I’ve been a loyal Air Canada customer for years now. Given that my work takes me all over the Americas, I’ve managed to collect quite a few miles on their loyalty program, as well as a lot of perks that come associated with flying the same carrier. About that, I can’t complain.
One of the things that you get, is the experience to know what is happening when things don’t go as planned.
On my last journey to Sao Paulo, I arrived promptly to the airport. I know is particular flights is always about one hour late, mainly because Air Canada holds the plane to wait for customers coming into Toronto from Vancouver and other cities, and this being one of the last flights of the day, it is bound to get stuck waiting for all the delays accumulated during day as it is cheaper to wait for the passengers than to have them stranded.
Recently, the flight was rescheduled to depart Toronto later, yet the delays continue.
On this occasion, after waiting for a couple of hours, I proceeded to the gate, where the plane was still marked as on-time, yet the crew was still not on board. This particular aircraft had landed from London more than 6 hours before. Just at boarding time, they discover a problem with the breaks of the plane. Now, I certainly don’t want to fly on a plane that is not 100 per cent, and that the crew didn’t feel safe flying, but why did they wait 6 hours to get this corrected is beyond me.
We were advised that the aircraft would be replaced with another one from the hangar and that we would board “soon” at the same gate.
This is where traveling a lot comes handy, as it is clear that they would have to unload all the cargo from the plane, tow the aircraft out and then bring the replacement one into the gate and reload it.
About an hour later, the gate agents informed us about the gate change for our flight and revised the departure time to 2 AM. Not so bad. However the new plane arrived only a few minutes before 2 AM.
We started boarding after 2 AM so there was no chance of departing on time. At this time, there was something more obvious that was still not communicated to us. Flight deck crews are bound by a time limit that starts not when they take off, but when their shift started. On a 10 hour flight, with a 3 hour delay, this limit would be exceeded and that is just not possible. We were informed of this almost at 2.45 AM, when the flight was further delayed until 8 AM as the company had no crew available. Why did we board in the first place is beyond me. This crew was going to go illegal no matter what.
So off the plane we went, back to the terminal, where the only thing that remained open was the very well located Tim Horton.
Air Canada’s policy, clearly states on their website that on delay longer than 4 hours that is attributable to the company, and this is such a case, they are supposed to provide transportation and lodging, yet what we received were 10 dollars at the distinguished Tim Horton, blankets and pillows to rest on the floor of the sparkling Pearson Airport terminal 1.
Of course we still had quite a few gate agents available who were now struggling to answer questions from so many angry customers demanding an explanation that would never come. The reason we had all the gate agents still in the terminal is that they knew what I did. The crew wouldn’t be able to take the flight to Sao Paulo.
So promptly, we boarded, again, the replacement aircraft, around 7.15. Ready to go, same, semi tired flight attendants, same by now grumpy passengers and no pilots. Yes, at 8 AM we were informed, on board, that our pilots were on their way. I knew this not because I’m a psychic, but because the door to the cockpit was open and no trace of a crew was in sight.
To make the story shorter, we didn’t take off until 9 AM.
At the end of the flight I did get a $100.00 voucher good for future travel on…. Air Canada, of course.
The question is, why did all of this happen? Why are passengers not kept informed and why decisions aren’t made effectively?
Airlines are subject to a lot of problems other industries are not, like controlling the price of their biggest cost, jet fuel. Or the weather that delays aircraft no matter winter or summer. But when it comes to things they can control, Air Canada is simply not up to par. They want to be a high end carrier, yet they charge all extras like a low-cost airline. And believe me, when it comes to customer service, outside of the onboard crew, they are very far from being Westjet, Southwest, Virgin and JetBlue.
It is commendable the labour that pilots and flight attendants do. I don’t agree with their unions which could do a lot more to help the airline be profitable, but the personnel has to put up with all the deficiencies of a poorly run airline (http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/04/23/a-slow-descent/).
In the end, as much as they would like to, the people who work for the airline stop to care. They do because behind them is a company that doesn’t care, and they know it. Just try to talk to someone about this kind of misfortune. You will be directed to a web page to fill a report form.
Air Canada pays millions of dollars to its top brass and they consistently fail to deliver, not only a great service but results to the shareholders too.
I hope that long before Air Canada receives the new aircraft deliveries that will take place in 2014 to update the fleet and provide more seats on “all the time” full flights, they will replace the tens of Presidents, Vice-presidents and executives, along with the board of directors. I’m sure there are quite a few Canadians that love the airline industry and would be more qualified to run our largest carrier. Or maybe, on their next retreat to Mont Tremblant, they can fly Porter to check out what customer service is all about.
As of this writing, the only thing Mr. Rovinescu has done well, is drive the stock price down. Way down. Below a buck. The market cap is around 270 Million dollars, it would be interesting to see if Sir Richard Branson could just buy the whole thing and create Canadian Virgin. Although his first try getting into the canadian market was not successful, it would be interesting if he could own the airline outright. At the very least he would assign a good executive leadership that would be interested in running the airline, and we can have fun onboard. But what am I saying, Canadian Virgin? That doesn’t seem to be… the Canadian way.