A Toronto family wants answers after Air Canada barred them from their flight, forcing them to spend an extra $4,000 on new tickets to take the same flight the following day.
When CBC News asked Air Canada for an explanation, spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick replied in an email, "I cannot get into specific issues."
"They're not willing to acknowledge that they're in the wrong," says Shanty Thivakaran.
Her family's ordeal began on June 27 when Thivakaran, her husband Thiva Maheswaran, their two young boys and Maheswaran's mother arrived at Toronto's Pearson airport. They say they showed up about 2.5 hours before their Air Canada flight to London.
From London, they were booked to fly on Air India to Sri Lanka for a family vacation. It would be Maheswaran's first return to his homeland in 17 years.
But their travel plans started to unravel when an Air Canada agent directed the family to the wrong check-in line.
About one hour and 40 minutes before takeoff, they were redirected to the correct line, where they watched three passengers in front of them check in for the London flight.
An agent started checking in the family of five, but stopped when a manager declared, "A family of five is a no-go," says Thivakaran.
"We were so upset," says Maheswaran. "My mom's crying, the boys started crying. I was almost crying. It was an emotional scene."
The family assumed the plane was overbooked and they had been bumped. But Air Canada told CBC News there were actually eight empty seats when the plane took off. It didn't say why the family wasn't offered any of them.
'I never felt so helpless'
Instead, the family was directed to a ticketing line where they expected an Air Canada agent would rebook their flight. But after they waited for an hour, the desk closed at 11 p.m., leaving them stranded.
Air Canada then directed the family to another check-in agent, who told them she couldn't help because she wasn't trained on ticketing issues.
"At that point, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry," says Thivakaran. "I never felt so helpless. I felt like I was banging my head against the wall."
She says the same manager they dealt with before told them to go home, and that it shouldn't be a problem for Air Canada to book them on another flight the next day.
The family left the airport at 12:45 a.m. and returned at 9 the following morning. They stood in the ticketing line for two hours this time, but when they finally got to speak to an agent, she said she couldn't help them.
Thivakaran says the agent told her that the family had been designated a "no-show," meaning that they didn't show up for their flight the previous day.
The agent also said that because the tickets were purchased through a travel agency and marked as a "private fare," they'd have to get the agency to resolve the matter.
The family found the explanation confusing. "I paid rightfully for this ticket. I didn't buy it off the black market," says Thivakaran.
'No reason why we should be ripped off'
Thivakaran and her husband visited their travel agent that same day. They say he too was perplexed why Air Canada didn't just rebook the family's flight.
He told the couple their only option was to get a refund and book another flight themselves.
The agent arranged the refund and sold the family five new tickets on a flight for that day, again flying on Air Canada to London and then another airline to Sri Lanka. They had to pay extra for change fees plus the added cost for last-minute tickets.
In total, they paid $12,326.38 for their trip — $5,345.83 more than the cost of their original tickets.
"This is money we worked hard to earn, and there's no reason why we should be ripped off," says Thivakaran.
After the family returned from their vacation, Thivakaran complained to Air Canada and asked for compensation. The airline offered them a voucher for 25 per cent off their next Air Canada booking "as a goodwill gesture."
"I just fumed," says Thivakaran. "That action on their part was just too little too late."
The family has just learned their travel insurance will cover the $1,350 they spent in change fees. They're now considering legal action to try to recoup the extra $3,995.83 they paid for their last-minute tickets. They would also like an apology from Air Canada and a full explanation for their travel chaos.
"I'm never travelling on Air Canada again," says Thivakaran. "Even if I was on my death bed and I needed immediate treatment in U.S., I'd rather die than go on Air Canada."