This week’s Compensation Clinic is my recent Air Canada Business Class flight from Vancouver to Bangkok, where I arrived with a 26-hour delay and for which Air Canada initially offered me a $100 voucher – I escalated the case for mediation!
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I was understandably unhappy with Air Canada’s offer and decided to escalate my complaint to regulators and apply for mediation through the ombudsman in German that I had used several times before.
To quickly recapitulate what happened:
I was then informed that the departure time for Vancouver-Seoul was delayed by at least an hour, making my connection in Seoul illegal as it cut my connection time down to only 20 minutes. I was rebooked to Vancouver-Tokyo/NRT-Bangkok with the connection flight being in Japan Airlines, operation from a totally different terminal. Even though there is an intra-terminal connection in Narita it requires time.
Air Canada refused to rebook the entire itinerary on ONE airline (Japan Airlines) and so it ended up like this:
As my (lack of) luck would have it, there was no time to be had. First, the crew didn’t show up on time for the flight causing a 30-minute delay in boarding, then a mechanical issue caused another 40-minute delay in parking on the tarmac to get it sorted.
I already foresaw that the connection in Tokyo will end up in a disaster, so I preregistered for the arrivals fast track in case I needed to enter and stay overnight, which is exactly what happened as the delay in arrival and a 25+ minute taxiing in Narita made the connection impossible.
Eventually, I arrived in Bangkok three calendar days after my departure in Vancouver with a 26-hour delay compared to my original ticket.
I complained by email to Air Canada, but they were less than interested, claiming that the compensation legislation doesn’t apply as the reason for the delay was flight safety:
We are in receipt of your claim under the Air Passenger Protection Regulations for booking XXXXXX, flight AC63 YVR – ICN, on 2023/02/12. We are sorry for the disruption you experienced at arrival to your final destination.
In this instance, the compensation you are requesting does not apply because the disruption was caused by a safety-related issue.
This flight is delayed due to additional time needed to substitute the aircraft. Due to an unforeseen maintenance issue, the aircraft for your flight may have had to be changed, and the arrival of the replacement aircraft took longer than expected.
As a goodwill gesture, I am pleased to provide you with a $100.00 CAD Air Canada eCoupon. Please find details of this offer below.
If you wish to learn more about flight disruptions and how entitlement to compensation is assessed under Canada’s Air Passenger Protection Regulations, please visit our website.
We thank you for your understanding and look forward to welcoming you on board again.
They conveniently left out that the new flight I was on also got delayed, causing this misconnection and that it could have been avoided had the staff not refused to rebook me on JAL right away. And since when is a late crew flight safety related?
I decided to escalate the case to the SöP Ombudsman in Germany, which has the full name of söp – Schlichtungsstelle für den öffentlichen Personenverkehr (good luck pronouncing that if German isn’t your mother tongue :).
We have covered this service quite a few times here on LoyaltyLobby, and the key is that the airline in question has to participate in the mediation scheme, which is the case with Air Canada.
Filing the case was relatively easy and took me less than 15 minutes as I had all documents ready to upload. The case is then created and an administrator will accept it within a week if everything is ok:
The agency will then send the case off to the airline in question and see what they have to say. Often times they answer promptly and accept the case as well as provide compensation (as in this case). However, if the airline refuses, it will go back to the agency, and they have to study the case based on the law, and it will go back and forth, just like when you give it to an attorney. This would take considerable time, depending on the current backlog, but eventually, it will get done.
I’m quite happy it didn’t stretch that long this time around, and Air Canada got back to them within a few days, providing an answer and resolution:
You submitted a request for arbitration to us on March 7th, 2023. Air Canada has now offered to mail you a $1,000.00 travel voucher and make a payment of $257.00 “as a goodwill gesture”.
The company reports, among other things: “[…]In this case, compensation according to the APPR regulation is not to be paid, the delay was controllably necessary for flight safety.[…] …
Even if we have not yet checked the factual and legal situation, we will forward the offer to you in order to settle the dispute quickly. Please understand that we can neither answer questions about content nor support you in your decision.
You now have the following two options:
1. Acceptance of Offer: If you accept Air Canada’s offer, a settlement based on that offer will be executed and the arbitration will end.
2. Rejection of the Offer: If you reject Air Canada’s offer, we will conduct a legal review of the matter at no cost to you and then notify you of the outcome. We still need time for that. Even if our independent review may turn out better than the above offer, the company would still have to agree to a corresponding arbitration recommendation.
If our recommendation for arbitration is rejected, the arbitration process would have failed. With regard to the offer, we as the arbitration board could not provide you with any further support.
Please let us know by March 31, 2023 at the latest whether you accept or reject the offer (travel voucher worth CAD 1,000.00 + payment of EUR 257.00).
We would be grateful for a short-term response, preferably by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your processing reference in the subject line.
Fully qualified lawyer / arbitrator
I was surprised by the fast turnaround time and positive reply by Air Canada as the customer service initially only offered $100 and told me to go away.
I think the airline currently decided to decline any compensation request and ignore the passenger as they know the Canadian Regulator (CTA) has a backlog for years with over 40,000+ cases pending and very few people will take them to court. Using a mediator in another country was the best solution in this case.
I decided to accept their offer of a C$1000 voucher and 257 Euro cash for expenses I incurred along the way. The voucher is as good as cash for me, and dragging this out would have likely not resulted in much because it’s unclear how to disprove AC’s claim that the regulation doesn’t apply through an attorney not licensed in Canada.
It was possible to redeem the voucher immediately as I found a well-priced Premium Economy ticket to Florida next month to start a cruise. This was an excellent outcome as far as I’m concerned.
One thing to consider if you decide to give your case to the ombudsman or an attorney is that the SOP can’t go to court for you, so if legal proceedings are required to resolve the case, you still have to get an attorney and file a lawsuit against the carrier. Usually, this won’t be necessary, though, as participation in the mediation scheme is voluntary, and the airlines signed up as they have an interest in avoiding disputes in court. As such, they typically accept the ombudsman’s legal analysis and recommendation.
You need to have at least some reason to file this case with the SOP. If the flights didn’t touch German soil like in my case, at least be German or live in Germany to provide a German address. U.S. customers can also file a complaint with the Department of Transportation but keep in mind that they aren’t a mediation agency and have no enforcement power to resolve your complaint.
Air Canada previously offered me $100 for a very long delay that resulted from the carrier’s own incompetence, and the airline then ignored compensation requests under Canada’s Air Passenger Rights legislation, claiming it wouldn’t apply. This appears to be their blanket strategy – sit it out and deny all claims, 98% of all passengers won’t escalate it further, and the CTA is backlogged for years.
I decided to involve the SOP Ombudsman in German, an agency that mediates cases between German consumers and airlines that chose to participate in the voluntary scheme.
Air Canada Germany responded positively within just a few days, offering a $1000 voucher and 257 Euro cash reimbursement for expenses which I accepted.
The essence of this story is not to let the airline get away with buffing you off. Find a mediation agency, ombudsman or attorney to resolve the case. You could also proceed on your own in Small Claims Court.