One of the most common air travel complaints is being bumped from a flight before departure. But what if you’re already on the plane? That’s what happened to Gabriel Millan on an Air Canada flight.
Millan’s case and its “resolution” — if it can be called that — raise interesting questions about airline contracts and the different interpretations passengers and airlines give them, such as “minimum connection time” rules. In the event that connecting passengers are delayed on previous flights, these rules allow airlines to give their seats on subsequent flights to standby passengers.
Millan was flying from San Francisco to Chile with a layover in Toronto during the winter. His flight to Toronto was delayed by 22 minutes, but he arrived at the gate for his flight to Chile and boarded. While sitting in his seat, an Air Canada crew member told him that the seat had been given to a standby passenger because he was not expected to make the flight due to minimum connection time standards. Millan was ordered off the airplane by the crew member, who gave Millan a telephone number to call.
An Air Canada agent told Millan that he would be rebooked on the next flight to Chile, 24 hours later. By then it was 10:30 p.m. and Millan needed a hotel room for the night. The Air Canada agent told Millan that he would receive a hotel room — but none were available. The agent told Milan to go to the connections desk, where he would receive assistance, but by the time Millan arrived at the desk nobody was there to assist him.
Millan called the number given to him by the crew member who removed him from the flight to Chile. The number turned out to be for Air Canada’s reservations line, and the agent who answered told Millan that although he could not get Millan a hotel room, Air Canada would reimburse Millan for the expenses he incurred during the layover. Millan had not packed for the colder climate and had to purchase new clothing.
After Millan submitted his receipts to Air Canada, he was told that Air Canada would only reimburse Millan $100 CAD and offer 25 percent off the cost of his next Air Canada flight as a “gesture of goodwill.”
Millan then tried contacting the Canadian Transportation Agency, which regulates air transportation in Canada, but was told that the agency could not help him.
Millan asked our advocacy team and our forum advocates for assistance in getting the promised reimbursement from Air Canada.
Our forum advocates recommended that Millan directly contact Air Canada’s executives using our company contacts. Unfortunately, Millan was told that the airline’s compensation decision was final.
It shouldn’t be.
Once Millan boarded the flight in Toronto, he was no longer subject to minimum connection time limitations. He should not have been required to yield his seat to a standby passenger.
Air Canada’s conditions of carriage indicate that
Where the Montreal Convention applies, the limits of liability are as follows:
For damage occasioned by delay to your journey, 4,694 Special Drawing Rights (approximately EUR 5,655; US $6,786) per passenger in most cases
And Air Canada’s involuntarily denied boarding policy holds that it will reimburse passengers traveling between Canada and any destination outside of North America who are involuntarily denied boarding up to $400 CAD for a delay of up to four hours and $800 CAD for any delay longer than four hours.
So Air Canada should reimburse Millan the U.S. equivalent of $800 CAD according to this policy. Its offer of $100 CAD and a discount off a future flight, after removing Millan from a flight he’d already boarded and making a number of promises of assistance to him that it didn’t keep, is ridiculously low. And the chances of Millan ever again flying Air Canada, after being taken off a flight on which he was already seated and given a runaround by Air Canada’s agents, are remote at best.
Unfortunately, Millan has gone up the chain of executives at Air Canada, who aren’t budging. A forum advocate has suggested that Millan sue Air Canada to get his reimbursement. While that may be his best course of action, it will take his case out of our jurisdiction.