Air Canada to fix booking problems as travel season approaches

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Wednesday he has spoken with Air Canada about problems continuing to plague its new booking system on the cusp of holiday travel season, but that resolving them is beyond his reach.

“We’ve let them know that we’re hearing from a lot of customers that they’re very frustrated and that they’re also having trouble getting through a customer relation site at Air Canada,” Garneau said.

“They’re doing their best to fix it. It is something that is in the hands of Air Canada. Transport Canada cannot do anything.”

The airline introduced the new reservation system more than three weeks ago, triggering a barrage of social media complaints from passengers who had difficulty accessing their booking information or reaching customer service agents.

Calls to the customer service line Wednesday went straight to a voice recording from department director Jean-Francois Loignon, who apologized for the “delay” and asks customers not flying within 24 hours to consult their travel plans online.

“Due to current volumes, I apologize that we are not able to place you on hold at this time,” he said.

Air Canada said in an email Wednesday that it is “working to resolve the issues as soon as possible.”

“This was a massive IT project, which occurred over two years and involved 700,000 hours of development. With an IT project of such complexity, issues are inevitable,” the airline said.

Many concern passengers who are changing their bookings, but “most customers have not been impacted and they continue to travel normally.”

The second phase of a new set of passenger rights rules is set to come into effect on Sunday, but passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs says they are “toothless” when it comes to the latest problems.

“Air Canada cannot avoid its obligations to passengers by making itself unreachable,” he said.

The upcoming batch of regulations mandates compensation of up to $1,000 for delays and other payments for cancelled flights.

The rules impose no obligation on airlines to pay customers for delays or cancellations if they were caused by mechanical problems discovered in a pre-flight check — walking around the aircraft before takeoff looking for defects — rather than during scheduled maintenance.

The issue came to the forefront after a 2017 incident in which two Montreal-bound Air Transat jets were diverted to Ottawa due to bad weather and held on the tarmac for up to six hours, leading some passengers to call 911 for rescue.

The Canadian Transportation Agency is responsible for ensuring air carriers abide by their tariffs — airlines’ contract with customers — Lukacs noted. Air Canada’s tariff stipulates that “the carrier will effect a change in the routing…travel dates or will cancel a reservation” at the passenger’s request.

“If Air Canada frustrates that process, it is not doing its part of the bargain,” Lukacs said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 11, 2019.

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